“We’d like to commission a thumbnail artwork. We want it to be an illustration without the name of the artist and the album title.”
Designers nowadays get this kind of message a lot when designing for album covers. There is no word “cover” anywhere. It is often replaced by the word “thumbnail.” Now that customers these days see album covers through online music streaming services using their smartphones, the word thumbnail, which used to mean a small image on the Internet that represents a larger one, has replaced the words “cover” and “jacket.” Now and then, technology transforms art and formality changes the content. The trend of album cover design has been transforming, moving from 12-inch LP to 5-inch CD to a micro visual environment on a mobile phone.
A closed up face of an artist with big eyes or an extremely simplified image is popular album design these days. Detailed information of an album, such as “Cho Yong-pil” or “The 10th album,” is often removed from the screen. “Well-made cartoon characters have replaced the pictures of artists on album covers,” said CEO Lee Chang-hee of the music distribution company Mirror Ball Music.
The album covers of Lee Nalchi, a project band that fuses Korean folk music with rock, are a good example of simplicity and intensity. The bizarre-looking images of fish, rabbit, and tiger, the titles of their albums, fill the screen. “Customers often remember album covers by their colors, not by their details,” said Kang Min-kyung, designer at Ore-Oh! Studio, which undertook the album design. “We focused on color selection and distribution so that customers would know the albums are from Lee Nalchi even under a micro visual environment,” said Kang. “We used graphic artwork images, which are unfamiliar to customers, to stimulate their curiosity about the Korean folk music pansori.”
Intense and simple thumbnails also serve as a teaser that attracts customers. “Thumbnails are the core images that represent the identity of artists. The album covers of Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones have the power that transcends time,” said CEO Kim Cheol-hee of PATHX, which designed the covers of Baek Hyun-jin, Bulgogidisco, and hyangni. “I’m trying to apply that power to the artists of our time.”