A Brief History of Hipgnosis

A Brief History of Hipgnosis

One of the advantages of purchasing a long-playing album from the mid-70s through the beginning of the 80s was when you realized that the artwork on the sleeve was designed by the design company Hipgnosis. It was clear that it was a feast of high-quality, well-crafted art that could complement the music and improve the listening experience. It is possible to sit with the sleeve on your lap while the music plays, and then you could connect the images of the sleeves to the music and words that you were listening to. I cannot find a better example to illustrate this concept than the cover art on the cover of the double album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis. Its black-and-white photo images on the cover show scenes from the story as that is told through the lyrics and music.

Hipgnosis were a design firm that was responsible for numerous important rock album sleeves. They gained a lot of attention in 1973 when they created the cover art for Pink Floyd’s legendary album The Dark Side of the Moon. The album was one of the most popular selling records ever, and the design of the sleeve became immediately identifiable. Hipgnosis was later able to design cover designs for many famous bands like Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer.


The group was created in the hands of Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell in the year 1967 when the band was approached by Pink Floyd to produce the cover artwork for their album A Saucerful of Secrets. The band were close to Thorgerson, and Powell was going through internal turmoil as talented but troubled leader Syd Barrett resigned in the direction of David Gilmour. The design of the cover was a huge success, but it was also a source of more work from Pink Floyd’s agents. The group then went further to design packaging to Pink Floyd classics, including Animals and Wish You Were Here. Hipgnosis was later joined by Peter Christopherson.

The Hipgnosis Style

It was predominantly photographically based and often involved the staged, surreal scenes inspired by the lyrics of the album. The majority of their work was shot with black-and-white as well as hand-coloured. It wasn’t in the nature of Hipgnosis to simply put their image on the front cover and then call it an end! The photography was further enhanced by the graphic design skills of freelancers, including George Hardie and Colin Elgie, who frequently provided stylized text.

The group took the initiative of listening to music and analyzing the lyrics to develop an appropriate concept and refrain from creating beautiful images. Pictures often had clever puns that were based on the lyrics. Once an idea was developed, the idea was often realized using a combination of traditional photography films montage techniques, film montage and airbrushing. Concepts that could today be developed by one graphic designer in one day in Photoshop typically required three or four weeks in the field with a variety of technicians. For instance, the concept for the cover of that album Elegy by The Nice featured a long line of red globes that stretched to the maximum distance one could see across the barren desert landscape. The group flew across Morocco with 60 red plastic footballs to take photos within the Sahara!

Hipgnosis utilized an innovative method of charging fees for their services, as well. Instead of providing a precise price for the work, they preferred to request that the client pay whatever they believed they were worth. It appears that this tactic rarely backfired.

Pigs may fly overhead Battersea.

The most well-known work was by Pink Floyd. In addition to the famous Dark Side of the Moon, The band will be remembered for the fireman in front of Wish You Were Here, which involved lighting a fire on a Hollywood stuntman, as well as the epic saga of the photo shooting for Animals. The idea behind Animals was a 40-foot in length inflatable pink pig to be photographed over Battersea power plant in London. In spite of Hipgnosis, it could be photographed anywhere and then stripped to the main image. The band insisted the pig be photographed on location. The shoot took three days and included eleven crew members as well as an aircraft. When the pig first was flung, it broke free from its moorings and floated off, only to be spotted to agricultural property in Kent. When it was found and finally taken for photos on day three, the sky’s clear blue backdrop was not a favourite for the band, who prefer the dramatic sky of the day before. The band decided the pig should be stripped into!

The 80s of the early 1980s witnessed an end to the popularity of lavish, high-end album covers. The Punk movement was a revolution that revolutionized the world of music for the better, and the fans from this New Wave of rock music wanted simpler, less formal packaging. Hipgnosis ended its existence in 1983, but the group’s founder, Storm Thorgerson, continued to produce album covers until his death in 2013.