Does Australian CD artwork suck?

Does the design of Australian CD covers suck, or perhaps to put it a better way, does the design of Australian CD covers pale in comparison to work being produced overseas? The latest edition of Australian Creative, in one of their usual indepth critiques says ‘yes it does’. The statement arises in their examination of that old chestnut, ‘does the increase in consumers downloading music online mean the death of printed cover art?’ I’ll cover my opinions on that matter in another article – but is Australia really producing substandard CD covers? Well, the obvious answer to that is of course that 90% of everything that is designed is substandard or at the very least generic. That applies to what is being produced overseas as well, so is Australia really the poor cousin in comparison when it comes to album art?

The article makes it sound like great CD artwork flows like milk and honey in the US and Europe, a fantastic nirvana where designer’s call the shots, producing cutting edge work for the likes of The Rolling Stones, Madonna and Radiohead. Funny then, that’s not the impression that I get when I see the racks of blandness while walking into a Sanity record store.

The fact of the matter is that The USA & Europe are producing as much crap CD covers, if not more-so, as we are in Australia. Certainly, the likes of Stefan Sagmeister, Designers Republic & Kim Hiorthoy are producing brilliant cutting edge covers, none of it is finding it’s way onto the latest Britney or 50 Cent release you’ll notic though. While Sagmeister and The Designers Republic have designed covers for big acts like The Rolling Stones and Madonna, they are hardly the most creative examples of their work, could you name off the top of your head what album they did? Their best work has always been for independent record labels, even Peter Saville and Vaughan Oliver’s covers for New Order and The Pixies were done under the patronage of independent labels.

It all comes down to economy of scale. Europe and the USA obviously have larger populations, are closer to other countries and therefore have more access to diverse markets. It stands to reason then, that they have a higher number of independent records labels, putting out more product and vying for a slice of the market. Australia has a relatively small population – hence less record labels putting out less product. So it would appear that there are less well designed CD covers produced here, but in a percentage comparison, the opposite is probably the case.

And what exactly does Australian creative consider as a well designed CD cover? One produced by a well known designer it seems, they don’t really set any base mark for their conclusions other that citing the obvious overseas big names, Sagmeister doesn’t produce work here so guess what, we’re crap!

If Australian Creative were seriously interested in examining whether Australian CD artwork really is inferior compared to that overseas, they probably should have looked into it with a bit more depth than just asking the nearest ‘bohemian’ behind the counter at the local record shop whether he can think of any really cool Australian CD covers.