Home > Design, Graphics & Illustration, Music, Things I Like... > Peter Saville & New Order’s Colour Code

Peter Saville & New Order’s Colour Code

In the spring of 1983, I, like thousands of others across the country, rushed down to my local record shop to buy one of the most amazing tunes that I had ever heard, Blue Monday by New Order.

This record has become such an intrinsic part of our culture, that it really needs no further comment from me, but this cover and a couple of other connected sleeves are possibly worthy of another look. As well as the now famously expensive die cut shapes making them look like an old fashioned floppy disc, they contain an obscure code that many people didn’t notice at first or if they did, how it worked.

The in-house graphic designer for Factory records was the great Peter Saville, and his distinctive and iconic work had already set Factory Records apart as a company that believed strongly in design, seeing it as a key aspect in cultivating the labels overall  image (much like Vaughan Oliver at 23 Envelope who was a direct contemporary of Saville)

Saville was primarily interested in juxtapositions: historical and modern, technological and natural and in a wider sense, how history is perceived when seen through contemporary eyes. His colour code was a way of juxtaposing as he said “the hieroglyphics of technology with historical classicism”. Although the code first appeared on Blue Monday, it was with the release a few months later of the Power Corruption and Lies (PC&L) album, that any sense of what it might all mean began to surface.

The cover of this brilliant album is a reproduction of the 1890 painting A Basket of Roses by the French artist Henri Fantin-Latour, and apart from some coloured squares in the top right, that’s it, there’s no band name and no album title. The seven squares however are a continuation of the Blue Monday code and it’s only when you turn the sleeve over to find a coloured wheel that it becomes possible to try work it all out.

The two diagrams below set it all out.

The first clue is that the circle is made up of 26 segments around its outer rim. The wheel is decoded using only the outer two rings, which are either a single colour or a doubled up colour (with either green or yellow). The inner segments as far I can tell are to complete the device and for decoration only.

The alphabet starts with the double depth green at the top and works round clockwise. The numbers 1 to 9 also start at the doubled green which means they are effectively identical to the first 9 letters of the alphabet (context is everything for Mr. Saville). The key below the wheel sets it all out.

So the coloured squares on PC&L are its catalogue number FACT75 (I have no idea why numbers always seem to read upwards) and the colours down the front of Blue Monday read “FAC73 Blue Monday an” with “d The Beach New Order” on the back.

The last new Order sleeve to feature the code was Confusion released in August 1983 and which again had the catalogue number in the top right (FAC93)

fac_90_lgThere was one final appearance for the code, and that was on the front cover of Fact 90, a 1984 album by the band Section 25, where a series of coloured poles on a Welsh mountainside spell out the album’s title “From The Hip”. Bernard Sumner had produced the record and he and Saville both saw this as an appropriate final use for the colour code…

And that was it. All that thought and effort for four record sleeves… In many ways this epitomises the genius of Peter Saville. He had so many brilliant ideas, that it seems he couldn’t and didn’t want to stick with any one thing for too long.

  1. May 29, 2011 at 22:08

    I spoke with Peter recently about his thoughts on “Blue Monday” almost 30 years on (the track was recorded in the latter part of 1982, mixed in the January of ’83 and released 4 months later) He recalls the events leading up to the design of the sleeve perfectly – picking up the floppy disc from the bands Emulator Sampler and seeing immediately the potential for it’s use as a sleeve/cover for the groups latest single. With “Blue Monday” New Order had finally found themselves and Saville’s perfect use of technology summed up events converging at that particular moment in time. It is perfect in every way and though it’s cost is often debated (suggestions that the sleeve actually cost Factory many thousands of pounds are exaggerated) stripped down versions of the pressing released minus die-cuts and the silver inner sleeve lost only a little of the original impact…

    • May 31, 2011 at 15:23

      Hi Jonathan,
      Many thanks for taking the time to comment. Indeed, 30 years ago, how time flies etc, but I can clearly remember the day I bought Blue Monday from my local record shop. And having heard it hundreds and hundreds of times since then, I can honestly say that the opening 5 beats, da da da da da, still sends a shiver down my spine… And as for the colour code, despite the obvious risks of plaigarism, it’s such a strong idea, that I’m surprised no one has attempted to rework it in all this time.

