Patrick Collister on "Does digital need art directors?"


What do you call a designer who can't draw or use a computer? That's right. An art director.

I found that posted on a blog.

Ouch. And yet it is true that the role of the art director has been transformed by technology.

When I was the creative doo-dah at Ogilvy, I banned Macs from the offices. I believed I was employing my art directors to think, not to fiddle.

They could design on paper and then put the ad together in the studio.

Those were the days, eh? When agencies could afford to have two people with two salaries doing one job. Because that's how it seems now.

I commission work from time to time and being geriatric I tend to look up my old mates and ask them if they'd like to turn up their deaf-aids and take a brief.

The only trouble is, barely a one of them can use a Mac.

What this meant, when I produced a brochure for one company, is that I didn't make any sort of profit out of the job after the art director and the studio he used had bunged me their invoices.

He was a Yellow Pencil winner (several times over) and I simply can't afford to work with him again.

And there's the rub. Advertising is a business which requires art. Trying to reconcile the need to make money with the desire to create something beautiful is the daily struggle most creative businesses have to deal with daily.

For all but the big ad agencies, the struggle is over.

It's about the money.

In many small agencies, an art director is simply another obstacle in the creative process, an unnecessary link in the chain.

The result is more and more crap work, both online and offline. Familiarity with Adobe Photoshop, Quark Xpress and all the rest of it does not an art director make.

I think art directors exist to make vivid the benefits of a product or a service. They need to be able to arrange the elements of type, logo, photography and so forth in such a way that their own craft skills are invisible but the brand message is inescapable.

They revolve around ideas rather than execution.

They are about input where designers are about output. Now, the single-minded idea expressed as clearly as possible to be understood as quickly as possible is not actually relevant online.

For starters, most people arrive at a specific website through choice. They are there because they want to be. So you don't need to grab their attention, you have it already.

Secondly, ideas work differently in the digital space. Rather than the concrete ideas favoured by advertising, they are often more abstract.

Take Nike+. It's brilliant. But it's not an idea like Sony Bravia's various demonstrations of "colour like no other".

Art directors ought to be designers and designers should be able to art direct. But it seems to be rare as rocking horse poo to find the two skill-sets in one individual. I wonder why?



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