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Happy Accidents

Most things you see in design are on purpose. If a word goes off the page so you can’t see the last few letters, it was for a reason. If you notice a pattern in the background that almost looks like a face, it is probably suppose to look like a face. But, every now and then there is a problem in the process that leads to an accident, and these screw ups sometimes lead a design in a great new direction. I’m willing to bet many of the world’s best designers could blame at least one of their top designs on an accident that was never meant to be.

I encounter happy accidents every week in my own work – so much so that they have become part of the design process. Drawing or finalizing a design and I’ll change something by accident, like the results and decide to keep them. That happens all the time… but the kind of happy accident that rarely is actually ‘happy’ is when the problem occur at the printers. When you send an album off to press and it comes back with a printing error it pretty much always is not something that you or the client are excited about.

I once designed a poster for a client that was hosting an event at the School for the Deaf here in St. John’s – we were horrified when that client started receiving angry calls from concerned parents who didn’t think our posters that named the “School for the DEATH” was in good humour. That client no longer works with me. :^(

In 1977 the SEX PISTOLS‘ first pressings of Never Mind the Bullocks didn’t have a track listing. The back cover was printed blank.

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Second pressing wasn’t much better, they got a track listing on there, but missed the song “Sub-Mission”, a classic tune that was a hilarious oversight.

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They got it right by the third pressing.

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(I had a lot of fun tracking down all three versions on e-bay for my collection.)

I remember a Buck 65 album that came out in the early 2000s that had an incredible dedication song to his recently deceased mother. The company that pressed the vinyl had to cut a song because the record was too long and cut THAT song without asking Buck 65 – everyone was disappointed and it was a negative stain on the album.

I also remember a Newfoundland band in the 90’s receiving their new CDs just in time for their album release, opening one up and finding that the music was the latest Rolling Stones album. The artwork was the local band’s art, but the music was the Stones… the printing company fixed the problem, but not in time to have copies for the CD release.

Earlier this month the new WINTERSLEEP LPs came out and there was a printing error with the jackets. Check this out:

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Its pretty simple – an extra band of the colour on the bottom of the album ended up at the top, and there is a small repeat of a portion of the legs. Why? I have no idea. How? even more puzzling. But do I like it? Yep, sure do.

The band of colour carried over to the back as well, cutting off the top of the text for the albums’s hit single (#1 on Billboard’s USA top rock charts last week) “Amerika”, but I like that too. I’d never purposely cut off the text, but seeing it – totally cool.

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The accident looks ok in these images, but when you’re holding a copy of the LP in your hand it’s actually very cool looking. I should also mention that there are no problems at all with the vinyl itself, while the jacket has this printing mistake, the vinyl was pressed perfectly and sounds amazing.

There is a super limited edition version (only 200) that comes with a screen printed dust cover. There was also a limited edition pink and green LP, but looking at the band’s website, it appears as if those are sold out. Both of these extra versions have the happy accident print error on the jackets.

A second pressing will be arriving soon, with quantities on the first pressing getting low.

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It’s rare that a print error is a good thing. When I designed SARAH HARMER’s last album, Oh Little Fire, I was destroyed when the CDs arrived and the tray was in the wrong location. It was meant to be centered, but ended up on the right panel, over text. You can see in the design that I had left the centre panel clean so the tray could go there…

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Sarah Harmer is one of my favourite singer/songwriters, working on this album was potentially the most excited I had ever been for a project and to have it come back with a printing error was devastating. She didn’t seem to mind, but I felt horrible and it still bothers me every time I take out this CD. Thankfully the LPs printed properly so I usually go ‘LP’ when I put this album on. As far as I know this error was fixed on subsequent pressings of the CD and it was only the first prints that had this error, but I don’t know that for sure.

The exact same problem occurred on MARK BRAGG’s last album – the tray was attached to the right panel instead of the centre one I had requested. There was meant to be a fun reveal here, the CD would cover up a rat illustration that would only appear when you removed the CD from its tray. But now the faces of all the band members on the right are covered by the CD and tray – yikes! – these guys are friends of mine, how do I explain that I didn’t mean to cover their faces…

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Sometimes something as simple as colour can kill a record. When I designed WHITEHORSE‘s last album there was a noticeable colour difference between the LP and CD versions. Why the CDs printed so dark I could not tell you, they were printed from the same original graphic files. Was it a big deal? No. Did it bother me? Of course, still does.

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Collectors Items?

Someone pointed out to me recently that the first couple Wintersleep LPs now sell for a lot of money ($200-250 Canadian, and continuing to go up. Wow!) I also heard that all of their albums, except this newest one, are currently out of print (meaning the record labels haven’t pressed them in awhile and don’t have plans to at the moment, and distributors are all out so stores have no ways of getting more copies), which means that the entire catalog of LPs by this band are becoming increasingly hard to find (and probably quite collectible).

I don’t want to pressure you to go hunting, and certainly wouldn’t encourage anyone to buy an album just because it might be worth money, but it appears as tho these happy accident versions of The Great Detachment could be a rarity one day, and maybe already are depending on how many are left in circulation. I’m a collector, I collect comic books, records, have a small collection of guitars and amps, and most of my star wars toys from when I was a kid. As a collector I find misprints and ‘happy accident’ items very interesting…

Go buy the new Wintersleep LP, and if you can find copies of any of the old records you might want to grab those up too. Not saying they won’t be reprinted someday, or they’ll ever be worth any money, but your record collection will be better for the new additions, and your ears will thank you for all the good music. It took me years to find the various misprint versions of that Sex Pistols record, but they’re some of my favourite pieces in my record collection.

About the Author

Jud Haynes is an illustrator, graphic designer and musician living in St. John’s, Newfoundland (Canada)

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