We were chatting a bit about art direction in Sell! Towers the other day. We're specifically talking about art direction for print advertising here. Poor old print advertising eh? Much maligned in recent years. But it is often so badly done that it isn't done any favours.
What makes for great art direction?
I have to say over the last few years, I've seen a real trend towards over art direction. I suspect that's maybe because people have so little confidence in print advertising these days, and certainly very little confidence in people actually reading print ads. So they just throw everything at it. Everything is over-done; overwrought typography, over-styled photography, over done illustration, over-elaborate layout or – even worse – starbursts, everything big, CAPITAL letters. The works.
Great print art direction starts with copy. What are you trying to communicate? Everything should start from that.
Here, we tend to take the approach of as little art direction as is necessary to make it work as well as possible, but no more than that.
Almost all advertising needs words to communicate what it needs to communicate.
The role of art direction should be to get people to read and understand what is being communicated.
Great art direction makes the message appear in someone's head like a thought.
Show-offy art direction makes the ad or the type a pretty thing.
Think about the way people read or consume print media, that is, magazines or newspapers. People scan the pages quickly looking for something that interests them, it could be a key word or phrase, or less often, a picture, or a hint of a subject matter. They don't read every story, they don't read every headline. They're just scanning. People use visual magazines, like fashion mags, visually - that is, they are in the frame of mind that something visually pleasing will catch their eye.
(People in the ad business often scoff at fashion advertising, because there is often no idea.The truth is, the people who produce fashion advertising probably know their market and their audience far better than the ad people know theirs.)
The trouble is, art directors tend to be very visual people, they consume print media differently to the average Joe. And this is compounded through years of study and work in their specialism. Their eyes are caught by great layout and clever craft touches, by beautiful typography or new or experimental techniques.
Most art directors don't even realise that they consume print in a different way to normal people. So they go through life designing things for themselves rather than for their audience.
Some highly regarded art directors are just really good at show-offy art direction, They don't really understand their craft, and where it fits into communication, and into peoples' lives. They only know how to make things look good. How to produce the kind of things that they, and their art director peers, admire.
That's potentially quite unfortunate for the people who pay them to create their advertising, don't you think?