Category Archives: Graphic Design

Record Covers | 01

The Durutti Column | Obey the Time | 1990

In the age of dematerialisation, and as strange as it may seem to the ‘digital native’ generation, there was a time when music meant records (yes, records, vinyl or CDs) which came along with genuine cover artwork.

The pioneering work of design consultancy 8vo and their use of typography had an influence on graphic design throughout the late 1980s and the early 1990s. One illustrative example is the artwork for The Durutti Column‘s ‘Obey the Time’ (Factory records catalogue FAC 274), released in 1990. Though musically probably not their best album, it was graphically innovative, with 8vo’s trademark use of negative letter-spacing.



Their approach to typography and their work in general are detailed in a book published in 2006, ‘On the outside.’


The London Tube and Its Graphic Legacy


Harry Beck’s Tube map, Edward Johnston’s typeface and the roundel symbol embrace the identity of London. They are landmarks in the history of graphic design, and the envy of many cities or public transport authorities.

Every aspect of TfL’s branding elements, from their use of typefaces, logos, down to stationery or even their corporate design standards themselves, is highly inspirational.

More broadly, the London Underground has a special feel about it, both familiar and exotic, modern and old-fashioned. It has been the subject of many books, some of which were published for the 150th anniversary of the Tube in 2013.


Here is a selection of books I liked, dealing with the history of the tube, design or trivia.

London Underground By Design
By Mark Ovenden
Publisher: Penguin

The Roundel: 100 Artists Remake a London Icon
By Tamsin Dillon, Claire Dobbin, Jonathan Glancey & Sally Shaw
Publisher: Art/Books

London Underground — Architecture, Design and History
By David Long
Publisher: The History Press

Underground — How The Tube Shaped London
By David Bownes, Oliver Green and Sam Mullins
Publisher: Allen Lane

The Story of London’s Underground
By John R. Day & John Reed
Capital Transport Publishing

The Little Book of the London Underground
By David Long
Publisher: The History Press.


Design and Music

The Peter Saville Show was held between 23 May and 14 September 2003 at the Design Museum in London. It traced the career of the graphic design legend who created artwork for Factory Records, including record sleeves for, among others, New Order.
It was therefore natural that the latter composed the score.

The Peter Saville Show Soundtrack is an atypical, 30-minute atmospheric and instrumental piece of music which has little to do with any material released by the band before or after that.

If the usual New Order line-up was not complete, Peter Hook’s basslines are easily recognisable, alongside drummer/keyboard player Stephen Morris and guitarist Phil
Cunningham, who had just joined the band as a touring musician.

I was not lucky enough to see the exhibition at the time or get the soundtrack, but I ordered one of the 3,000 CD-only copies from a website selling rare vinyl records and CDs.

The Peter Saville Show CD
As you can read on the disc, it was designed, as well as the show in itself, by the
London-based graphic design agency Graphic Thought Facility.

Front sleeve:

The Peter Saville Show CD front

Back sleeve:

The Peter Saville Show CD back

Apparently there was no official exhibition catalogue, but the book Designed by Peter
was published by Frieze when the exhibition opened.

Ridiculous Design Rules

design books

A few years ago I came across small books with an elegant layout, which I believe any graphic design enthusiast willing to escape the dogmas of the industry should read: Never Use More Than Two Different Typefaces and Never Use White Type on a Black Background.

As their title indicates, these books dissect some design rules with a tongue-in-cheek tone. They are published by BIS Publishers, a Dutch independent publishing house based in Amsterdam and specialised in creative arts.

Typography, from record sleeve to headstone

Factory Records Palatine boxed set | Photo by @MPoitrenaud

In 1990, the independent, Manchester-based music label Factory, created and headed by Tony Wilson, released a four-piece boxed set featuring its major artists such as New Order, Joy Division, the Happy Mondays, OMD, James and many more. Typography and graphic design always were of prime importance at Factory. The typeface used for the sleek, uncluttered cover design was Factis 90, a font based on the Sans Serif version of Otl Aicher’s Rotis, which had been published two years before.

Rotis was quite innovative at the time, and has since been used by many firms or organisations for their brand identity. Based on my own experience, I think Rotis features some of the most beautifully designed letters taken individually (i.e. a, e, p, b) but does not really work for paragraphs or as a fully fledged typeface, as stated by type designer and author Erik Spiekermann.


Anyway, the Rotis/Factis version used by Factory, and the overall Palatine design owed to John Macklin worked very well, as did the new factory logo designed by Julian Morey. It perfectly matched Factory’s minimal approach and refined style created over the years under the artistic direction of Peter Saville.

Factory Typeface CD Palatine

In 2010, three years after Tony Wilson’s death, Peter Saville and Factory-era associate Ben Kelly designed his headstone. The clean and modernist memorial may look a little bit like a stationery product or even a giant business card, but it definitely looks great, particularly thanks to the use of the right layout and typographical elements.

Cemeteries would probably look less bleak with such well-designed gravestones…