ANATOMY OF DESIGN
On the eve of its extinction, the CD jewel box cover still asserts itself as a
medium for graphic expression that is more than a simple frame in which to
put recording artists’ portraits. In this era of computer download, CD
graphics are given considerable license to suggest mood or signal concept
through abstract and representational forms. CD covers no longer have to
hard-sell the music, but they must imply an idea or evoke an attitude
consistent with the artist. For the English electronica duo Solar Twins’ (David
Norland and Joanna Stevens) cover of the Clash’s “Rock the Casbah,” Stefan
Bucher designed an image that was more sci-fi than punk, more abstract
than literal, and more enigma than illumination. It establishes a visual
presence for the CD that dips into three wells of past references to devise
its decidedly futuristic aura.
Bucher draws from the eighteenth (and earlier) century graphic
illusion known as topsy-turvy, wherein an image—say, of a face or body or
cityscape—is exactly the same whether turned right-side up or upside down.
In fact, there is no right or wrong way; it is all the same. In the nineteenth
century, this visual trick was common in children’s books, notably Peter
Newell’s classic The Topsys and Turvys, and routinely found in decks of
playing cards; by the twentieth century it was a common illustrative trope
on posters and magazine covers, like the one for Modern Priscilla, as well
as book jackets and record sleeves. Sometimes the topsy-turvy was simply
a mirror image, while other instances included subtle yin-yang changes that
contrasted the two images. Often the conceit is used to make a conceptual
point, like the “Good News/Bad News” cover of Time magazine, which when
turned around shows . . . well, the good and the bad—both sides of the
argument in one illustration. But it can also be void of overarching motive
other than the sheer aesthetic appeal of the mirror image.
In addition to images, typographers have used the topsy-turvy method
for logos and headlines as well as pictorial images. “Specs” can be read the
same way from any vantage point, or it can be a mirror image, or reflection,
like “New Man,” which perfectly balances the two three-letter words.
The mirror image is also found in the classic Rorschach or inkblot test
developed by Hermann Rorschach in 1918 for psychological testing. During the
1920s and 1930s, flopping photographic negatives evoked a similar graphic
sensation to that of the Rorschach, if only in a stylistic manner. Rather than
faithfully duplicating a face, body, or anything else, the seemingly balanced
perfection caused by flopping an image can produce a futuristically surreal
visual, as Bucher has done, or a bizarrely comic one, like the foot with one big
toe in the middle, or “Mono-Mickey,” the one-eared, one-eyed Mickey Mouse.
To further achieve the futuristic attitude of the Solar Twins CD, Bucher
relies on a now common bitmapped, digital typeface, originally based on the
limitations of computer readouts but currently a stylistic conceit. The polka-dot
motif that forms the letters further owes a debt to the earliest computer
readouts, the holepunches printed on ticker tape, and the flashing light readouts
on news zippers, like the famous wraparound on the Times Building in Times
Square. On the CD cover, the letterforms appear to flicker as flames in the
background shoot through the sky. Taken together, these three strands of design
DNA intertwine to become an image that effectively evokes the electronica genre.
Designer: Stefan Bucher
1999 Solar Twins: “Rock the Casbah”, CD cover
d: Stefan Bucher
For the English electronica duo Solar Twins’ (David Norland and Joanna Stevens) cover
of the Clash’s “Rock the Casbah,” Stefan Bucher designed an image that was more sci-
fi than punk, more abstract than literal, and more enigma than illumination.
Technological influencing tyopgraphy