The fact that I don’t have to say anything about what this image is speaks volumes. While not strictly a logo, it’s one of the most iconic record covers ever created. And I can see why. It hits all the major marks. It’s such a unique image that it’s been reprinted on EVERY kind of medium. Posters, T-shirts, tattoos. Someone even 3D printed a version of it.
And while the visual nature of the image is striking, what really catches me is the significance of the line forms. These aren’t random – they are, in fact, visualizations of pulsar radio waves data gathered from the first pulsar ever discovered. A pulsar is basically just an incredibly dense astronomical object (basically a star that is on it’s way to collapsing and exploding). These pulsars give off radio signals as their neutrons and protons in the heart of the pulsar collide and fuse. When this fusion happens, energy is released in the form of radio waves. The image is a series of captured radio signals stacked on top of each other. The original image was created by radio astronomer Harold Craft for his 1970 PhD thesis, and was reprinted several times in several different scientific journals and, most famously, The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Astronomy. It was there that designer Peter Saville discovered the image and the rest, they say, is history.
The fact that something so obscure, something so removed from the normal lives of most people, radio signals from a distant pulsar, became such an iconic image is what draws me to this design. Sure, Saville didn’t do that much to the image, but he realized it’s striking characteristics where others might have just seen a bunch of nonsense. Shrinking the image to only occupy a small portion of the center of the cover only serves to give it more power. More importance. It asks the viewer to question it, to study it. Coupled with the glaring absence of both the band’s and album’s name (Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures), the cover challenges you to not remember it. It shows itself with such confidence that you can’t deny it’s power and importance.
All from a few squiggly lines.