Designing the Package
Now that the music had been remastered from vinyl, and the DVD had been remastered from analog video tapes, it remained to actually get down to the business of designing the set. Since I’m a graphic designer by trade, this is the most pedestrian step of the process since I do this work every day. The Docklands fan website solved the problem of naming the set, which can be tricky. “Docklands” was a great evocation of the group’s Liverpudlian roots and the name of a B-side besides. So I did some photo research to see what was grist for the creative mill.
I didn’t want to use photographs. That seemed so pedestrian and a cop out, besides. Relying on photos for packaging is less “pure” from a designer’s point of view. I was reading the New Yorker magazine at this time, and the issues were promoting a writer’s conference hosted by the magazine and the imagery was all silhouette-based; possibly influenced by that iPod campaign I’ve read about but never seen. I thought that the silhouettes of boats and docks would be more resonant, and the graphic use of flat color would have a solid feel applicable to great poster art. Once I had this thought, I found source images to draw from in Adobe Illustrator. The initial result was seen at the head of this post. I liked the contrast between the warm background color, the color of the typography, and the shape of the boat’s prow. The coloration was ambiguous; it could be sailing into the night or sailing out of the dawn.
The back cover was next on the agenda. I looked at photos of docks and found one that looked like it would offer a lot for the back cover. I drew the silhouette of the dock crane and placed it in the lower, right hand corner of the frame. The contents of the four discs would easily fill each quadrant of the space fairly evenly. I picked a rich vignette of a complimentary night color that filled the background. The copy was made the same color as the band’s name on the front. I was wary of using the most common logotype that the band relied on for their iconic “Flaunt The Imperfection” cover and wanted to stand away from the band’s established design tropes since I wanted this project to stand on its own feet.
I did capitulate to using the band’s interlocked “double C” logo on the spine as a separator dingbat between the group’s name and the title of the set. Looking at the ship on the cover showed me that there was something lacking to it. In a moment of final inspiration, I decided to place the “double C” logo on the ship’s prow in the same color as the background. That added a sense of depth to the flat silhouette of the ship and served to make the design come alive to the fullest extent. The cover was now locked down.
The next step was adapting the design to the discs themselves. I use printable media and an inkjet printer that only gets used to print to disc surfaces. This was a big step up from the old CD label methodology and served to make the final product look as sharp as a “real” CD. The end result is at left. When making a set like this, I must also consider what I want the liner notes to entail. On a few projects, I made PDF “books” that detailed my collections of a few artists in encyclopedic detail. These showed full discographical info for my entire collection of certain artists. The PDFs in question are between 100 and 200 pages. That seemed like overkill for a band I had relatively few releases of. And to be sure, there’s something engagingly tactile in an actual booklet on paper of liner notes, that may be viewed while listening to the product. Something not possible with an enhanced CD with a PDF, unless you copy the PDF to a computer first.
For this set, I decided that a simple booklet with the sources of each track shown in detail and reasonable size might be the best way forward. I planned the booklet in sketch form and saw that a 40 page booklet would do the job sturdily. That was important, because with my Spandau Ballet project in 2009, I learned that 44 pages was the limit of what would fit into a multiple disc jewel box, where the cover would still close after inserting the booklet! The relevant single sleeve would be shown at left with the discographical info on the facing right page.I used a simple background texture for the pages. Now that I remember, I made the booklet in Freehand MX instead of Illustrator, since that was the only multipage design program I had at the time. Illustrator didn’t get multiple page support until version CS4 in 2008 and I was still using Illustrator 6 from 1994! After laying out the pages, there was no room for liner notes, so I let go of that idea. Some of my sets have liner notes as if I were the cut-rate Paul Morley [memo to self: save that description for possible use later…], but not this one. It was basically a nice repository for the single sleeves that explained where the songs came from. The booklet design did present one more area for refinement. The multiple disc jewel box I used for my BSOGs could hold from 2-6 discs as necessary. This would be a straightforward 4 disc job with 3 audio CDs and a DVD. But the shape of the artwork to fill the box is rectangular, not square. Only the booklet area in a traditional JB is square. When adapting the cover design for a square booklet that would fit within, I had to decide how I would frame the cover art. Would I simply add space to the sides? Would I rescale the art smaller for the booklet? In the end, I decided to not only scale it smaller, but also add the sea beneath the boat with a rising/setting sun behind the boat in the same color as the group’s name. Ooof! Now that is icing on the cake! It actually looks better than the cover, but I liked the idea of keeping it “under wraps” inside the jewel box as a last surprise when perusing the set.
The glamor portion of the project was then over. At that point, I sometimes wish I had a PA to take care of the brass tacks of actually…
- burning the discs
- printing the discs
- printing the art and booklet
- folding, trimming, and binding the booklet
Once that slight tedium is done, I have a Boxed Set Of God® that is the physical manifestation of a product that I would prefer to buy, but the commercial likelihood of that happening is slim to none, most of the time. When dealing with bands that label hopped throughout their careers [that is to say, most of them], the cross licensing issues usually scuttle all but the most determined projects helmed by steely eyed, flat-bellied professionals who probably have a monthly Maalox® bill. I can’t recall exactly how long this took from start to finish, but after writing this series of posts, I imagine that three to four weeks of every chunk of my free time larger than 15 minutes was probably the case. Possibly a little sleep as well.
Now you have an idea of how The Monk rolls. In that a project like this unites my collector’s sickness with a lifetime of training in the applied arts, all wrapped up in a fervent love of music, you may well imagine that this is some sort of transcendental experience for yours truly… and you’d be right. Would that I had a wealthy patron to front me the money to do this in style for the rest of my life and I’d capitulate happily! Because apart from enjoying the company of my wife and my [scant] close friends, it doesn’t get any better than this. Making the products that The Man won’t [or can’t] sell me.
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