Designing the look of a musician's CD is lot different than most graphic design work. For a typical project, a designer has to create and execute their own concept, their own vision. With a CD, however, the musician usually has a general concept in mind already. The designer's job is more about helping the musician realize this vision.
That was the case with I Satellite, a electro-pop band working on their first independent album AUTO:MATIC. I worked with Rod Macquarrie, the heart and soul behind I Satellite. He came to me with the finished songs, some inspirational photography and a few general thoughts.
The look for AUTO:MATIC was built around two concepts. The first concept was the relationship between the songs on the album. Each song was considered not as a single unit, but as a component of the album as a whole. Rod provided me with an illustration of this concept, which I reflected in the final track listing (see visual below).
The second idea behind AUTO:MATIC was a visual concept. Rod had mentioned his fascination with the imagery from the 1939 World's Fair in New York, as it reflected the feel of the music. I managed to dig up some copyright-free imagery from the Library of Congress photo archives, and added these images to a stock photo we liked. Now we had all our components, we just needed a design...
The first issue we had to tackle was the budget. Being an independent band, I Satellite didn't have the resources to do a 12-panel, 4-color design. However, they wanted something beyond a simple black and white piece. My solution was to utilize silver metallic ink in addition to the black. Not only would the metallic ink help reinforce the futuristic concept behind the album, but it would also enhance the visual appeal of the packaging.
This solution was well received by the band, and I used this technique for the cover photo and the World's Fair imagery as well. I kept the overall design fairly minimal, as I wanted to show off as much metallic ink as I could.
For the graphic designers out there: In the final execution, 100% Pantone 877 was printed and allowed to dry. A black halftone was then overprinted to create the final design. The process is called dry trapping.
The final piece of the puzzle spawned from a discussion Rod and I were having during our photography search. Rod was finding lots of imagery that he could match up with the individual songs of the album. He wondered if each song could have its own photographic identity. Taking it a step further, I thought a set of icons would work better. Icons would reproduce at a higher quality than photos, and they could be used in all aspects of the CD marketing. The band loved the idea, and I developed eleven icons for AUTO:MATIC (ten songs and an icon representing the album as a whole).
The icons proved to be even more useful than I had hoped. They were found on the CD packaging, t-shirts, stickers, a limited-edition 5-song EP, and even 1" buttons.