Three-time Grammy Award-winning art director Kevin Reagan has shaped the images of prolific musical artists for the past 25 years, designing album packaging for Madonna, Dixie Chicks, Beck, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Foo Fighters, B.B. King, Enrique Iglesias, Henry Rollins, Nelly Furtado, Sheryl Crow, The Who, Tupac Shakur (to name a few), and most recently, James Taylor.
The FIDM Digital Arts team was thrilled to catch up with Reagan, who is not only an art director and designer for high-profile projects like Taylor’s “Before this World” album, but also a lead Graphic Design Instructor at FIDM.
Earlier this summer, The Rolling Stones reported how pop legend James Taylor had finally scored his first Number One record on the Billboard 200 – a surprising fact seeing that Taylor’s 1977 album JT sold nearly four million copies. Reagan’s album cover design splashed news websites as other media picked up the story.
“It’s fantastic,” says Reagan of seeing the album top the charts. Reagan has designed many number one hit albums including Madonna’s “Music” album, Dixie Chick’s “Home,” Bon Jovi’s “Crush” and Aerosmith’s “Just Press Play”– the first two for which he also earned Grammy Awards for Best Art Direction/Best Recording Package, along with Madonna’s “Ray of Light’ album.
Reagan gave us insight behind his creative process and the workflow involved on “Before this World,” for which he designed two vinyls and a specialty direct-to-consumer deluxe package that included a die-cut 40-page booklet and three discs, along with standard CD packages and special variations for retailers like Barnes & Noble and Target.
“Branding-wise, I like for design to withstand the test of time, and be client appropriate,” says Reagan whose typical creative process involves him presenting various rounds of conceptual design comps for client approval. For highly observant music fans (and design geeks like us), Reagan’s signature style of subtle-yet-intricate design elements can be found in most of his music packages. He’s known to create a theme for each album he designs for, capturing the vibe and music of the artist it represents. “I never want the package to be just photos of the artist,” he says.
The process for Taylor’s “Before this World” took about six weeks, the cover for which features an iconic photograph of Taylor leaning on his vintage Ford pickup truck. The photo that sets the stage for other design elements found throughout the entire package.
“The image was my number one choice,” says Reagan. “For me, it represents James being in command, relaxed– representative of how he’s been doing this for decades.”
The cover image drives the color palette of the package– deep emerald greens complemented by browns and dark blues, while cream and white colors define the typography (Eagle by Font Bureau). The casual observer might notice how the trees reflected in Taylor’s green truck are later unveiled in payoff images inside the album’s booklet. Reagan weaved in photographs of snowy, tree-lined highways and tight cropped photos of leaves and other images of The Berkshire mountain range of western Massachusetts– a nod to Taylor’s love for New England. The deluxe packaging also included scanned copies of Taylor’s hand-written notes and ideas.
Naturally, the process of designing multiple elements of a package on such a tight deadline does comes with its challenges, too. For example, obtaining the rights to use the “Ford” logo, seen embedded on the dashboard in the back-cover photo (seen below) wasn’t approved until half of the packaging assets had been printed, says Reagan. Some versions of of the album’s packaging includes the iconic vintage Ford logo, and some don’t, depending on when the pieces went to print.
At FIDM, Reagan teaches his students the importance of meticulous attention to detail, professionalism and–arguably the most important quality to embody as a designer– passion. He has been teaching at FIDM for more than 10 years, guiding Graphic Design Students in subjects including Logo Design, Applied Branding and Portfolio.
“I tell my students that hopefully you love design– organizing shape and color and a vision of how elements come together. Whether it’s graphic design, or jewelry, environmental design, a movie poster– they all share the same discipline,” he says. “Have an open mind. Start with something and get good at it. Who knows where that will take you?”
“You have to love to design. Whether it’s graphic design, or jewelry, environmental design, a movie poster– they all share the same discipline.”
Reagan says for him, the most rewarding aspect of teaching aspiring designers is the sense of discovery and growth that he sees in his students’ work.
“You just hope that your students feel inspired to try harder– to take a seed of an idea and water it, watch it grow. It’s exciting to see someone all of a sudden find that passion for design, and to want to do what you do,” he says.
Below, check out more detail spreads from James Taylor’s “Before this World” album, and see more of Reagan’s work at kevinreagandesign.com.
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