Mario Hugo for Beck

After running a piece early this year on some of the genius ways designers have repurposed their rejected works, we’ve decided to keep exploring the topic. In fact, why not provide a platform ourselves, asking some of our designer friends to share designs that, for whatever reason, ended up in the reject pile? You’ll find new examples here, every month, as well as in the very first issue of our Eye on Design print magazine, where we decided to devote an entire section to resurrecting the rejects.

Previously, we spoke to Amsterdam-based agency Thonik about a failed attempt to brand the Netherlands government and the still-mourning type designer Andy Clymer about the “g” that got away. Today, Mario Hugo of NYC studio Hugo & Marie talks about a music-based project that—at least at first—involved no music. When Interscope Records reached out to him to design album art for Beck, they didn’t want to share the music at first for fear of a leak. Sounds like a set-up for failure, and by some measures, it was. But the rejected design also served to kick off many more years of Hugo partnering with musicians, from The Decemberists to Rihanna. Here’s Hugo, in his own words, on the Modern Guilt design that never was.

“Back in early 2008, I was contacted by Beck’s label, which was Interscope at the time. Honestly, I was excited out of my head. I’ve worked with many musicians since, but it was my first big music project. I remember the brief being something along the lines of Beck has a new album, we have a title [maybe] that is subject to change [almost definitely]—also, we’re afraid you can’t hear any music yet, because we want to avoid a leak.’ Leaks were a big deal before streaming, and music was too valuable to distribute to some kid the label didn’t know.

“It was only after the first round of pitching that I was asked to come in and listen to the album. It was in a small, unremarkable conference room at some office or other. This was a long time ago now, but I’m pretty sure I was given a physical CD player and headphones, because I’ve recorded the memory of how strange that felt, even at that time. Dangermouse co-produced the record, and I remember it sounding a bit spacier or poppier than I’d imagined, so I went back to the drawing board and contributed a couple more illustrative covers, but with a kind of kitschy, occult, Popular Science vibe.

“There was a lot of debate weighing the unused sketches and the final sleeves in design communities at the time. I think I’ve gone on to work with many musicians by virtue of some of this early, unpaid pitch stuff.”

“After I’d heard Modern Guilt, I thought the cover should be big, monumental, and natural—less driven by technology, and a bit more textural. There were a variety of cover options, and each referenced some older, airbrushed vinyl and sleeve traditions, but the woodblock typography became a kind of case study for me at that time. I think the label was pulling for me, or for illustration anyway, but I don’t know what decisions led to the cover that was ultimately chosen.

“I desperately wanted to work in music when I graduated, and in a lot of ways, having work for Beck in my portfolio was the validation I needed to break into that space. A number of the concepts I designed actually were chosen as tour merchandise, so I felt comfortable enough posting the sleeve development work online. There was a lot of debate weighing the unused sketches and the final sleeves in design communities at the time. I think I’ve gone on to work with many musicians by virtue of some of this early, unpaid pitch stuff. I think the next big sleeve was with Carson Ellis—who is amazing—for The Decembrists.

“I listen to every album I work on artwork for now, and listening to unreleased music never gets old—it’s among this industry’s most precious perks, I think.”