Translating analogue cover art to digital requires a digital design mindset

 by Martin Belam, 6 August 2010

There was a fascinating blog post the other day looking at how the increasing digitalisation of publishing and book sales was affecting the design of book covers. As ever, when thinking about the transition from physical product to digital representation of a work of art, it put me in mind of Dan Hill's "Bad metadata is killing music" post from way back in 2004.

For me, it isn't even about how the design works when viewed in a smaller image size, but the attention to detail that is put into rendering that design. A classic example of this not working is XTC's Go 2 album from 1978. The Hipgnosis designed cover art was an essay about the design of the sleeve itself.

XTC Go 2 original vinyl cover

When originally released, the text of the essay changed depending on whether you purchased the vinyl or the cassette.

As music underwent the first digital product revolution, the compact disc reissue edition of the album featured a newly altered version of the text, referring to the compact disc as the format. My copy is actually a US import, and so it also specifies Geffen Records, rather than original UK label Virgin.

XTC Go 2 Geffen CD issue

Leap forward to the remastered virtual editions, and when you purchase it from the iTunes store, the review even makes a point of the sleeve design being legendary.

XTC Go 2 in the  iTunes store

Yet nobody along the remastering and reissuing process thought to take the sleeve art to the new logical conclusion, and have the image that accompanies the files read something like:

"This is a JPEG IMAGE. This writing is the DESIGN upon the JPEG image. The design is to help sell the DOWNLOAD"

Whether it is books or music or film, it isn't compressed image file sizes or lack of space that makes cover designs not work in a digital space - it is a lack of designing with a digital mindset.


Great record design! it certainely tricked me into reading it :)

Very true, but XTC was not thinking about digital when they created this cover. 1978 was a great year for many things, just not digital things. what exactly was 1978 a great year for? (apart from my 18th birthday party)

I'd never really paid much attention to book or cd cover design. I still buy all my books hardcopy, usually with little relevance to the cover (or so I like to think!). It's interesting how times change...

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