Weekend Inspiration: Hipgnosis

Posted by Jon M

Pink Floyd - "Dark Side Of The Moon" (1973)

As a kid, a lot of my time was spent either drawing or rummaging through my parents vast music collection. The latter becoming more of bed time ritual, as every night I would listen to an album(s) until I fell asleep, literally, until I fell asleep, which meant that the next morning my Dad gave me his usual: “Jonathan, you’re going to go deaf if you continue to fall asleep with those headphones on…” speech. This ritual turned to obsession when in 4th grade I received my first Sony Walkman. Night to night I would pick out a new tape to listen to. At first, I started listening to albums that I had heard my parents play on one of many weekend camping trips or long drives to our lake house, but when I started running out of familiar names, I would choose solely on a what the album’s cover looked like (unbeknownst to me at the time, this would be one of the main reasons I would become a Graphic Designer). As I got older and became more familiar with certain artists, photographers and designers, I came to realize that 90% of the album covers I had fallen in love with as a kid, were designed by a group by the name of Hipgnosis.

Hipgnosis was a British design group responsible for creating some of the most iconic and recognizable album covers of all times. Most notably for bands and artists such as Pink Floyd, T-Rex, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Scorpions, Yes, The Alan Parsons Project, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, ELO, just to name a few. The group consisted primarily of Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell, and later, Peter Christopherson. The group would dissolve in 1983, though Thorgerson still works on album designs, and Powell works in video.

Pink Floyd - "Ummagumma" (1969)

Pink Floyd - "Wish You Were Here" (1975)

Pink Floyd - "Animals" (1977)

Peter Gabriel - "I" (1977)

Peter Gabriel - "II" (1978)

Peter Gabriel - "III" (1980)

The groups approach to album design was strongly photography-oriented, and they pioneered the use of many innovative visual and packaging techniques. In particular, Thorgerson & Powell’s surreal, elaborately manipulated photos (utilizing darkroom tricks, multiple exposures, airbrush retouching, and mechanical cut-and-paste techniques) were a film-based forerunner of what, much later, can be called “Photoshopping”. Hipgnosis used primarily Hasselblad medium format cameras for their work, the square film format being especially suited to album cover imagery.

The Alan Parsons Project - " I Robot" (1977)

The Alan Parsons Project - "Pyramid" (1978)

Led Zeppelin - "Houses Of The Holly" (1973)

Led Zeppelin - "Presence" (1976)

Led Zeppelin - "In Through The Out Door" (1979)

Genesis - "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway" (1974)

Genesis - "And Then There Were Three" (1978)

Black Sabbath - "Technical Ecstasy" (1976)

Black Sabbath - "Never Say Die" (1978)

Another trademark was that many of their cover photos told “stories” directly related to the album’s lyrics, often based on puns or double meanings of words in the album title. Since both Powell and Thorgerson were film students, they often used models as “actors” and staged the photos in a highly theatrical manner. Many of Hipgnosis’ covers also featured distinctively “high tech” pen and ink logos and illustrations (often by graphic designer George Hardie), stickers, fancy inner sleeves, and other packaging bonuses. One of the unique extras created by Hipgnosis was the specially printed inner sleeve for Led Zeppelin’s “In Through the Out Door LP”, a “black and white” affair that magically turned to color when dampened with water (tying in with the main cover’s photographic theme).

The groups contribution to album cover designs and packaging can best be described as more of a legacy than anything. A legacy that definitely shaped a generation and set the bar for future album design for years to come.

10 Comments Leave A Comment


Anonymous says:

June 23, 2012 at 4:22 am

I had been given the pleasure to meet Georgie Hardie in person… And was unique to met in person one of the magical graphic designers of all time. I have grown up loving this covers as a form of art. It’s a great post! ;)


RR Pasco says:

June 23, 2012 at 12:12 pm

They were too the reason for me to become a Graphic Designer, i heard a call from above.


C-Pull says:

June 24, 2012 at 9:59 am

Let’s not forget the legacy of Peter Christopherson. With the money he made with Hipgnosis, he funded the recordings of the influential proto electronic act Throbbing Gristle. After TG dissolved the first time, he co founded Psychic Tv then later, the iconic Coil. Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson has since passed on.

Thanks for the great article!!


davehardy says:

June 25, 2012 at 9:37 am

@Jonathan – This looks like the post I requested… thanks, man! I had no idea all of these album covers were done by one design group. I’m going to have to do a bit more research on Hipgnosis!

Thanks to the rise of digital music, my frequent CD purchasing has gone by the wayside. To fill the void (maintain good sound quality), I’m back to buying vinyl which is much more enjoyable. It’s an amazing source of art… design and music, hand-in-hand.


Ryland Behrens says:

June 25, 2012 at 11:29 am

You know, I think you are forgetting Tangerine dream and Boards of Canada. I thought Twoism had a great album cover. Tangerine dream had some cool stuff, too.


Jonathan says:

June 29, 2012 at 7:49 pm

@DAVEHARDY: Yes, this is the post you requested. Glad you enjoyed.
@ROBSIMONS: Lucky man you are. Really enjoyed the Yosemite photos.
@RYLAND: Not sure if Hipgnosis had anything to do with those artists album covers, as I tried doing a bit of research, yet it yielded no indication that the group designed anything for them. May have to dig deeper.