If you ask graphic designers how they got into graphics in the first place, a lot of them will tell you about their favourite album covers or something else visually related to music. Enter London-based Tom Hingston: For over ten years, he has been designing quite a lot for music, from flyers for the legendary Blue Note club to Massive Attack’s covers. So for today, PingMag asks Tom about visualising sounds.
Written by Chiemi
Tom, how did you get involved with music projects?
Do you remember? The logo of London’s Blue Note club, designed by Tom Hingston.
In the mid 90’s, I started out designing flyers for the Blue Note club in London’s Hoxton Square. Through the club, I met a lot of really talented people — DJs, promoters and producers who went on to start up their own clubs or record labels and asked me to be involved. I guess it kind of grew from there really.
Did you set up your own studio straight after that?
No, I had a full-time job working for Neville Brody at the time. And I was designing the club artwork in my evenings and spare time. As the club blossomed, the more the workload increased and what started off as two, or maybe three flyers a week became ten or fifteen different bits of artwork, and slowly it was becoming a full time job in itself. So something had to give — either the freelancing or my job. I made the decision to set up on my own.
Okay… We know that by now you do all kinds of work, but for today, we’d like to focus on your designs for music. How do you visualise it? Any tips?
An open-minded approach is key to each project. This is underpinned through a process of research which will then help us shape and define our ideas. Collaboration has always formed a fundamental part of our approach as well, over the years we’ve worked with some of the best photographers and image makers in order to realise our vision.
Creating what, for example?
With Massive Attack’s “Collected,” we needed to find a symbol that encapsulated or conveyed the emotions and ideals of the band. With it being a “Best of,” a more obvious route would have been to utilise their trademark flame in some way. So instead we thought, a nicer way to approach the cover was to adopt a technique that we’d used before on their other album “Mezzanine:” a collage or composite of different elements, but applied to a new set of images. Working with Nick Knight, we took a still life of roses as the core element and introduced other layers over the top. When you first look at the rose, you see this very beautiful flower, or group of flowers. However on closer inspection, all these other hidden layers are revealed.
The working relationship we’ve established with Massive Attack is quite different to that we have with any other artist or band; it’s quite an organic process that takes place.
What means “organic process” exactly with them?
Robert from Massive Attack will come up with themes or words that are applicable to that project or that piece of music, and between him, Nick and I. We’ll gradually forge how the thing will look. We’ll push and pull each other in different directions until we end up in a place we’re all happy with.
A very ideal designing process! Any other favourite artists to work with?
Gnarls Barkley has been a great act to work with. With “St. Elsewhere,” the band were adamant that they didn’t want to be on the front cover – which is great because it opens you up to endless possibilities. Their initial references to us were early psychedelia, a lot of that West Coast imagery from the late 60’s, early 70’s. I’ve got a few books on Cuban posters from a similar era — not the political ones, which is what most people know of Cuban imagery –, but all the early cinema posters which are a lot more psychedelic. And the band were really supportive. They saw those early references and just allowed us to go ahead, which is great to have that level of trust from an artist.
What is most important when designing for music?
For us, it’s important that the design captures the tone and mood of a record but also becomes an expression of our own personal ideas and inspirations at that particular time.
What is a good design for music?
To create something that’s both unique and beautiful.
And what would be a good album cover?
Good choice! Those are masterpiece for both music and design! Finally, what is the greatest thing to design for music?
When you’re designing for an artist whom you really respect and admire — that’s exciting. We’ve always tried to design for music we really like, and that’s what makes the project both inspiring and enjoyable.
We’re sure that working with your favourite artists must be a great experience! Tom, thank you having some time for us today!