(Image by Jem Stone)
Album covers are a great source of fresh inspiration for your graphic design work. Not only are well-designed album covers artistic, but they’re effective at marketing as well.
The best designed album covers:
- Give you a clear representation of what the content will be
- Sell you on the content by looking great itself
In other words, what a great visual design should be.
Think about it: how many times were you intrigued by fantastic artwork, and when you put the music on, it was how you’d imagine it would be like? That was a well-designed album cover at work.
So next time you need a fresh source of inspiration for your design work, take a look at well-designed album covers. And the following list of the 20 best designed album covers will get you started.
Disclaimer: Best Designed vs. Best Looking
Before we dive into the list, know that it’s best designed, not just the best looking.
The best designed album covers not only look great and are eye-catching, but they do an amazing job representing the content: the band, the brand, the music. You’d be able to tell what the music, artist, and vibe is like just from looking at the cover.
There are plenty of sweet-looking album covers that don’t relate to the band or music. Sure, it’s a nice piece of art, and that’s totally fine, but it’s not well designed. And that’s what we’re focusing on here. Your design should not only look impressive but represent whatever it is you’re designing for.
Anyway, without further ado, here are the 20 best designed album covers for inspiration:
20 Best Designed Album Covers
Weezer – Blue Album
Weezer didn’t look like other rock bands in the ’90s, or sing about the same party-hearty or angst-ridden topics, and this cover starkly and boldly showcases their geekiness.
Having a solid single-color background just put the focus on the band even more – as did having them lined up side by side, rather than posing rock band-style (which their later Green Album did, hence lessening the effect).
Autechre – Tri Repetae
The Designers Republic, the adored design outfit from Sheffield, was famous for designing most of Warp Records’ material – where they could really let loose.
This was perhaps TDR’s boldest cover they ever designed. A shiny golden-brown sleeve, nothing else. No text, no logos, nothing. But the genius is in the detail – by having the color be an industrial-esque color, as well as being shiny (alas, not visible on a digital screen), you could tell that what’s inside is a) electronic music, and b) stark and machine-like.
Plus, having this bare of a cover using a never-used color created mystery – you’re intrigued by the enigmatic nature of the content. Which was true of the music.
Autechre – Draft 7.30
The complete opposite of Tri Repetae, The Designers Republic went to the other extreme of visualizing what Autechre’s music sounded like. Abstract, machine-like, enigmatic, and unpredictable – the chaotic and industrial nature of the design. But at the same time: breathing, human, and emotional – TDR used rounded corners and flowing lines instead of square corners and blocks.
Daft Punk – Discovery
The stark silver text implies electronic – of which the music was just that. But the subtle rainbow colors underneath implies a bubbling of fun, disco, and ’70s and ’80s funk – of which the music was also just that.
Jay-Z – The Black Album
This was a mature, classy, and bold statement of an album for the popular rapper, and the cover perfectly reflected that. The black and grey colors and classic font represents the “I’ve moved beyond the bling rap and gangsta posturing” classiness of the music. But the baseball cap still reminds people that this is rap music.
Ramones – Ramones
Ramones’ music was very monochromatic, and so was their debut album’s cover. Black and white all over. And the clothes and location assures you that this is New York City punk music.
But the Ramones were a no-nonsense band, which the cover also reflects – no graffiti, no wearing of countless accessories, no posturing. Just Converse, jeans, jackets, long hair, and rock ‘n’ roll.
Boards of Canada – Music Has the Right to Children
Boards of Canada makes warm yet distant and hazy music. It sounds familiar and foreign at the same time. This cover represents that dichotomy perfectly. The blue hues, the ’70s image, the people, the location – all warm, all familiar. Yet, there’s something hazy as well – the blurred out faces, and the image seeming like it’s being seen through an unclear filter.
Boards of Canada – Geogaddi
A continuation of the Music Has the Right to Children direction. For this album, BoC added kaleidoscopic sounds to their palate. And—you guessed it—the kaleidoscope is literally on the cover. The tree and orange hue makes it feel warm and familiar, but the kaleidoscope makes it not so crystal clear.
The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers
Never has the Rolling Stones’ sex drugs and rock ‘n’ roll been portrayed as effectively as this infamous cover, designed by the famous pop artist Andy Warhol. The grungy stamp of the text, the grainy black and white image, the tight jeans with the suggestive bulge, the choice of the shot itself being so close up – all prepare you for what the songs inside contain.
Yet at the same time, there’s a certain reserve. This isn’t sleaze for shocking-sake. The Stones were a super-professional band, and Warhol didn’t cheapen the band’s brand by using cheap thrills on the cover.
(And yep, as many of you no doubt already know, a real zipper actually unzips on the vinyl cover.)
