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Always curious to which albums define a year in music, I find NPR’s list of top 100 albums go beyond popular to influential and cross cutting cultural lines. In looking at the album covers I quickly started to see a world where some traditional album art is retained but where the dominance of online streaming is affecting designs… album art is frankly simple and without words so it can be recognizable when at thumbnail size.

I also recognized four major trends that might not be trends at all but rather commonalities!

Busy getting

I have been noticing more and more, each year, the rise of complex and rich with detail designs. A once common critique heard of design: “I hate it, its too busy” is now: “wow, its got expression and character… borderline ugly… I love it!”. I’m excited about this broadening of what is ‘acceptable.’

Albums with busy energetic tone


Don’t get me wrong, strong graphical expressions are not going anywhere. As stated, albums will be to have a logo-esque quality to be recognizable on tiny screens. The most noticeable is David Bowie’s album with the star — I don’t feel it represents his music but I can spot it out of a crowd of album art!

Albums with graphics look


I wish I coined the term ‘unfiltered’ but I heard it from a Getty image presentation. Here we see common American scenes that are authentic and relatable. Gone is the faux glamor of the music industry replaced with a notion they are just like us. The Queen Bee is the queen for this reason — we’ll follow you Beyonce.

Albums with unfiltered common appeal

Faces with Hands

This one is for fun – what’s up with all the albums with hands touching or covering faces? We have PSA’s telling us to keep hands off our faces to thwart germs and here we have artists being bad role models. If you see me with my hand on my face in a photo, likely I’m covering a pimple. Just saying.

Albums with hands on faces

Michael Schafer
Michael has spent the past 25 years applying his experience and superpowers to further the missions of social-good organizations, and has no plans to stop.