  2. Annon
    October 18, 2011 at 16:02

    The color code is also featured on the cover of Section 25’s 1984 album “From The Hip”, as you probably know.

    • October 18, 2011 at 16:20

      Hi Annon
      I did not know that, but I do now and many thanks for pointing it out… I will update the post accordingly..
      Thanks for taking the time to visit and read…

  3. Luis Antezana
    June 14, 2012 at 22:56

    Great post. I had seen your images on someone’s Facebook nd requested the source so when I Pin them they will have proper attribution. Of course, I should probably ask where you got the bloody things…

    As for other bands using a similar code, Coldplay used a similar color device on their X&Y album and all related singles. So that would make the music on “Talk” inspired by Kraftwerk and its jacket inspired by Saville/Factory/New Order. Nice pedigree.

  4. August 30, 2012 at 13:42

    FYI: Section 25’s “From the Hip” was re-released in limited edition vinyl format in June 2012.

  5. March 24, 2013 at 18:06

    In your blog you have said that it reads ‘FACT73’, however upon comparing this to the alphabet you provided, i think it actually reads ‘FAC73’ which fits with other advertising for Factory Records. http://waskogm.deviantart.com/art/FAC51-Hacienda-127549368

  6. March 24, 2013 at 18:07

    This is on the front of the Blue Monday cover sorry i forgot to add.

    • March 24, 2013 at 23:39

      Hi Thomas
      you are absolutely right, good spot…
      I’ve corrected the post so it reads as you have noted.
      Interestingly though, the colour code at the top right of Power Corruption and Lies does read FACT75, although on Confusion the T is dropped as on Blue Monday to read FAC93.. I never noticed those discrepancies, and neither has anyone one else in the two years since I wrote the post.
      Thanks for bringing it to my attention, and thanks also for visiting and taking the time to comment, much appreciated.
      Joe Blogs.

      • March 24, 2013 at 23:51

        Interesting, also no problem!
        I was researching Peter Saville and came across your blog which was helpful!
        Thankyou ‘Joe’.

        Tom Hyde.

  7. jamesstiff
    October 14, 2013 at 16:11

    According to Wikipedia, “FACT was reserved for full-length albums, while FAC was used for both single song releases and many other Factory productions…”


    • October 17, 2013 at 15:12

      Hi James
      thanks for the clarification and link, very useful.
      And thanks taking the time to comment, always appreciated.

  8. moi
    October 17, 2013 at 16:30

    I had that New Order track on Vinyl only recently sold it, I think those codes were on the confusion 12″ by the same band if I recall correctly.

  9. August 23, 2014 at 18:13

    Hi there i am kavin, its my first occasion to commenting
    anyplace, when i read this piece of writing i thought i could also create comment due to this sensible post.

  10. uofsc93
    December 20, 2017 at 05:04

    Here’s another place where it was used by Peter: https://www.flickr.com/photos/51106326@N00/sets/72157676862601442. check out screenshot 5.

  11. April 13, 2021 at 03:44

    I played around with Peter Saville’s color alphabet and created a version of my name and my son’s name, using circular and horizontal linear writing, rather than the top-down writing used on the albums. I was interested in the colors and wanted to see other examples of their use, and finding so few, I thought I had better create some.
    https://www.historylines.net/arthur/images/Arthur_Name_Saville_Color_Alphabet.png and https://www.historylines.net/lishi/eric/art/Eric_Name_as_Saville_1000.png

  1. June 18, 2012 at 12:49
  2. January 14, 2013 at 16:19
  3. January 14, 2013 at 17:07
  4. January 26, 2013 at 20:25
  5. September 10, 2014 at 18:59
  6. April 18, 2018 at 18:25
  7. April 26, 2018 at 14:47
  8. January 9, 2021 at 05:27

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