Autumn 2006

Factory: design by numbers

Factory Records: The Complete Graphic Album (FAC 461)

Written and designed by Matthew Robertson. Thames & Hudson, £29.95

The author wanted this definitive document of the visual output of Factory Records to be called fac 461, the ‘authentic Factory catalogue number’ he earned for his deft negotiation with the egos of the Factory management and design teams in the eight years he researched it.

His text does not follow the famous Factory numbering system. Since the attribution of numbers had become ‘more and more erratic’, he presents the work in ‘more or less chronological order’.

Robertson begins with a diagrammatic index broken across two double-page spreads. Apparently based on the structure of The Factory ‘10th Anniversary Wall Planner’ (fac 240) from 1988, this presents hundreds of thumbnail images in date order, set opposite their respective fac catalogue numbers with page references. While the list is initially disorientating, it communicates the quantity and variety of the label’s design work.

This is a picture book, with more than 400 full colour photographs of various formats of record packaging and promotional devices. Back covers and inner sleeves for some key items are reproduced, however only a few vinyl disc centre labels are included: the fabulous label from New Order’s Power, Corruption and Lies (fact 75) is absent, for example.

Presenting the label’s catalogue chronologically aids the organisation of items in thematic groupings on spreads, each with a one-line caption, although the location and orientation of these becomes distracting. As a result, Factory Records delivers the experience of simultaneously reading a book, flicking through a record collection and viewing an exhibition.

A colour-coded index of designers employed by Factory shows that this is not the ‘Peter Saville show’: only a quarter of the label’s design work was supplied by the ‘man in the dressing gown’. The others included Trevor Johnson and Johnson Panas, Central Station Design, Mark Farrow, In-house and Martyn Atkins, with the experimental photographic imagery of Trevor Key (for Saville) and 8vo’s typographic compositions perhaps the most consistently strong work.

The design of the book itself stays within the relatively neutral elements of the label’s house style, although the design of the dustjacket suggests a compromise with the publisher’s marketing department. Nevertheless, the book’s publication is a monumental achievement, an essential document of one of Britain’s most influential cultural institutions.

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