“Creativity comes from small groups. Small groups gave us the electric light, the automobile, the personal computer. Bureaucracies gave us the nuclear power plant, traffic jams, and network television.”—Bruce Sterling, Islands in the Net
“This was the first and only time that the band gave me something that they’d like for a cover. I went to see Rob Gretton, who managed them, and he gave me a folder of material, which contained the wave image from the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Astronomy. They gave me the title too but I didn’t hear the album. The wave pattern was so appropriate. It was from CP 1919, the first pulsar, so it’s likely that the graph emanated from Jodrell Bank, which is local to Manchester and Joy Division. And it’s both technical and sensual. It’s tight, like Stephen Morris’ drumming, but it’s also fluid: lots of people think it’s a heart beat. Having the title on the front just didn’t seem necessary. I asked Rob about it and, between us, we felt it wasn’t a cool thing to do. It was the post-punk moment and we were against overblown stardom. The band didn’t want to be pop stars.”
Closer Joy Division (Factory, 1980)
“This cover for the band’s second album was like a work of antiquity, but inside is a vinyl album, so it’s a postmodern juxtaposition of a contemporary work housed in the antique. At first, I didn’t believe the photo was an actual tomb but it’s really in a cemetery in Genoa. When Tony Wilson (Factory co-founder) told me Ian Curtis had died I said, ‘Tony, we have a tomb on the cover.’ There was great deliberation as to whether to continue with it. But the band, Ian included, had chosen the photograph. We did it in good faith and not in any post-tragedy way.”
Blue Monday New Order (Factory, 1983)
“I’d been to see the band in the studio and Stephen gave me a floppy disk to take home. I thought it was a beautiful object. At the time, computers were in offices, not art studios. The floppy disc informs the design and the colour coding was from my interest in aesthetics determined by machines. It reflected the hieroglyphic visual language of the machine world. For example, the numbers in your cheque book aren’t really for you, they’re for a machine to read. I don’t know if the story about the label losing money on the cost of the sleeve is true. I sent the cover straight to the printers because everyone was in a hurry. I doubt the printers even gave a quote for Factory to respond to. The band had handicapped themselves as no one was likely to play it on the radio because it was seven minutes long. Ironically it sold a lot, and with an expensive sleeve.”
Power, Corruption & Lies New Order (Factory, 1983)
“The title seemed Machiavellian. So I went to the National Gallery looking for a Renaissance portrait of a dark prince. In the end, it was too obvious and I gave up for the day and bought some postcards from the shop. I was with my girlfriend at the time, who saw me holding a postcard of the Fantin-Latour painting of flowers and said, ‘You are not thinking of that for the cover?’ It was a wonderful idea. Flowers suggested the means by which power, corruption and lies infiltrate our lives. They’re seductive. Tony Wilson had to phone the gallery director for permission to use the image. In the course of the conversation, he said, ‘Sir, whose painting is it?’ To which the answer was, ‘It belongs to the people of Britain.’ Tony’s response was, ‘I believe the people want it.’ And the director said, ‘If you put it like that, Mr Wilson, I’m sure we can make an exception in this case.’”
Low-life New Order (Factory, 1985)
“The only sleeve with the band on it. I was at an impasse at the time – there was nothing conceptual I wanted to put forward - the unexpected thing to do was a photo of New Order, which for the band was beyond the pale: they didn’t even want to do a press shoot. They were photographed individually, so no one felt self-conscious, and we used a Polaroid film so they could see the pictures. As soon we got one they liked, we stopped. The tradition was that you would put the singer on the front, but I wanted the strongest image on the front and that was of Stephen, the drummer. Later, I found out that they never really believed those photos would end up on the cover. The next time I saw them, at a gig, they said, ‘You bastard.’ I don’t think they liked the sleeve. This was the nature of the relationship.”
True Faith New Order (Factory, 1987)
“This was a first work from real life. In 1986, I happened to have a trauma in my personal life and it made me very attuned to the world around me. Suddenly, I had no filters. I was parking the car one night and a leaf drifted by the window and I thought, ‘That’s so beautiful.’ It was framed by the windscreen, which is probably why I saw it as an image. So we did a leaf. I went to Windsor Great Park with photographer Trevor Key, came back with about 50 leaves and shot two or three until we found the right one. It had to be the right shape and look like it was falling. There was no digital manipulation at this point. I still have the leaf although I keep thinking that one day it will fall apart.”
