Malcolm Garrett: Anatomy of album covers

In week 2 of Autumn term, we were joined by Creative Director of Images&Co and well-known album cover designer Malcolm Garrett. In this session, Malcolm provided insight from his successful design career and shared valuable knowledge from his experiences to inspire Reading graduates in what could lie ahead for their future careers.

Student and early years

Enthusiastically explaining his late teenage years, Malcolm elaborated on how his year at Reading’s Department of Typography & Graphic Communication shaped him as a designer and the valuable lessons he was taught. Malcolm spent a year in the Department before transferring to Manchester in 1975, where he reconnected with friends from his A level years whom he was able to work again throughout the rest of his career, especially in the music industry. Malcolm’s interest in design originated from his love for music and pop culture. The specific culture behind his favourite bands inspired him to pursue graphic design as a path. With a particular adoration for the cover of Hawkwind’s second album, In Search of Space, Malcolm spoke about how bands such as Hawkwind, The Sex Pistols, Siouxsie and the Banshees drove his passion for wanting to express the visual aspect of music.

The album cover for Hawkwind’s “In search of space” that inspired Malcolm greatly


The counter-culture surrounding the music genre of punk and post punk music influenced Malcolm, as he was obsessed with the overall power of the influence that the music culture had. Furthermore, Malcolm expressed his view of the role of the graphic designer was to act as a “middle-man” to communicate and present people’s thoughts to an audience and bring people together to understand. Students were engaged with Malcolm’s passion towards wanting to design for the public and the punk genre.

‘Album covers should be a vehicle of an esoteric image’ – Malcolm Garrett

The music industry

One of the highlights of Malcolm’s career were his massive contributions towards the Buzzcocks, ranging from the band’s logo to all the promotional material. Malcolm’s reasoning behind why he believes his Buzzcocks design work was as relevant and effective as it was, was because he was the target audience for the band. The music industry needed to tailor its promotional material to the correct audience, so Malcolm designed everything that would suit the punk culture of the Buzzcocks. As a student, it is valuable knowledge that all work should be tailored for users and be created to satisfy the needs of the audience, which Malcolm emphasised throughout.

The album cover for the Buzzcock’s Orgasm Addict


‘I was the target audience for the Buzzcocks’ – Malcolm Garrett


Malcolm has also made iconic and pivotal contributions to Duran Duran’s album covers, especially his most iconic cover for Rio. A theme constantly referenced throughout was the culture and trends surrounding the content is just as important as the design itself. As well as design not having to be limited to digital or only design by hand, which is very insightful for the students as it is helpful to communicate to young designers that there are no limits to constructing design.











The album cover for Duran Duran’s Rio




Malcolm describing his life as a designer helped students recognise that having to internalise the thoughts and personalities of audiences for design should be considered for all design work, to help tailor the experience to the correct users. Furthermore, Malcolm’s inspiration from pop culture and music was a very relevant and relatable context behind someone’s inspiration, that the undergraduates could relate to.

‘A really high calibre designer with really inspiring work. We got to see some really fun work with historical and cultural value.’ – Part 3 student

‘I valued Malcom’s clear experience and engaging presentation, showing an array of his own life and his design career. Garrett’s passion for his work and clear skill was inspiring to hear about and learn from his expansive career in the industry.’ – Part 2 student