You man not know the man, but you certainly Peter Saville's work. As a founder of Factory Records, graphic designer Peter Saville created some of the most iconic covers in the history of music.
In 1978, Manchester graphic design student Peter Saville was asked to by a gig promoter (who he’d previously created fliers for) to make an album cover for the first album of a new label he was launching.
The band was young and not yet known outside of the English north, but the lead singer was particularly headstrong, and they came to Saville with a folder of material for consideration. Included was an image from the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Astronomy that showed graphically how successive pulsars from the first ever pulsar discovered relate to each other.
The album was ‘Unknown Pleasures,’ the band was Joy Division, the promoter was Tony Wilson, the label was Factory Records and the album cover was one of the most iconic in music.
“It’s a phenomenon. You put Unknown Pleasure into Tumblr and it just gets weird,” Saville told GQ. “It has been a through line throughout my career though.”
Saville’s career would be, in his field, as illustrious as the musicians he worked for. Saville would create stunning covers for Pulp, Suede, Roxy Music, Peter Gabriel and Wham!, but it seemed his best work was reserved for New Order, a band which was essentially an Ian Curtis-less Joy Division.
“Usually a band has a leader- if you worked with Pulp, you were actually working with Jarvis, with Roxy Music with Brian Eno, but when I was working with New Order, Ian had been the leader so they ended up being somewhat egalitarian. They couldn’t agree on anything, so as long as they all didn’t agree that they hated what I was doing I was kind of able to do what I liked,” said Saville.
Alongside the creation of album covers (Saville still does covers from time to time, usually only for old friends) Saville has been the creative director for the City of Manchester, designed the English football strip and now is collaborating with Lacoste, designing a logo for the eightieth birthday of the French label.
“I was keen because there was no objectives, no targets and no commercial purpose other than writing the word ‘eighty’ in an interesting way,” says Saville, who now works mostly on his own, having packed up the branding business he ran in the nineties.
“When I was working in the relative playground of the record cover, I always thought when I grow up I was going to be a businessman, designing a corporate identity for British Airways or something, but when I got there, I found I didn’t want to do it.”
“Working with Lacoste has been the same as working with New Order though- you can do what you want,” Saville said with a laugh.
Peter Savile on his favourite album covers and the stories behind them
5) New Order, Power Corruption and Lies
When there have been retrospective and books and things, I’ve found that this is the cover that’s most like me. The front and back are the two poles of my life and taste.
There’s this florid, almost kitsch oil paining on the front and there’s a very cool, diagrammatic, reductive composition on the back. It’s my mother’s living room and there’s the industry of the north west of England
4) New Order, Technique
This was the result of a photographic process that me and photographer friend got into, and we found we made astonishing images in the camera.
In a pre Photoshop era, it imagines the possibilities of would soon come. It’s also a nod to the synthetic drug era, and the colours come from that saturated, designer acid kind of idea.
3) Pulp, This is Hardcore
In the nineties, I had a feeling for a sort of neo-seventies and rather than just buying some crocodile shoes, a German designer friend and in an apartment converted into a seventies salon.
Javis had seen some photographs of it in a design magazine, and he wanted to come round and talk to me about it, and we ended up shooting the cover in my living room.
4) New Order, True Faith
It was inspired by a moment of my own reality, and nothing to do with books or culture or art. I’d just split up with my girlfriend and I was feeling particularly sensitive and perceptive and I’d parked my car one day, sitting listening to end of a sad song, and a leaf just went past the windscreen.
The way it was framed through my windscreen I saw it as a picture and I thought it was just so beautiful. I wasn’t trying to be clever or quoting anything, it was just a bit of everyday beauty. I still have the leaf.
5) Joy Division, Unknown Pleasures
I’m now friends with Brian Cox (Britain’s leading physicist and former keyboardist for D:Ream) and it was that cover that bought us together.
One day a friend sent me a link to his TED talk, and he gave the talk wearing a shirt that said ‘every 1.3373 seconds’ which is the frequency of the radio signal from the pulsar described on the cover of the album (see main text).
That gave me the courage to get in touch with him, we’ve been friends since and last year I designed the cover of his book about quantum physics.