Art Direction and Design

by Dan Mall

33 Reader Comments

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  1. Hi Dan, interesting article. However I disagree with your definition of a Graphic Designer. A trained Graphic Designer has gone to school to learn how to think, not just how to execute. Call it art direction if you want, but we call it critical thinking and it is a skill present in any good Graphic Designer.

    Successful visual design sends a message about the content. It is rooted in an understanding of the goals of the design, both tactical and emotional.

    I have often come across this misunderstanding of Graphic Design among many web folks and wonder if more interaction with traditionally trained Graphic Designers could help correct their thinking. For a great example of the capacity of a good Graphic Designer, you can check out the SVA Graphic Design MFA program: http://design.sva.edu/site/home

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  2. I think the issue is how the word ‘design’ has been broadly used for ages. Design is the process of developing an artifact focussed on people and how those people interact with it Think of a book. Where’s design in a book? inside it. Its a matter of paper color, margins, typography…all those elements are set to provide a better interaction between book and reader. In a website or digital environment in general designers should actually b more involved with the structural side of things such as information architecture and interaction design. The way the website(or the book) looks is something different. It must indeed be visual appealing to attract, to stand out in the book store’s shelf, to be more attractive than its competitor. Its about selling and that’s when probably art direction is relevant and it is because its part of advertising which is part of promotion which is part of marketing.  Thinking of the entire Marketing Mix, Design should b the product itself while art direction should b Promotion.
    To sum up I see as 2 completely different things and still related to each other because in the end we are talking about the same product but the profile of professionals who work either as designers or art directors I think is quite different.
    That’s just my opinion.

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  3. The perfect blend of the two is what makes a site click for me. I’ve been to way too many sites over done with artwork and artistic design, yet nearly no content. That is a major turn off.

    Also, it’s hard to please everyone. Too much, too little, too sparse, what’s “right?”

    That’s why you truly appreciate the sites that somehow, maybe by luck, just nail it.

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  4. Thanks for your thoughts, Clinton. Hopefully evident from the article, I disagree, but I definitely understand your perspective.

    For what it’s worth, I am a trained graphic designer, and I still see this common problem among trained as well as untrained graphic designers. I see it as a problem of semantics and nomenclature; as I mention in a few of the previous comments, there’s a difference between Design and design.

    For a great example of the capacity of a good Graphic Designer, you can check out the SVA Graphic Design MFA program

    SVA has a wonderful Designer as Author program, but it’s no coincidence that a hefty portion of the facultyーSteven Heller, Gail Anderson, Veronique Vienne, Stephen Doyle, Louise Fili, and moreーhave had long and successful careers as art directors. That curriculum teaches designers to be much more than they are (author, thinker, storyteller), implying that, by default, designers’ skill sets generally include much less.

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  5. Its about selling and that’s when probably art direction is relevant and it is because its part of advertising which is part of promotion which is part of marketing. Thinking of the entire Marketing Mix, Design should b the product itself while art direction should b Promotion.

    I see it a bit differently. If art direction is about feel, you’ll notice a lot of art direction within the book, especially if you look at the processes of prolific art directors who specialize in book design like Chip Kidd or Barbara deWilde. A lot of care is taken to choose appropriate typefaces or the type of margins and layout to communicate a certain feeling about the book. A book for transgressional fiction author Chuck Pahlaniuk looks different than one for humorist and often self-deprecating David Sedaris, because it needs to feel different.

    Art direction and visual design are most effective when approached holistically. Their impact is severely dampened when fragmented.

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  6. Been batting this around my brain for the last couple months, and what I’ve come up with may or may not apply…but it’s how I look at things, at least.

    Graphic design is no more and no less than the discipline considered with the visual representation of information in the most relevant way possible. This typically does include other visual creative disciplines such as photography or illustration, but the implication throughout the industry seems to be that design is the alpha male, and the others simply support design.

    Art direction, meanwhile, seems to take a more holistic approach, and treats graphic design as simply one tool in the toolbox. Witness the two most common fields for an art director to be employed: advertising and editorial design. In each case, good design is imperative…but in a conceptual framework is the true spine that holds everything up.

    Paying careful attention to the details matters without a doubt. But having an underlying conceptual framework that leaves open the possibility to breaking the rule for greater emotional resonance…that’s the higher calling, whatever we call it.

    Design isn’t everything. Art direction encompasses everything.

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  7. hi dan,
    “commercial art” was a major in school, and it appears, now, after all these years, it was more accurately design and not direction that i studied. true, we endeavored to evoke an emotional connection, but more in an ethereal, artsy sense and not a freudian, scientifically “directed” approach.

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  8. Thanks, Dan. One thing I didn’t hear discussed that should have been and would have made the article even more interesting was the role of Art Director and the designer with regards to addressing the target audience.  I find in my work it is the first thing I define and address. It also focuses a lot of the design decisions and art direction.

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  9. I am very glad to see that my school is incorporating Art Direction into my Graphic Design education. I think it is the difference between Design and design that is important, as you have stated in the comments—and there is no need to classify this distinction as being highbrow.

    As far as education is concerned, I think there is a big distinction between academic and professional education. With the latter focusing more on meticulous execution and the former focusing on concept and execution. For instance, when my class is briefed about an assignment, we are usually pushed to start from a general research into the topic at hand, and then further define, deduct and refine the more concrete visual implications from there. I think this is what you might call “Art Direction” as well.

    This discussion reminds me of the discussion “UX Professional isn’t a Real Job”:http://thinkvitamin.com/user-science/user-experience/ux-professional-isnt-a-real-job at Think Vitamin. Art Direction is part of a designer’s job, but whether there is one designer dedicated to Art Direction in a corporation will probably depend on the size and business strategy of said company.

    In conclusion, I think it is a distinction that can be made, but with caution. And definitely not on an educational level, but rather later on in a company, when projects have become too big to let one person do art direction, execution, planning and everything else that I am not summing up for the sake of brevity . . .

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  10. “Design is about problem-solving, whether you are a designer or an art director. The two roles differ in that the designer is more concerned with execution, while the art director is concerned with the strategy behind that execution.”

    completely i agree with this say. so thin diffirence between two side…

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  11. Enjoyable read but much of what your saying really boils down to the idea.

    Many design tasks overlap Art Directing and vice versa. From font and imagery choice to color.

    Although I agree with much of the article, the way you separat tasks according to role, it sort of paints the picture that the designer handles the production while the Art Director decides what mood a particular image should create, which isn’t really the case.

    I think the bottom line is without an over arching idea or vision, the design will fall flat.

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  12. Art Director – an experienced web designer, competent manager, the art director should be developed spatial imagination, the ability to inventing. Ability to communicate with people is important: to defend the point of view, to carry on dialogue or presentation. The art director defines drawing and maintenance stylistics, a web design direction, supervises work of web designers, decides on giving design options to clients.
    Sometimes there is a so-called senior designer – in fact, its art director, who himself creates a web design, and oversees activities of several designers.

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  13. It’s really fine perspective about both. we like it and thanks for sharing with us.

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