Streaming songs online had designer Josh Smith getting familiar with album covers again, and he started noticing similarities between the art adorning records by indie bands.

Just for fun, he started pulling together a set that shows the connections.

“The ‘hipster’ scene now associated with indie music has an emerging aesthetic that blends '80s, vintage themes and colors with a DIY vibe and adds in quirky abstractions,” Smith says.

Lots and lots of these covers have a single circle motif in the middle, like this one from The Knife.

Another circle by Cut Copy.

A recurring color scheme amongst the indie rock set.

He cites "vibrant colors, dreamy abstract visuals and a less-polished, non-corporate finish" as hallmarks of the genre.

Instagram-esque artwork for Listen Listen Man’s Memento.

Triangles also get some serious play on these covers.

Disjointed geometry by St. Lucia.

Almost a circle by Delorean.

Bright colors and the ever-present sphere on this album by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.

Co.Design

Indie Album Covers: Once You See The Trends, You Can't Unsee Them

Hyperakt designer Josh Smith sees visual similarities between hipster-rock cover art.

There was a time--not all that long ago, though it feels like forever--when searching for something to listen to meant physically pawing through a mass of vinyl, cassettes, or CDs. Visual cues helped you find what you were looking for. Then everything went digital, and it was keywords, not artwork, that helped track down your tracks.

Now, streaming services have brought back the option to eyeball, and Josh Smith, a designer at the Brooklyn-based studio Hyperakt (and bona fide infographic wiz), started viewing--not hearing--interesting similarities between indie stuff he was seeking out online. “Rdio collects my music into groups, which are sorted by album. As I started developing my collection, it became visually obvious that there is a trend for this genre,” he says. “I actually began to get confused and clicked on the wrong album, thinking it was a different band.” So, just for fun, he started pulling together a set that shows the connections.

“The ‘hipster’ scene now associated with indie music has an emerging aesthetic that blends '80s, vintage themes and colors with a DIY vibe and adds in quirky abstractions,” Smith says. “This would explain the vibrant colors, dreamy abstract visuals, and a less-polished, non-corporate finish on the covers.” Of course, it’s not totally new that certain types of tunes adopt and adapt to a very particular style to appeal to their target audience: Imagine heavy metal’s black-and-chrome motif, or the soft- focus glamour shots gracing many an easy-listening box set--then imagine switching them. Yeah, it’s weird. But add in a fast-paced and quickly evolving industry with continually less cash available for packaging, marketing, and promotion, and it makes sense that the still relatively new indie beats would begin to establish this element of their identity.

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5 Comments

  • Adam

    As a designer first, and record nerd second who's done a ton of album work, I must (hipster) scoff at the amount of "research" the author did...

    The Ghost Hotel cover is CLEARLY heavily indebted to Tame Impala's Innerspeaker cover, and the Passion Pit one looks like someone set their gradient tool on "Loveless."

    Also, drawing a parallel between those Knife and Cut Copy albums because of circles? C'mon...

  • Tom Granberg

    Adam, and others, clearly the comments in this article are generalized.
    However there are some interesting facts about the art that was created for the physical albums back in the day. That art helped listeners find similar music, bands and artist, and I am sure inspired a bunch of youngsters to become album/graphic artist/designers as well.
    What is interesting is the long gap when album/cover art went out of style in favor of the digital revolution that was more or less driven by word content, and hype. And how that gap have affected the style creation for specific types of music when it is now coming back. 

  • Paul Rand

    Yeah that is interesting. So what you're saying is that graphic design follows trends. Mind = blown.

  • daniel

    He cheats a bit by including cover art from both an LP and the singles from that LP, but it is still pretty compelling. I also don't think its a coincidence that this genre in particular embraces the most of-the-moment graphic design tropes for its covers, given its own raison d'etre...