Good Spot

Deciphering the graphics and print techniques on the sleeve for R.E.M.’s GREEN paved the way for NYC designer Joe Shouldice’s love of hidden extras.

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1988, I was barely a teenager and I either bought or was given the R.E.M. album GREEN. I found the music was fine, nothing that I particularly loved. I didn't even know what graphic design was and the ‘design’ of the cover art was not really something that I particularly liked, with the exception of one thing. Printed ‘invisibly’ over every ‘R’ on the cassette sleeve was the numeral ‘4’ (I later learned this invisible printing to be a spot varnish). Additionally, wherever ‘4’s were to be printed, in their place were ‘R’s. In a pre-internet age there was no way for me to answer the question why anyone would ever intentionally do something like this and it absolutely fascinated me. (In writing this article I learned – thanks Wikipedia – that this was basically just an inside joke carrying forward a typo where Green was accidentally typed ‘G4een’). 

In hindsight, I realise that this made me aware of these little decisions that could add intrigue and surprise to otherwise mundane graphic design. It lead me down the dark rabbit hole of finding subliminal words in advertising (discovering that nine times out of ten, this will be the word SEX). A couple of years after encountering GREEN I remember finding a special edition Pepsi can designed with blue and pink neon shapes on a black back ground that, when stacked correctly, spelled out just that. It makes me appreciate designers who put in the extra effort to provide a little smile to the five or ten per cent of their audience who will notice or care about those things – it’s always something that I try to incorporate into the work at yesyesyes design.

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