Pink Floyd’s album art is almost as famous as the 52-year-old rock band’s music: the rainbow prism graphic of 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon. The scrawled handwriting of 1982’s The Wall. The blocky type of 1977’s Animals.
Recently, Pentagram was tapped to create a type-focused identity based on the letters from Animals for Pink Floyd Records, as part of a project to re-release the band’s albums on vinyl. Soon, the brief expanded to include the packaging design for a new box set of 27 CDs focused on the band’s early years.
For Pentagram partner Harry Pearce, it was a dream project. “As a teenager back in the ’70s I used to sit with their 12-inch records on my lap,” he says.
Pentagram was first approached for the project by Aubrey Powell, who has a long history with the band. Powell founded the album art company Hipgnosis alongside Storm Thorgerson in 1967, when the pair were asked to design art for the second album of their friends’ band–Pink Floyd. Powell and Thorgerson ended up doing most of the original cover art for the band, including The Dark Side of the Moon and the Animals cover. (They also designed art for bands like Led Zeppelin, Paul McCartney, Genesis, and Black Sabbath in the ’70s.)
Meanwhile, Pearce has been designing album cover art since his college days, including pieces for Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett’s solo albums and British musician Roy Harper (for whom Powell also had designed covers). Pearce says it was a natural partnership, since both he and Powell have a deep love of both music and design.
Their new logotype was designed based on the letters found on the original Animals cover–where it was used to write the title and band’s name–and it eventually formed the backbone of the visual identity. “I could have invented a new logotype, but why do that when there’s such lovely rich material,” Pearce says. “It was born from the home of Pink Floyd. It was honoring what was there.”
While working on the Animals typeface with Pentagram designer Johannes Grimond, Pearce says that their brief grew to include Pink Floyd Records’ 27-CD box set. The team based their packaging design on a single 1965 photograph of drummer Nick Mason with Pink Floyd’s famous Bedford van. In the photo, Mason is loading equipment into the back of the black touring van, which is painted with a thick, distinctive white stripe, while the rest of the band can be seen making faces at him through the window of a nearby house. The black and white stripe scheme became the basis for the packaging for the Early Years re-release.
“You can imagine them all piling in that van with the whole kit, and going down old English country roads,” Pearce says of the photograph. “Why don’t we metaphorically repack that van with the music that would have been going around with it?”
The cover art for each of the seven boxes in the set is by the artist John Whiteley, whose psychedelic oil on paper paintings are part of Powell’s personal collection. The booklets for each box are filled with archival photographs and use a modern take on the classic typewriter typeface.
“It’s meant to feel like we just sat there and typed it all out like an archivist,” Pearce says. “It’s almost undesigned.” In that sense, Pentagram’s design takes a backseat to piece of rock history.