Future Utopia is the new project from the Grammy and Ivor Novello award-winning songwriter, producer and musician Fraser T Smith, which debuts with the album “12 Questions” on the label Platoon. The collaborative concept album brings together a wide-ranging group of musicians, poets and spoken-word artists that includes Stormzy, Dave, Kano, Bastille, Mikky Ekko, Alysia Harris, Lafawndah, Idris Elba, Arlo Parks and Es Devlin, among many others.
Pentagram developed the creative direction and design for the album cover and accompanying campaign. Musically “12 Questions” is a hybrid that spans diverse genres and sounds. Smith wanted the cover to have a mystical, neo-psychedelic vibe that captured this interconnected world. Pentagram worked with illustrator Ori Toor and Smith to develop a vibrant, intricate landscape with distinct episodes based on the 12 songs.
Smith is the co-writer and producer of Adele’s hit “Set Fire to the Rain,” among other producing credits with her. He produced Dave’s first two EPs, including the song “Question Time” and the Mercury Prize-winning album “Psychodrama,” as well as Stormzy’s BRIT Award-winning debut “Gang Signs & Prayer.” He has also worked with Sam Smith, Drake, Gorillaz, Britney Spears, Celine Dion, Ellie Goulding, Florence + The Machine, Kesha, Lily Allen, and many more.
Each song on “12 Questions” is framed as an inquiry and is given its own distinct section and animation within the larger cover. The designers developed the dimensional typography for the title and animated lettering for each track. They worked with Toor on the different themes for the illustrations for each song/section, and both the illustrations and animations (by 1983) are filled with “Easter egg” details that tie into the individual songs. Typography is set in Supreme from Lineto.
The deluxe edition of the double LP album features an oversized booklet with an illustrated essay written by the renowned neurosurgeon Peter Hamlyn in which he responds to the 12 questions, interwoven with lyrics to the individual songs. The metaphysical look and feel of the album inspired playfully unconventional swag for the promotional campaign, including a special deck of tarot cards, a jigsaw puzzle, notebooks and apparel.
The designers also extended their creative direction and design to the video for the first single, “Do We Really Care? (Parts 1 and 2)” feat. Tom Grennan, Tia Carys and Simon Armitage. The Pentagram team worked on the visual and narrative approach with Toor to build on the vibrant, intricate landscape of the album cover and bring it to life with animations by 1983. The designers developed the animated lettering in the video and created the lyric sequence for Part 2, which features the words of poet Simon Armitage. Inspired by the font Garaje Multi (designed by Thomas Huot-Marchand and available from 205TF), the animation creates an expressive counterpoint to Armitage’s voice.
On the eve of the 2020 US presidential election, several questions taken from titles of the songs on the album––“What Happens Next?,” “Why Are We So Divided, When We’re So Connected?,” “Is It Too Late to Save the Planet?,” and more––were projected on landmarks in Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, Detroit and Miami, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Detroit Institute of Arts and American Airlines Arena in Miami.
Creative Review selected “12 Questions” as one of the best album covers of 2020. Smith credited his collaboration with Pentagram for capturing his vision for the album: “I know the record is exactly as I want it to be and now I know the visuals are... the whole package is incredible, it’s exactly what’s in my head,” says Smith.