iTunes and banner ads were supposed to kill the album cover as an artwork form. The square little bigger than a postage stamp on the iTunes Store or Spotify's New Releases page offers little opportunity for true creativity wailed the doomsayers – just as they had one when cassettes took over from vinyl as the most popular way to buy music (with CDs being a minor upgrade).
However, its never been a better time to design vinyl records – what's possible with extended gamut printing and a wider choice of materials means that while there's less demand (unless you get your own records pressed), there's more scope.
What's perhaps surprising about the covers of the albums up for this year's Mercury Music Prize is that they largely work as tiny web graphics and as full-size LP covers. For example, you're going to notice the rainbow colours of Jamie XX's In Colour (shown here) among the mass of covers on the iTunes Store homepage – but its design really delights in LP form with different coloured vinyl and a bundled CD.
Yes, that approach can lead to a certain sameyness as there are certain techniques that work well in small space – complementary colours, high-contrast headshots and fuzzy photos whose silhouette's are easier to read when small – but that still leaves space for thoughtful design. They typography on Róisín Murphy's Hairless Toys (shown here) is near invisible when you see it as a tumbnail – but rather elegant on the LP.
Alternatively, sometimes design takes a back seat to using content to draw in potential listeners/buyers. The front of Aphex Twin's Syro isn't that great – you know who it is from the name and symbol – but it's the odd choice of information on the back that intrigues. A list of Aphex Twin's YouTube stats for six months in 2014, it's purposefully oblique but somehow fascinating – just like Richard D James' music.
Whatever the approach, it's great to see that there's still space for creativity in the visuals that accompany new music. Read on to see the rest of the Mercury Music Prize 2015 Nominees's album covers.