Aubrey Powell and Storm Thorgerson’s record sleeves for Pink Floyd are some of the most memorable of all time. Working under the name Hipgnosis, the pair’s surreal imagery inspired generations of designers and have become enduring symbols of the band’s music. Think of Pink Floyd, and it’s near impossible not to imagine the prism on the cover of Dark Side of the Moon or the bright pink pig on the sleeve of Animals.
Pink Floyd’s music and visual output is the subject of a major retrospective opening at London’s V&A Museum in May. In November last year, the band released a 27-disc box set of early singles and recordings on their record label Pink Floyd Records.
The identity for Pink Floyd Records was designed by Pentagram partner Harry Pearce and his creative team and is based on the stencil lettering from the cover of Animals. Designer Johannes Grimmond worked with Pearce to create a complete alphabet based on the original letterforms, giving the label a distinctive logotype. The alphabet can also be used as a headline font on new releases and merchandise.
Pearce says he initially experimented with creating something new for the label but decided that the lettering “just had a wonderful quality to it.”
“The stencil somehow feels evocative of the stencilling on all their equipment and their boxes…. It’s such a wonderful, idiosyncratic bit of type that we just felt it deserved a bigger life than it had already,” he told CR. “[The band and Powell] loved the idea and it’s right in the middle of the canon of all of their work.”
Creating a complete alphabet based on the design was quite a challenge. “It was originally made to be on a 12″ LP … when you take that typeface and make it very small, which it often had to be, all of the inter-character work, the huge contrast between the stencil cuts through the lettering was so narrow that you reduce it down and it just sort of closes up,” says Pearce. “That was one challenge and the fact was that we just didn’t have that many letters, so we did an analysis of the forms of letters that were there and built a system on that.”
Pearce and his team also designed The Early Years 1965 – 72, which features early singles and previously unreleased recordings from Pink Floyd’s archives.
The black-and-white outer casing takes inspiration from the Bedford van that the band once drove around in (see gallery above). Discs are packaged in seven volumes – one for each year between 1965 and 72 – and each one features a painting by artist John Whiteley (an old friend of Powell’s) on its cover.
Whiteley created the artworks during the band’s early years but – like much of the material on the box set – they have never before been released. “Those beautiful works of his have never seen the light of day so that was a lovely continuity there,” says Pearce. “They aren’t modern versions of his work, they were made at the same time [as the recordings].”
A2’s Typewriter font is used throughout the packaging, offering a more contemporary take on traditional typewriter lettering. “We thought that was relevant, as even though [the box set] is old material, we’re cataloguing it today, so it isn’t just all nostalgia.”
Booklets contain lyrics and photographs from Pink Floyd’s archives, many of which have never before been published. The box set also features some lovely added touches. The spine of each volume bears a unique reference number and a word representing that year’s output. Roger Waters came up with the words for each year and each one is intercepted with a forward slash, providing another reference to the white stripe on the Bedford van.
Pentagram worked closely with Aubrey Powell on the design of the identity and the box set. “He was a bit like our filter really. He’s so intimate with the band, we took his advice on the directions and ideas [that were presented to him] and he took them to the band. Him being a designer himself, it was a really sympatico relationship,” says Pearce.
As a long time fan of Pink Floyd’s, Pearce describes the project as “a complete joy”.
“When I was a teen in the 1970s listening to that stuff, holding that 12″ sleeves in my hands, never did I dream I’d one day be working with some of that material,” he says. “Some of that music was founding stuff for me back in the 70s, so it’s a very precious thing to do and we took immense care on this project.”
“That’s probably another reason why we honoured the lovely lettering on that original Animals album [for the identity],” he adds. “We could have imposed our own style on to this … we could have invented a new logo, but this just seemed to resonate so much more – the fact that we were honouring and using things that already existed and giving them a new and extended life.”
Pearce has also written an ‘outro’ for forthcoming Thames & Hudson book Vinyl. Album. Cover. Art: The Complete Hignosis Catalogue.
You can read our interview with Aubrey Powell about the work of Hipgnosis and his partnership with Thorgerson here.