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No matter how acclaimed Elvis
Presley may be, there are few
people who would lend any praise
whatsoever to his album covers.
Designer Thomas Vasquez, cre-
ative director of cYclops, a design
and production firm, thinks he
knows why the designs were
so pedestrian.
“Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’s man-
ager, carried with him a toolbox
full of photos and other elements
that he called his ‘instant album
cover design kit.’ Parker would sit
down and literally in two minutes
design a cover. He’d say, ‘The type goes here, put some stripes
on here, use this photo, print
Elvis in big letters,’ and that would
be it,” Vasquez says.
Elvis fans, somehow, chose to embrace this poor design and hold
it almost sacred, as a crucial component of the Elvis mystique.
So Vasquez’s task in creating a cover design for a new RCA col-
lection of Elvis hits was made all the more difficult. Not only would
he have to please the client, he would also have to placate a fan
base that might not be all that receptive to the change.
When Vasquez, himself a long-time Elvis fan, began working on
the first project, a CD cover, he was freelancing. As more and
more hours were poured into the work, he was invited to join the
cYclops staff as creative director. What began as a single mark
for a CD cover soon became an extensive branding program,
complete with a TV special and mobile exhibit.
“The client wanted this program to be so comprehensive that
wherever the mark and its accompanying visual language would
be seen, it would feel like it came from the same voice,” he says.
The design challenge would be to depict Elvis’s entire career, from
his rockabilly roots in the 1950s to his last hit in 1977, represent-
ing his music, movies, and lifestyle.
The initial approach boiled the
concept of Elvis down to its
essence. Because of his nick-
names was “E,” and this CD was a
compilation of his number-one
hits, the idea naturally led to the
creation of an “E1” logo. Vasquez
liked this approach very much, but
the client felt it was too reductive.
(Ultimately, this design was used
on the CD itself, as well as on the
driver’s door of the truck that
transported the mobile exhibit.)
Vasquez’s solution for the world-
wide advertising campaign focused
on the “delivery mechanism” for all of Elvis’s number-one hits: his
mouth. The curled lip and squared chin are recognized around the
world. Vasquez simplified the message further by running the
photo as a black and gold duotone to complement the already
established program color palette of gold, black, and white.
The new CD, with its modern representation of Elvis, quickly
became a number-one best seller, surpassing earlier Elvis
releases. But the design of a compilation CD was not as warmly
received. This design also employed the photo cropping Vasquez
used for the first design. It resembles the “E1” mark, because it
works the numeral 2 into a photo of the face of the star.
The mark soon became the topic of many online chat groups,
where Vasquez’s work was blasted from all directions and even
reworked by those who were particularly outraged. Redesigns
were posted on the Internet, voted on by fans, and submitted to
RCA as bona fide alternatives. One critic compared Vasquez’s
design to “a coffee mug.”
Vasquez admits that the criticism stung, but he believes the bile
arose from his violating the established visual language of Elvis.
“Without a challenge, people will feel comfortable just regurgi-
tating the past. The language will not advance,” he says.
Elvis
Identity Design
cYclops, New York, New York
LL2 144-157/M6 28/9/04 11:00 AM Page 145

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