"Pared back" design wins big at NZ Music Awards

Sometimes keeping it simple is what it takes to make something truly stand out, as evidenced in designer Paul Johnson’s win for best album cover at this year’s Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards, for the Phoenix Foundation’s new album Buffalo. 

Johnson, a designer at Designworks' Wellington office, was alerted to his win via text message and remains stoked and slightly surprised by the positive reaction to what he describes as “something quite simple”. 

“I was surprised with the reception because the cover is quite pared back and basic. There’s not much more to it than a direct translation of the title track. It’s refreshing that something understated won.” 

Johnson teamed up with photographer Amelia Handscomb to create the cover, resulting in a simple but skewed interpretation of the title track with the minimal typography, muted colour palette and reduced linear notes creating a more contemporary minimal feel for the band, which has often appeared eclectic and colourful and purposefully un-trendy. 

“It was a no brainer in terms of the imagery used. The rest was up to me to pull together and package. I had to make sure not to overcook the footage.” 

He says the band members are fans of old school 70s photos, which he describes as  “grainy, National Geographic quality. 

The use of vintage stock imagery and old style sans-serifs follows the band's creative mantra of creating music that could belong to any time, and pays respect to the past in a way deeper than pure pastiche 

“There’s a slight vintage flavour running through a lot of what the band does,” says Johnson. 

It’s not the first time Johnson has worked with the band. He’s put his creative touch on several albums and projects over the years including Samuel Scott’s “The Hunt Brings Us Life”, “Straight Answer Machine” albums, Luke Buda’s “Special Surprise” and “Vesuvius” albums, Conrad Wedde’s “Bronze” album as well as TPF album “Happy Ending” and the re-release of “Horsepower”. Paul, in conjunction with photographer Louise Clifton, also designed the cover for the Black Seeds third album “Into the Dojo”.