Gorillaz – Gorillaz
Stylish animated “band”, grungy yet bouncy, Japanese anime yet Western? Check. Fun yet serious music? Check. Is it all packed into the debut album cover, along with the graffiti logo elegantly placed? Yep.
Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85-92
Aphex Twin’s music contained in this album is stark, bold, and alien yet familiar at the same time. The cover reflects that. The design expertly uses only his logo, and it fills up the entire space with it. The statement is bold, that you’re about to get a bold dose Aphex Twin.
The design also achieves that by literally getting out of Aphex Twin’s way. The logo is enough to convey the content – no tweaking of it is required. The logo itself is stark, bold, and alien yet familiar.
Aphex Twin – Windowlicker
One of The Designers Republic’s most notorious album covers. Aphex Twin’s tune “Windowlicker” is twisted, sleazy, futuristic, and sexy at the same time.
That combination is wrapped up and perfectly presented in the cover: twisted because of Aphex Twin’s head on a female body, sleazy but sexy because of, well, the female body, and futuristic because of the font choice.
Bjork – Homogenic
The metallic background, falling snowflakes, and icy (not to mention awesomely weird) appearance of Bjork are all balanced and evenly arranged. Which is exactly how the music is – Bjork’s weird-but-great voice, sharp icicle beats, and a cold vibe throughout.
You can’t get a much better designed album cover – slick artwork that also perfectly represents the content inside.
Blur – Modern Life Is Rubbish
Blur’s songs on this album yearn for a simpler British life of yesteryear. It’s spelled out in the album title, in the song titles, in the lyrics, and even in the instruments (think less loud guitars, more horns and keys). But yet the songs are utterly modern and the recordings sound clean.
So while the album cover uses a classic font for the title and features a painting (rather than digital artwork) of an old-fashioned train, the Blur logo is sleek and modern. Like with all of these best designed album covers, you know what you’re getting when you look at this one.
AC/DC – Back In Black
Like the Ramones’ self-titled debut album, AC/DC’s Back In Black is very monochromatic. Simple riffs, beats, and melodies. Black and white all over. But the music is harder and stomps louder. Hence the stark black canvas but with the strong logo loudly stomping over it. You know what you’re getting with this album: loud and heavy rock ‘n’ roll.
BT – ESCM
BT’s album is mystical and new age-y while being futuristic and cutting-edge. The serene shot is new age-y, the monolithic block is mystical, and the text on the top is futuristic (the underscore between the words implies technology). ESCM stands for Electric Sky Church Music, and the cover expertly evokes that.
Burial – Burial
Burial’s tunes are ghostly, foggy, late night South London dance music. The beats are hazy and buried underneath layers of rain and pirate radio crackle, the melodies mournful yet hopeful, and vocal fragments echo into the distance. This is music for listening to at night, on a night bus or late walk home on the street.
The shot of foggy, late night South London not only evokes that feeling you’ll get when hearing the music, but the far-away distance of the shot itself hints at the distant melodies and vocal fragments contained within. Even the text has a foggy glow, like a street light glowing in the rainy night.
Pulp – This Is Hardcore
The music on this album, like the title, is sexual and aggressive yet only suggestive. It’s coy instead of explicit.
The cover does the same by being suggestive – the woman in a dark room is in a possibly sexual position, with supposedly something aggressive going on. But you never know for sure what’s happening in the scene. Even the body reveals very little – the arm covering much of it, and only from the waist up is visible.
Tricky – Maxinquaye
Tricky’s debut album is like a box of mystery. You don’t even know where to start opening it – ie. what to make sense of the tunes. Yes, there’s beats, rapping, and singing, but it all sounds so mysterious. The album cover is literally that box of mystery. The design is the box itself.
Royksopp – Melody A.M.
Royksopp crafted these tunes to be the perfect soundtrack to the morning rise – or the early morning return from a late night. Breezy melodies and groovy beats with a hint of melancholy. Oh yeah, and the duo is from Norway, so the coldness of their winters inevitably creeps into the music.
The morning photo in the cover perfectly evokes that feeling. It’s that undefined state of late night and early morning, where the sun is just beginning to rise, and it’s still cloudy. And that oh-so-intentional white border creeps the feeling of winter and snow into the otherwise warm vibe.
Best Designed Album Covers for Inspiration
Hopefully these 20 best designed album covers provided some fresh inspiration for your graphic design work. Remember: the best designed album covers not only give you a clear representation of what the content will be, they also sell you on the content by looking great itself.
That’s how the best designed album covers can inspire your graphic design work: to not only look fantastic but do a great job of branding and marketing as well.
What’s missing from this list? Cheesed that favorite your album covers didn’t make it? Share more well-designed album covers in the comments below.