Visual Design

Album Cover III

This is the third in my series of posts about the visual design for my Canons album. I’d like to share some photos of the culmination of the process: the physical CD.

Instead of a conventional jewel box, I decided to go with a four-panel digipak, which actually has six design components: front cover, back cover, spine, inside flap, cd tray, and cd surface.

I debated whether to include the liner notes in the album but decided against it for a few reasons: wanted to have the flexibility to edit the notes later, wanted to keep printing costs down, wanted to simplify the process of designing the packaging (took a long time even without notes!), and wasn’t sure how many people would read the notes. This was still a very difficult decision because I think that printed notes are one of the main advantages of a physical album over digital, and I know I’m more likely to read notes when I can hold them in my hands.

Even without the notes, the physical album still has a blurb on the inside flap and a painstakingly typeset track listing on the back cover. I acquired a special font that has the OpenType feature of Tabular Figures just so I could get the numbers to line up perfectly. (Anyone interested in the notes, please read them here.)

I’ve posted the square version of the album cover before, but here you can see the rectangular version that I made specifically for the physical CD. You’d think that taking a square design and making it fit a rectangular template would be pretty easy, wouldn’t you? But even with a slight change in aspect ratio, I found I needed to resize the fonts, rekern the text, and reposition all the elements and it was almost like starting from scratch.

I’m delighted by the way the digital designs translated into the physical object: I feel that the real, printed thing actually looks better than the designs!  There’s only one very small detail that didn’t come out with perfect accuracy — can you guess what it is?

All right, I’ll tell: it’s the self-eating snake that I placed on the CD surface close to the center. That snake is an ouroboros, a medieval alchemical symbol of eternal recurrence. In the context of this CD, it’s meant to evoke the way some canons proceed in an infinite cycle. The ink got shifted slightly in the printing process so the gap that should be present between the two colors of the snake isn’t preserved all the way around. No big deal. Overall, the look and feel of the physical album is precisely what I aimed for. A debt of gratitude to my friend Angelynn Grant who guided me through the many questions that came up during the design process that spanned several months!

See my previous posts on the design: Album Cover (all about my search for cover art) and Album Cover II (thoughts on the Jamnitzer’s drawings as they relate to the album).

Music, Visual Design

Twelve Glyph Challenge

Challenge: design glyphs to represent the numbers one through twelve.

Consider the numbers arranged on a clock face.  Your glyph system should have the following properties:

  1. The glyphs for two numbers that are opposite on the clock face (like 12 and 6) should have some visual qualities that bind them together as a pair.
  2. If you look at the glyphs for any two numbers that are adjacent on the clock face (like 1 and 2), it should be easy to see which glyph represents the “lower” number in clockwise order, and which glyph represents the “higher” number.
  3. The glyphs for any three numbers that form an even division of the clock face into three parts (like 12, 4, and 8) should have some common visual feature that makes them recognizable as a group.
  4. The glyphs for any four numbers that form an even division of the clock face into four parts (like 12, 3, 6, and 9) should have some common visual feature that makes them recognizable as a group.
  5. The parity of a number (whether the number is odd or even) should be somehow discernible from its glyph.

Thinking of this problem in musical terms, the glyphs could represent the 12 notes of the octave (assuming 12TET).  Looking at any glyph, you should be able to quickly discern the following things about the note it represents: which of the four augmented triads does the note belongs to?  Which of three fully-diminished seventh chords does it belong to?  What is its tritone, and what is that tritone’s glyph? What are its upper and lower chromatic neighbors, and what are their glyphs?

I haven’t solved this.  But, to jog your imagination, here’s one of many glyph systems I’ve come up with while considering the problem.  Do you think it has any nice properties?  Can you do better?

12 Glyphs