The Rhythm of Design

The Rhythm of DesignAlbum art and CD packaging may be a dying breed (thanks to the rise of MP3s), but awesome music-inspired design projects are coming through the speakers loud and clear. In the September 2011 creativity column for HOW Magazine, I speak with some insanely talented folks who are finding ever more creative ways to infiltrate their love for sound into the mix. From ultra-inspired posters and self-promo pieces to interactive paper invites and videos, we’ve tapped some killer creatives to share how music has helped make their designs sing (see a preview of projects featured in the September issue pictured above).

Below are more drool-worthy designers that are seriously turning up the volume, plus the story behind a jamming Paper Record Player, featured in the magazine:




Sleepyhead from melissa gorman on Vimeo.

It was a typographic music project at the School of Visual Arts’ that taught MFA student and designer Melissa Gorman some rockin’ new ways to express her creative self. Assigned in Gail Anderson’s “Just Type” class in the “Designer as Author” program, Gorman and her classmates were challenged to create a black-and-white, type-only music video. 

Gorman selected Passion Pit’s trippy tune “Sleepyhead,” because “I was looking for something I could interpret in a number of ways… something that was a little abstract. I felt I could have fun with it and the sound aligned with my aesthetic,” she explains.

And although Gorman’s final product is chock full of Z’s–there’s nothing snooze-worthy about her mesmerizing visuals. “I chose to use only the letter ‘Z’ to tell the abstract story of a character’s journey through different dreamscapes.” Since the music evoked a “handmade and slightly messy feel,” Gorman discovered that through a mixture of found type and her own hand-drawn letterforms, textures, and patterns–the pairing of the visuals and lyrics could be a good fit. And she was spot-on: The randomly shaped and scaled white ‘Zs’ floating, falling, and bouncing through the dark space was the perfect complement to Passion Pit’s dreamy song. 

Besides the opportunity to explore mixing her artwork and design sensibilities while listening to one of her favorite tunes, Gordon was totally psyched to learn design tools beyond the static page.

“The project definitely opened me up to motion design and a sense of timing. I don’t feel as limited in how I can express my ideas now.”

But more than just a school project, Gorman (who works under the studio name Company Standard) has a hardcore music loving-past. She’s worked as a DJ and definitely sees the correlation. “I think it’s no coincidence that a lot of designers have DJed at some point. The mediums both involve a certain aspect of collage, composition, and balance.”


Burnt Toast

OK Go | Myspace Music Videos

Also, cranking up the creativity in the music animation realm, noted designer and visual artist Geoff McFetridge of L.A.-based Champion Graphics recently created the artwork for OK GO’s music video “Last Leaf”…and it’s definitely a project worth chewing on.

The lead singer for the band, Damian Kulash, contacted McFetridge with one outrageously clever concept–illustrating the lyrics on burnt pieces of sliced toast. “Kulash is in the business of crazy ideas. Really, he got my attention with the idea, but then it was my job to just ignore the toast aspect of the project and try to come up with a nice animated short,” McFetridge explains. “Something that was watchable toast, or no toast.” 

Working intuitively, McFetridge approached the project by responding directly to the feelings and ideas he derived from the soft, contemplative lyrics. For example, in the line “…and if takes forever” images such as a shoe, a boat, and a dog pushing a baby carriage, slowly inch their way across the span of not one, but two slices of toast. Conceptually, it’s undeniably unique and fully captures that time-is-moving-at-a-snails-pace message.

“For me, drawing is a way of injecting clarity into something ethereal like a song. I take these clear thoughts and arrange them together in a way that makes a sort of visual poem,” says McFetridge.

To execute the animation, a duo from MIT was enlisted to create the laser-burning process of transferring McFetridge’s illustrations onto the toast (no Photoshop or After Effects trickery used here!). The results yielded several still images combined in a sequence to create the final piece. In total, 2,430 pieces of toast were used in the making of the video–not to mention, some wildly imaginative minds. McFetridge adds, “The reality is that music fuels creativity in a very real way.”


Paper Jammin’

(Paper Jammin’ text below is excerpted from the September 2011 issue of HOW; view more music-inspired projects in this issue’s Creativity column.)


Paper Record Player from kellianderson on Vimeo.

When designer and artist Kelli Anderson’s music-loving pals approached her to create an invitation for their wedding, she immediately knew the project would involve music. But rather than designing a traditional two-dimensional “I Do” piece for her rockin’ friends, Anderson took it up a notch and started playing with paper. She felt confident that they would all “geek-out over anything that would demonstrate the physicality of music—something that could be touched and played with,” she says. Through some masterful paper folding and engineering, Anderson made a paper record player wedding invitation.

Having never constructed anything like this, Anderson channeled her “inner science geek” and experimented with piles of different types of paper, needles, screw posts, felt, cork and adhesive.

The final booklet-style invite is comprised of a cover, two inner pages, a letterpressed band (with instructions and a tear-off RSVP postcard) and a screw post anchoring the flexi disc record in place. When the recipient bends the second page of the booklet back, a tented “arm” forms and the sewing-needle-turned record-stylus is placed in the grooves of the record. As the recipient hand-spins the player at an instructed 45 RPM, the singing couple’s aptly titled “Here’s the Invitation” song is amplified.

In terms of the design, Anderson worked on keeping the feel of the packaging in tune with the playful music. For colors, she contrasted spring-like hues with black-and-white concentric circle patterns designed in a nod to “the hypnotic spiral of a spinning record.” Last, she hand-drew caricatures of the couple in a visual story of their future together, which comes into focus when the clear flexi disc spins.

“Music itself, while intangible, has a huge visual vocabulary to draw upon,” Anderson says. “So making it ‘tangible’ through design is like being able to pick from a smorgasbord of incredible influences and ideas.”

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