The story behind David Bowie’s Blackstar album cover design

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David Bowie – Blackstar vinyl album cover design by Jonathan Barnbrook

As the world mourns the loss of the extraordinary David Bowie, here’s an interview from late last year with Jonathan Barnbrook, the designer of Bowie’s last album cover, Blackstar:

“From the start this album was designed to be inclusive, so the typeface [Virus Deja Vu] is open source, and we’re going to put a download of the logo on our site when the album’s released. Someone’s already put one up though, as I’ve seen someone already has a tattoo of the logo.”

Where The Next Day showed Bowie’s face but obscured it, the designs for ★ take things further by using only symbols. “This is the first album he’s done where there’s not a picture of him on the front,” says Jonathan. “The use of basic shapes is partly about the union of archetypes, but it’s also about cutting through the visual noise. There’s so much visual clutter around now that I want to be simple to the point of excluding all other elements.”

The main star graphic is split into elements across the bottom of the sleeve that spell out “Bowie,” as an extension of the main mark and also a nod to Bowie’s glam rock heritage. Certain points in the record are influenced by A Clockwork Orange, and the use of symbols hints at the graphic use of the letter “A” on its cover. Jonathan explains that the approach examines ideas of legibility in design: “Once you take the text away and you get those symbols, it just means Bowie. In using a symbol it differentiates the album, this graphic encapsulates everything.”

“When you’re designing a record cover, it’s about getting the atmosphere, not taking things too literally and doing something cheesy,” says Jonathan. “It was record covers that inspired me to get into design, looking at how people interpreted the beauty of the music on a cover.”

Did you know David Bowie studied to be a graphic designer?

Blackstar album cover

Blackstar album cover

BONUS: Here’s a live version of Sweet Thing from 1974.

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