What is so powerful about sleeve design in packaging? Well, even though we almost kissed the decadent size of the 12 inch vinyl album goodbye, pretty much ignored the undersized cassette package, and now are in the process of saying au revoir to the CD sleeve, there is much to be learned from this amazing medium. Actually, in the fury of digital downloads, the 12 inch sleeve lives on thanks to independent artists and consumers with enough gumption and passion to keep them on the shelves. Yes there are digital booklets for download, but how many of those have you actually downloaded?

The mystique, emotion and power of the sleeve is wise to study. It is on these gems you will find design solutions and story telling that convey one of the most emotive mediums, music. This highly sensory medium is a challenge to capture correctly and when paired with the character and brand of the artist and/or label, only skilled designers get it right. Music represents the time that you live, the culture of the street, the pulse of the city, the word of the youth and the technology of the process in making the music. Music can be articulated as being one of the most compelling portals to our souls.

There have been some amazing designers who have created their careers and owned categories for this work including Malcolm Garrett of Assorted Images, Vaughn Oliver, Nigel Grierson and Chris Biggs of 23 Envelope/v23, Mark Farrow of Farrow Design, Neville Brody of Research or the sleeve king himself, Peter Saville of Saville & Associates. Saville’s trek with co-founding Factory Records and creating nearly all of their identity and sleeves, today easily fills up lecture halls and books annually. These legends have all inspired countless designers to create amazing music packaging and sleeves today.

But why? For starters, sleeves have to be provocative. They have to woo you in and get you closer. If you didn’t pick it up, you surely weren’t going to buy it. The sleeve presented a unique situation where a large amount of brand or story had to be told in a quick snapshot measuring 12 x 12”. Imagine fitting a story, a mood, the band’s character, the label’s character, the sound, the lyrics, the emotion and the quality all in one design. The solution was all of these, one of these or even none of these if by design. Either way, the sleeve had to seduce you, represent emotive qualities and perform on a ledger to make profits.

The sleeve then began an experience by how it unfolded the story from outside to the inside, to the liner notes and inner sleeve. To the vinyl label, color and shape of the vinyl and with any inserts like posters or photos that were slipped in. These sleeves came wrapped, gate folded, packaged in boxes and other eccentric containers. They came in 7, 10 and 12 inch variations. Electronic and dance music even saw multiple versions and mixes released providing a myriad of sleeves from the same album of songs allowing the designer to paint a very comprehensive glimpse into the artist’s brand.

So dust off the turn table, throw down a mix, and as the cracks and pops delight, use the enigmatic nature of the sleeve design to provoke something different in your next package or design solution.