The flip side of copywriting is art direction. Pictures and words (art and copy) go hand-in-hand. Both the copywriter and the art director are idea makers. Sometimes ideas manifest in the form of words. Other times, they manifest in the mind’s eye as a visual. It’s only natural that this “seeing” comes easier to an art director than a copywriter, simply because they are well practiced in the act of Visual Ideation.
Whether you are more wordsmith or more graphicsmith, you can develop this act of seeing visual ideas in your own mind’s eye. In fact, it is strongly recommended that you do if you work in media and communications. Visual ideas are there within you. They do arise when you’re in the process of generating ideas. You just have to recognise and capture them onto the page before they recede back into the blur of the sub-conscious.
By thinking like an art director and a copywriter, you will be using the full capacity of your imagination, and thus become able to generate more ideas. You also become capable of seeing the potential of a half-baked idea and turning it into something fully formed and meaningful to your target audience.
In short, when you can articulate an idea with vision and words (Art & Copy), you become a complete communications package. And that’s when you are the real deal. In a conversation about the role of art director with Richard Lovell, Senior Creative [Grey Group, Sydney], he emphasised that, ‘ideas are more important than art directorial skills, although you should always art direct the concepts in an interesting and original way, so to raise you above the competition’. He continued to explain that once a concept is developed, and depending on the project and the agency, the art director works with typographers, illustrators, photographers, directors, product designers and graphic designers, and ‘sometimes they do the whole job themselves on their own Mac’. He concludes that, ‘there are no rules here, but the art director always has to have a strong opinion as to what they aim to achieve for the client’.
Two issues often arise when mentioning the words ‘art direction’ in my classes and some of my freelance creative projects. Firstly, many confuse graphic design with art direction, and secondly, writers usually think, ‘I can’t art direct because I don’t know much about In Design and Photoshop’. To knock the latter on the head, you’ll be glad to know that an Artline black felt pen and an A4 layout pad are all you really need to express your ideas into words and pictures. You don’t have to be a good drawer either (although it helps articulate your idea more clearly and neatly). As for the difference between art direction and graphic design, there is one main difference, and a significant one at that. In my email correspondence with Art Director, Jordy Molloy [DDB, Melbourne], she explained that, ‘the main difference between Art Direction and Graphic Design is ideas. To be a great Art Director, you need to have a clear vision and be able to articulate your ideas and see them through.’
Perhaps the best examples of the synergy between Art & Copy in the expression of an idea are the Economist covers. They are a masterclass in the pure simplicity of a clear, concise and compelling idea expressed instantly in words and pictures (without one repeating the other).
Both the writer (or editor in publishing) and the art director are more concerned with creative strategy than execution. They’re about evoking the right emotion or thought, communicating a message clearly and instantly, and creating an immediate connection to what you’re seeing and experiencing.
Story-wise, you as art director would be asking questions like: does the visual and headline work as one? Do the visuals support and convey the mood or attitude? Is the message (or story) telegraphed clearly and instantly to the target audience?
Composition-wise (layout), you would focus on how balanced the elements (visuals, headline, copy, logo) on the page should be? You might notice that while balanced compositions are pleasing but often passive, unbalanced compositions are uneasy and unsettling yet visually more interesting.
You may ask, ‘why is unbalanced more interesting?’ and this question will eventually lead you to discovering The Golden Ratio, which creates tension in the composition and is thus more compelling to the eye. We love our tension (be it in film, literature, music, architecture or design).
Now for the wonderful world of typography. Here is where you’ll ask questions like ‘which letter form most effectively sends the message and expresses the attitude?’ You usually begin with the two primary types — Serif (with tails at the end of the letters) or Sans Serif (without tails). Within each of these categories is an ever-expanding universe of fonts. For a given text, there are many typographic solutions that would be equally good. Typography is not a math problem with one correct answer. You will eventually discover that producing good typography depends on how well you understand the aims of your text, not on taste or visual training.
All along the way until the end, your through-line question as an art director will be ‘does it feel good?’ As opposed to the graphic designer’s question ‘does it look good?’
Now that the dynamic and potent relationship between Art & Copy has been revealed, you can start to see how those arresting ideas you see here, there and everywhere came to be conceived. RMIT’s Short Course in Visual Ideation – Creative Strategy for Art and Copy is a rare and great opportunity for you to discover the secrets of your own creative potential with art and copy. You’ll be taken on a two-day magical mystery tour from concept to final art to oh wow!