Author: Colin | Published: 10/1/13


So Jonathan Barnbrook’s design for the new David Bowie album has garnered a HUGE amount of attention. The Guardian calls it a “masterstroke“, whatever that means. I’m still undecided about it. On one hand it appeals to my taste for minimalism and cleverness, on the other it strikes me as a potentially empty gesture. I say potentially because – true to Hard Format’s mission – I’m reserving judgement until I’ve seen the complete design. What will the spine, the reverse, the insides look like? Will it be a digipak, a jewel-case or something else?

Of course one (or both) eye(s) will have been kept firmly on the thinner than a micron experience of the digital JPG. If so, I’ll declare myself not a great fan. With that as everything, it’s playful, but likely to be ultimately unsatisfying – particularly when married to that first single which sounds to these ears too much like a tired extension of Heathen’s remit. In fact, in that light the design reads as a potentially damning critique of the album’s content. Heathen, however, is a Barnbrook design I love. I’ve been meaning to feature it here for ages and even asked to borrow a copy from the designer, but didn’t get a reply.

So the jury’s out here for the moment. I think it’s entirely valid – it’s yet one more example of the wondrousness of the blank canvas that is the album cover. And it’s great to see so much discussion of an album design.

In the meantime, this is fun: Make Your Own David Bowie Album Cover. I even like some of these designs more and perhaps that’s the point…


  1. I was interested to know what you thought of it, my first impression was, “how lazy, what a pedestrian typeface for the title (given Barnbrook’s past work) and how disrespectful to the artist and original LP”.
    After thinking about it, it’s certainly a bold statement, will get tongues wagging and will probably be parodied for years to come. I wonder if it was Bowie’s idea or Barnbrook’s because a designer has to have some balls to do something like this to an icon and an iconic sleeve.

    In the end I have to say I find it ugly but will be interested to see how the whole package relates to this image. Ultimately it seems ‘The Next Day’ will have the identity of another album rather than its own, the cover being reduced to a bold graphic design statement which will just look weak when placed next to all the other albums in his discography. Not that there aren’t some shockers in there already but it’s this idea of ‘coveting cool’ that I find so lazy. I doubt the album will live up to Heroes musically and the cover is destined to live in its shadow too perhaps?

    Comment by kevin foakes — January 12, 2013 @ 10:28 pm
  2. Yes the font is odd, to these eyes it has that strange anonymity that Arial has. On the other hand it does look contemporary. I’m reserving judgement because if this theme is developed in variants applied to other Bowie covers – on the back, the spine, a booklet… if it’s implemented in an interesting way, say by overprinting or application of a sticker (think how the XX covers have coaxed life out of a very basic design) then it could be good. Also, I’ve just realised that this is an alternate approach to Heathen’s where iconography was defaced. Jonathan Barnbrook’s blogpost seems to indicate it was his idea.

    I’m struck by the media’s response that seems to suggest they continue to view Bowie as the god he was in the 70s. He is/was clearly capable of original work (I wish he’d complete the mooted Outside trilogy, though I’m sure he won’t now), but when compared to Scott Walker who continues to go further and further out, Bowie appears instead intent on reflecting on his earlier work.

    Comment by Colin — January 13, 2013 @ 10:04 am
  3. Made me think of the last PSB album ‘Elysium’ designed by Farrow …

    Comment by GMA — January 16, 2013 @ 4:47 pm
  4. Besides the typeface there is an issue here in that the gesture of erasure is entirely too large. The original cover with simply the title struck out would be a statement. The cover with the central portion, CD sized, elided (no text) would be another. Doing both and then adding in the text in this face is far too much.

    I agree totally on the new single. I suppose it is banking on the fact that no-one heard “Heathen” in the first place.

    Comment by robin — February 8, 2013 @ 1:50 am


To submit your comment and help me with comment spam,
please do this sum and then click Submit Comment above, thanks:

What is 10 + 5 ?
Please leave these two fields as-is: