Unknown Pleasures | 1979
In understanding how important this piece of graphic design fully is, you must first place it in its historical context. The design is featured as the cover for British post punk band, Joy Division, a group that is famous for its dark, black and white image they cultivated. The album art serves as a milestone in terms of its muted minimalist style.
Initially inspired by the punk scene (sex pistols), Joy Division brought a style and distinct mood to the British music scene. Joy Division’s music featured a very bleak atmosphere and darker aesthetic which can not only be interpreted from their music but also the videos and graphics that accompanied them.
The designer Peter Saville has perfectly captured the dark aesthetic and appeal of the band through the black and white, scaled back design which creates a minimalist look. The design is a visual representation of the radio pulses created by a collapsing star. Saville has then reversed the image’s colours to black and white, resulting in a cluster of white lines forming an extremely interpretable clean design.
This interpretable nature of the design has curated a strong sense of ambiguity when viewed for the first time. The graphic to some eyes takes the form of radio waves, to others a mountainous landscape or even lines taken from a medical scanner.
Looking at the wider context of the album cover, Saville had really innovated on the scene of cover art, especially when you stack it against other albums from the 70s and the punk era which often depicted scrappier scenes and loud colours rather than a much more muted and hush atmosphere as seen here.
The degree of uncertainty in design is positive in my opinion, it’s fitting with the band’s ethos, the minimalist approach is tasteful and the overarching theme of ambiguity allows for discussion amongst its admirers, encouraging people to see the motif in different lights.
Today the design’s legacy lives on via posters, T shirts and prints with some artists making an occasional nod towards Saville’s minimalist interpretable style which altered the way music was marketed beyond the punk era.