In the beginning, Lanning Sally designed out of necessity. While attending George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Lanning co-founded a small label with musician Cautious Clay, releasing music and running gigs together. “I began making posters, cover artwork, and other graphics for the label,” Lanning tells It’s Nice That. Although initially going into university to study international affairs, Lanning quickly became more involved in his label than his declared discipline. “By the time I graduated, I was more involved in music and design than my degree,” he says.
This early work for the label turned into an 11-month internship with Composite Co., a New York-based multidisciplinary studio, that served as a comprehensive design education for Lanning. “Most importantly, I learned how to build out a cohesive visual identity and guide clients through that process,” he says, listing Peter Saville, Samuel Burgess-Johnson, and David Rudnick as some designers that have influenced his work.
His constant engagement with the music industry doesn’t come as a surprise, growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, being immersed in the city’s rich history and influence on American music. Lanning incorporates this immersion into his design process when it comes to working with musicians. After an initial conversation that sets the tone for the project, Lanning then tries to get more intimate with the musician’s work. “I listen through their project, often a few times. If I’m able to, I lie down on my rug, close my eyes, and blast the music from the speakers,” he says.
His work takes inspiration from more classic album designs, often looking like well-worn and beloved records that you’ve kept for years. The imagery and design is therefore comforting and slightly nostalgic. “I don’t think there’s a particular style that I adhere to, given the nature of working with a range of different artists and being adaptable and flexible to their needs, but I see some common visual threads in my work looking back,” he says. Handwritten typefaces and loosely drawn circles appear, adding a human touch to the work in a mass-produced industry. “I would describe my style as playful and pragmatic, straddling some strange line between progressive and classically-rooted,” he says, “I try to embed all of my work with a sense of balance, compositionally or conceptually.”
Still deeply involved in designing physical packaging, posters, and photo direction, Lanning isn’t shy about heading towards yet more media in the near future, hoping to get involved with “creating physical experiences such as stage design or installations involving space, sound and light,” taking a first step towards that with his recent stage visuals for Cautious Clay’s festival performances.
As for his own music? Lanning adds: “I still make music, but it’s less of a professional focus now, and more just something that I do because I love it. I’m fascinated by the ways sound and light can work together to evoke emotional and sometimes cathartic experiences for people, which I think is why I love the intersection of music and design so much.”