What does it mean to be an art directorI often receive inquiries from art and design students asking for me to be a mentor or if we have internship opportunities. But I received the most delightful inquiry recently from a student at the Art Institute of Colorado. Here are some of the questions he had, given an assignment, of what is was to be an art director in the “real world.” What I enjoyed about this inquiry was that I have never actually thought about these questions and what it means to my personal design philosophy, but more importantly what these answers mean to my clients and the people that collaborate with me.

Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts if you’d like me to delve into any of these questions further.

1. Do you believe design is subjective? If so how do you know what is good design and what is bad design?

Design is not subjective, it is objective. Taste is subjective. Design is objective because good design needs to be functional, clear and communicative. Design also needs to have context, does it work in its medium? Does it appeal to its target audience? Is there hierarchy, do people intuitively know where to look first or is their attention being so diluted that the entire message gets lost? These things are not subjective because it either works correctly or it doesn’t.

Taste on the other hand is subjective. Something that appeals to a 15 year old boy who loves video games is not going to appeal to a 35 year old professional woman. It is highly doubtful that you’d have these two targets vying for the same product, so then we get back to the taste and style of the target. So maybe understanding the target then makes style objective as well.

You will have clients that choose, what you feel, is the ugliest design (subjective)…but if you did your job correctly, even if you don’t stylistically like it and it accomplishes its goals as to attracting the target and communicating a clear message (objective), then you’ve done your job well.

2. At any given time, on average how many projects are you working on? What are the scale of the projects?

At any given time I have about 10-15 open projects, in various sizes and stages of activity. From ecommerce sites with hundreds of products, to business card projects, to a comprehensive branding project for a new business.

3. What qualities do you think are needed most as an art director?

  • the visionary – to see the end product
  • the curator – the ability recognize beauty and to choose the right designers for the job. or if you are also designing to be able to curate the right assets for the job
  • the communicator & negotiator – to act as the intermediary between your designers, developers and other creatives and the client. to persuade, present and negotiate, part of a good design is presenting it in the best light and to persuade a client that doesn’t see what you see. to persuade them to give you their trust in your expertise.
  • the project manager – to keep the project on schedule and on budget

4. As an Art Director, what qualities do you look for most in your designers?

Ability to understand the project in an intuitive way. So that they can feel the project and understand the client and their needs

Ability to do good graphic design work…does their work have flow, is their design consistent with regards to padding and margins, clean and straightforward, do they communicate well, can they turn around projects quickly, and if they are a self starter

5. How do you balance being budget efficient while still creating something that will wow a client?

Having good contracts, educating the client to understand the work flow, and understanding that patience is the best virtue. Contracts are golden because it provides the framework for all services and deliverables

6. On a scale of 1-10 how important would you rate being able to sketch/conceptualize ideas?

Sketching and drawing out is important. Important to be able to put something even on a napkin so a client or designer can fully understand layout and placement. Unless you are an illustrator, the beauty of your sketching is irrelevant. A stick figure and a box works wonders in a concept idea and no one needs to be Da Vinci for that.

7. What is the hardest decision you have had to make as an Art Director?

To loose money on a project or to let the project go.

8. How long is the average time frame for a project to go from beginning to end?

Varies greatly. I’ve had projects that last a week and some that have gone on for years. It really depends on how motivated the client is to get something done and if they have the ability to commit and trust in themselves to make decisions. For this reason, it’s important to create costs associated with projects that are going overtime through no part of your own. When you have an open project but it’s not going anywhere, believe me, this still takes energy that you could be using elsewhere.

9. What is your favorite part about being an Art Director?

Working with clients to realize their dreams.

10. What is the best advice you could offer a designer who is aspiring to be an Art Director?

Learn everything you can about design, development, be able to talk the talk of a marketing person, ad person, brand person, designer, photographer, printer, web developer, all the parties that are involved. Know enough about everything and specialize in one thing. You have to be able to culminate all the expertise of everyone on the project and communicate effectively with everyone.

11. If you had to choose one typeface to use for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Hands down – Futura. – if there was a perfect font, this would be it. Clean lines, perfect selection of weights, legible, so many personalities it can convey in just color and kerning.


Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts if you’d like me to delve into any of these questions further.