Technique New Order (Factory, 1989)
“I’d moved on from being interested in 80s consumer products and had begun going to Pimlico Road to look at antique shops. Which was where I saw the cherub statue we used on Technique. It was a garden ornament and we rented it for the shoot. It’s a very bacchanalian image, which fitted the moment just before the last financial crash and the new drug-fuelled hedonism involved in the music scene. It’s also my first ironic work: all the previous sleeves were in some way idealistic and utopian. I’d had this idea that art and design could make the world a better place. That even bus stops could be better. In some ways it’s also quite neo-Warhol. And before he’d even seen the sleeve Rob Gretton suggested ‘Peter Saville’s New Order’ as the title of the album. As in ‘Andy Warhol’s Velvet Underground’. That went down like a lead balloon with the band.”
Regret New Order (London, 1993)
“I was broke after the recession and it made me look more critically at the world. I’d picked up a copy of Richard Prince’s Spiritual America at the Walker art museum in Minneapolis. It made me appreciate how strange contemporary America really was. Later I spent a month in Los Angeles – and there was something about the experience that was like the end of the world. There’s nowhere further to drift, it’s the terminal beach where the western world washes up. It was the first time I did a New Order cover listening to the record – I wrote down everything that came into my mind. I wrote ‘cowboys’ for Regret because of the way it rolled. And cowboys referenced Richard Prince and the Marlboro Man on Sunset Boulevard. Juxtaposed imagery blending into something molten, the way you might see the world if you were hallucinating.”
Retro New Order (London, 2002)
“I’d been in the Helmut Lang store in New York and in the entrance was an assemblage which he had made: two large carved wooden eagles around a huge glitter ball. Months later, when the request of doing the cover for Retro was put to me, I couldn’t get eagles and the glitter ball out of my mind. It represented both Joy Division and New Order. The eagle was dark, brooding, gothic and where the band came from - Joy Division. The glitter ball was what happened afterwards, which was New Order. The glitter ball is deliberately broken, so the eagle is picking away at disco. Helmut Lang was OK with us referencing his work. It was a very memorable photo shoot. Tilly the eagle was a lovely bird, she does a lot of TV work, but when a creature like that is actually standing next to you it’s terrifying.”
Total Joy Division & New Order (Rhino, 2011)
“I realised this was a record that would be sold in supermarkets and advertised on television. So the cover has a ‘pile it high, sell it cheap’ aesthetic. As you open it out, it says ‘Total’, but folded up you just see the ‘O’s. It says, ‘From Joy Division to New Order’. I couldn’t bear the words ‘Best of’. It’s a long way from the independent record shop to Tesco, almost 33 years. At Factory, I had a freedom that was unprecedented in communications design. We lived out an ideal, without business calling the shots. It was a phenomenon.”
Peter Saville is the reason I got into design in the first place. He was a huge inspiration to me in my teens.
How would you define a good life? It’s a bafflingly tough question. An even tougher one: does the economy we have today value such a life? Does it help us create one?
Here’s what I see when I look not just at the surface, but deep inside the heart of the economy today:
Instead of an “energy industry,” I see a resource addiction that saps money and preserves self-destructive expectations. I see, instead of food and education “industries,” an obesity epidemic and a debt-driven education crisis. Instead of a pharmaceutical industry, I see a new set of mental and physical discontents, like rates of suspiciously normally “abnormal” mental illnesses and drugs whose lists of “side effects” are longer than the Magna Carta. Instead of a “media industry,” I see news that actually misinforms instead of enlightening — rusting the beams of democracy — and entertainment that merely titillates. In short, I see an outcomes gap: a yawning chasm the size of the Grand Canyon between what our economy produces and what you might call a meaningfully well-lived life, what the ancient Greeks called eudaimonia.
The economy we have today will let you chow down on a supersize McBurger, check derivative prices on your latest smartphone, and drive your giant SUV down the block to buy a McMansion on hypercredit. It’s a vision of the good life that I call (a tiny gnat standing on the shoulders of the great Amartya Sen) hedonic opulence. And it’s a conception built in and for the industrial age: about having more. Now consider a different vision: maybe crafting a fine meal, to be accompanied by local, award-winning microbrewed beer your friends have brought over, and then walking back to the studio where you’re designing a building whose goal is nothing less than rivaling the Sagrada Familia. That’s an alternate vision, one I call eudaimonic prosperity, and it’s about living meaningfully well. Its purpose is not merely passive, slack-jawed “consuming” but living: doing, achieving, fulfilling, becoming, inspiring, transcending, creating, accomplishing — all the stuff that matters the most. See the difference? Opulence is Donald Trump. Eudaimonia is the Declaration of Independence.