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Who designed Pink Floyd album covers? The Story of Hipgnosis

Pink Floyd Wish You Were Here

Paddy |

Hipgnosis is best known for its iconic album cover design. The design studio was founded by Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell in the late 1960s, and it became renowned for its innovative and visually striking album covers. 

Hipgnosis was known for its surreal, imaginative, and often enigmatic album cover designs. Their work was characterised by a distinctive visual style that blended photography, graphic design, and conceptual art. The covers often featured elaborate and thought-provoking imagery, contributing to the overall experience of the music.

It's worth noting that while Hipgnosis became synonymous with certain bands and the progressive rock era, the studio's influence extended beyond that period. The legacy of Hipgnosis continues to be celebrated, and its album covers are considered iconic pieces of visual art within the history of popular music.


Here are some highlights of Hipgnosis's history in designing record covers:

1. Pink Floyd

Hipgnosis gained early recognition for its work with Pink Floyd, creating some of the band's most famous album covers. Notable covers include "The Dark Side of the Moon" (1973), "Wish You Were Here" (1975), and "Animals" (1977).

2. Led Zeppelin

The studio collaborated with Led Zeppelin, producing the cover for "Houses of the Holy" (1973), featuring a surreal image of children climbing the Giant's Causeway.

3. 10cc

Hipgnosis worked with the band 10cc, designing covers such as "Sheet Music" (1974) and "The Original Soundtrack" (1975).

4. Wings

Hipgnosis designed several album covers for Paul McCartney's band Wings, including "Band on the Run" (1973).

5. Genesis

The studio created album covers for Genesis, including "Nursery Cryme" (1971) and "Foxtrot" (1972).

6. Peter Gabriel

After the breakup of Genesis, Peter Gabriel continued to collaborate with Hipgnosis for his solo albums, such as "Peter Gabriel" (1978) and "Security" (1982).

7. Other Artists

In addition to the above, Hipgnosis worked with a wide range of artists, including Syd Barrett, Yes, Electric Light Orchestra, and many more.


The Story Of Hipgnosis

The London design collective Hipgnosis took up residence at 6 Denmark Street in a dilapidated factory. Before long, every record label in the business would have rejected the audacious album cover designs that founders Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey “Po” Powell had. 

However, they were now setting trends. Hipgnosis used a variety of photo distortion techniques, trompe l'oeil effects, latex masks, collage, and cubism. Thorgerson and Powell displayed equally audacious artwork during a period when rock music was breaking new ground; in fact, many of their covers were even more avant-garde than the songs inside the sleeves.

Behind Hipgnosis' Style

Hipgnosis invented numerous cutting-edge visual and packaging innovations, and their record design methodology was heavily focused on photography. Specifically, the bizarre, intricately altered photographs by Thorgerson and Powell (using airbrush retouching, numerous exposures, darkroom gimmicks, and mechanical cut-and-paste techniques) were a film-based precursor to what would, much later, be called photoshopping. For their work, Hipgnosis mostly used medium-format Hasselblad cameras.

Certain Hipgnosis covers—like the one for the Pink Floyd double-LP compilation A Nice Pair, which included a plethora of visual puns—were renowned for their peculiar humour. An additional instance was the album There's the Rub for Wishbone Ash, which featured a photo of a cricket player and a ball.

Another trademark was that many of their cover photos visually related to the album's lyrics, often depicting puns or double meanings of words in the album title. Since both Powell and Thorgerson were film students, they often used models and staged the photos in a highly theatrical manner. Hipgnosis covers rarely featured artists' photos on the outside, and most were in a gatefold cover format to provide ample space for their imagery.

The Story Behind The Name

The phrase "Hipgnosis" combines the terms "hip," which denotes modern and stylish tendencies, with "gnosis," which has Greek origins and means wisdom or knowledge. Thorgerson and Powell wanted to communicate a sense of being both historically aware and artistically knowledgeable by fusing these components. 

When Did Hipgnosis Stop Designing?

While Hipgnosis carried on working until the 1980s, Thorgerson and Powell's collaboration came to an end. Storm Thorgerson continued to work independently in the field of album cover design until his passing in 2013.

Influence and Legacy

 The studio's impact on album cover art went beyond only its unique creations. Hipgnosis made a substantial contribution to the visual storytelling element of music by bringing album covers up to the level of art.

Hipgnosis's legendary record covers, which are praised for their creative value and contribute to the overall appeal of the music they depict, serve as a living tribute to the band. A lot of the time, the album covers are thought to be essential to the overall listening experience.

Hipgnosis used graphic design, conceptual art, and photography in their album cover design process. The studio's output has had a lasting impact on the development of visual arts related to the music business.

There are many brilliant stories behind their album artwork designs, a couple of our favourite include “Animals” by Pink Floyd and “Melt” by Peter Gabriel.

Animals - Pink Floyd

The cover for Pink Floyd's "Animals, features a pig floating above Battersea Power Station, symbolising the album's social commentary. The inflatable pig was a large helium-filled balloon, and the photoshoot to capture the image took place at the real Battersea Power Station. However, things didn't go as planned during the shoot. The pig broke free from its moorings and floated away, causing disruption and even interrupting flights at Heathrow Airport. 

Peter Gabriel III (Melt)

The album cover for Peter Gabriel's third self-titled album, commonly known as "Peter Gabriel III" or "Melt," features a distinctive and memorable image. Gabriel's face was first captured in a photograph. 


Then, a mask was created from the photograph, and a wax model of the face was made. The wax model was placed under heat lamps to simulate the melting effect. As the wax began to melt, the desired distorted and liquefied appearance was achieved. 


After the wax model was partially melted, the image was re-photographed to capture the distorted and surreal look. This involved careful coordination and timing to achieve the desired effect. The cover is a stark black-and-white colour scheme, emphasising the surreal and enigmatic nature of the image.

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1 comment

A good introduction to their work, but omits mention of the contributions of Peter Christopherson (of Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, Coil fame).


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