Art Director Ian Stoufer on How Art Can Amplify an Artist's Message

At our recent Co.Lab event, industry experts focused on the power of merchandising. Ian Stoufer offered his two cents on the impact of design when it comes to creating a complete world to dive into.

There is a bright line connecting music and design. They feed off of each other: Music lending inspiration to design, and design giving music its visual identity. Ian Stoufer, art director of Studio Number One in Los Angeles, has been investigating that nexus for years and counts the music he grew up surrounded by as one of his key artistic influences. He joined a panel of expert's at a recent Co.Lab event in LA to discuss the importance of album cover art, Riff Raff, and the one boring thing he can’t live without.

Spotify for Artists: What have you learned from working with entertainment industry clients?

Ian Stoufer: In my experience working with people who already have sort of like an over-the-top personality or aesthetic makes my job much easier. People who have developed their visual style a little bit, I think, makes it easier and it's just a nice place to start from as a designer. You're not necessarily starting from scratch and building something from the ground up. You can take what they've already done and just elaborate on that.

What elements of a musician’s visual brand can you jump off from and make interesting stuff out of?

I've done a couple of pieces for Riff Raff; that was really fun. He just knows how to accessorize and his facial hair was very fun to do stuff with. If you're doing an illustration, accessories are something that's a lot of fun to work with. People who just have a lot of flair, it just comes across in the work.

Art Director Ian Stoufer chats with an artist at a Co.Lab
Art Director Ian Stoufer chats with an artist at a Co.Lab

How do you think that music and design interact with each other?

Music is my biggest influence. I feel like designs can amplify what an artist has to say, and then help to create an atmosphere that extends beyond the music. There's a designer named Vaughan Oliver. He and his partner had this little studio called 23 Envelope and they did all the design for 4AD records. It felt like the music was really new and so the design language was also really original. They were who I look to in terms of the epitome of what design and music can do together. Just creating a whole new universe that's greater than the sum of its parts.

How would you explain the impact of good design to an artist or label?

I remember going into the record store and buying numerous albums worth of music from artists that I didn't know based exclusively on their cover art. So I think that really good design can spark curiosity in people. Also, it gives us some sort of window into the music and the artist behind the music, but it also tells us a little bit about ourselves and the time that we live in.

What’s one tip you have for artists that are designing their visual identity?

This might be incredibly boring sounding, but I think having a brief or a checklist to work from is the surest way to be successful when pulling off a project. What we do as a studio is have a brief that we have our clients fill out and it has their objectives and different milestones that we need to hit in terms of timing. All the different deliverables that we need to have when the project is finished. I just think that having something to work from that is somewhat formal is a really great way to make sure that everybody is on the same page and that everybody is doing what they need to do to make something work. It's not super glamorous, but I think it's helpful for everybody. So many of the projects that I've either been involved with or had friends get involved with are very informal. And it's just conversations happening; yeah let's do this, let's do that. I think having it broken down is a really good way to go about it.

- Spotify For Artists

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