Consumer Electronics

Best Recording Package Grammy Goes to Wilco's Understated and Elegant CD Case

Posted: December 11, 2009 by
Ron Romanik

Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy has developed a level of trust with a team of New York City designers who always deliver interesting and beautiful packages. Though the name of the latest Wilco CD, A Ghost Is Born, and the artistic package concept were not forcibly developed as a single message, the name and package seem to fit hand in glove.

The creative team behind the CD package has three principles that collaborate frequently--Peter Buchanan-Smith, Dan Nadel, and Michael Schmelling. Buchanan-Smith and Nadel share the design credit, and Schmelling and Buchanan-Smith share the photography credit. Recently, the three worked together on The Wilco Book, a visual analog of the band's recent history.

Buchanan-Smith and Nadel designed that package when they worked together at PictureBox, Inc., a visual-content studio and publishing house responsible for the annual journal of pictures and prose, The Ganzfeld, of which Tweedy is also a fan. The designers were not surprised when Tweedy and Wilco manager Tony Margherita left the designers to their own devices most of the way.

Nadel remembers early brainstorming sessions when they formed a desire to try to have images that would evoke a narrative. They decided to "try to create this sort of oblique story that would unfold in the packaging," Nadel says. They needed an iconic graphic that could unify the whole unfolding-story concept, which became the opening of an empty egg.

Buchanan-Smith explains his affinity for the egg shape and for its precise form that is elegant and durable that the same time. "It's an object that's one of the great design objects," he explains. "It's a perfect object for what it is, and it lends itself to a lot of visual connotations. It's sort of the perfect package."

Nadel further explains how the egg can be a singular message without a context. "The egg is very iconic and stands out from everything else," says Nadel. The pristine oval shape set exactly in the center of the square package creates an alluring visual. "It just pops out," Nadel says.

It could have been the simplicity of message that also caught the Recording Academy voter's attention, standing outside of the very busy CD cases that are the fashion of the day. The outer paperboard sleeve has become sort of a trademark of Nonesuch Records. The designers appreciate the added dimension the sleeve provides that allows a story to unfold.

The booklet insert contains the album's lyrics as well as a sampling of drawings by Gladys Nilsson. Buchanan-Smith doesn't see special packages going away too soon, because many fans will still want to pay for quality packages, artful design, or special booklets in box sets and single CDs alike. Incidentally, Wilco also won a Grammy in the Best Alternative Music Album category for the "Ghost" CD.