“Uh, because I thought it looked cool.”
Nope. Nope. And nope. Clients aren’t paying for “it looked cool.” They want a point of view. They want to understand why they’re paying for what they’re paying for. And if you can’t articulate why you did what you did, you’re increasing the chances your work will get whipped into oblivion and killed.
In 2009 Julian Fist asked me to design their newest CD, A Thousand Days. The band had been working on the album for over two and a half years and believed it was a miracle the record was finally going to be released. Of course, I jumped at the chance. When you’re a design and music nerd and a band asks you to design their CD/album/record (whatever the kids are calling them these days) you don’t say no.
So I started sketching. And thinking. And sketching. And thinking.
I presented the band with rough sketches, explaining my thinking as I went, but one direction stood out from the rest — a sketch of a bush/tree on fire. As I was coming up with concepts I kept thinking about my initial conversation with the band and about the effort it took to make the CD. It made me think about Moses wandering around in the desert for ten thousand years (I have no idea why) and about the miracle of him finding the burning bush. At the time I thought Moses was only out there for a thousand days and I didn’t know the bush wasn’t really important to the story.
But, whatever. At least I got the fire part right. And the metaphor held up.
As I went from paper to computer, every aspect of the design was completely thought out. The tree has four roots; each represents a member of the band. Each of the four branches represents a band member’s family at that time. For example, the drummer’s branch has two branches coming off it representing his wife and daughter. There are thirteen flames representing the thirteen tracks on the CD. The two red sparks at the top represent the two founding members of the band coming together. And the simplistic design would easily reproduce in one color for t-shirts, stickers and flyers. For the type, In keeping with my badly botched metaphor, I chose an old style Roman typeface, Adobe Jenson. And everything rests on the same baseline grid.
So much in our business is subjective. Some clients don’t like purple. Some love it. Whatever. If you have a reason, if you have conviction, if you can show a client, creative director or account executive why you’ve chosen a certain typeface or color, often they’ll support you and your stuff won’t die. I screwed up the story of Moses in the desert. But the thinking was right, I could articulate my reasons for the design and I got it produced.
Maybe my album cover won’t ever receive praise like the work of Storm Thorgerson or the Ames Bros. It’ll probably never get a single vote in a Rolling Stone readers’ poll. And I’m positive nme.com will never call asking for the scoop behind the design — I'm no Stanley Donwood of Radiohead album cover fame. But I’m totally cool with all that — and I’m stoked I got to design an album. As a bonus I had the pleasure of designing the flyer, and playing with the band, for their holiday CD release party.
So hey, Julian Fist, when you’re ready to release your next CD, you’ve got my number.