What Makes You a Good Art Director?


Teachable Moment

To help understand the creative process and what it takes to make the collaboration between illustrator and art/creative director more fluid, I thought the answers to this question might be enlightening.

The first trait of a good art director that sprang to mind was teamwork. Art directors, creative directors, designers and illustrators are passionately focused on their work, as we know. And sometimes it seems more comfortable to work as a lone constructor, undistracted by “outside” voices. But in my experience, that’s not ideal. Besides, there are lots of ways to be a more collaborative player within the larger team. Learning more about each other’s respective roles in the artistic world is a good start. Listen to each other. That’s one route to rising above the basic differences and misconceptions, and elevating our work as well.

Here’s what Seth Godin has to say about art and where it comes from. “Art is an original gift, a connection that changes the recipient, a human ability to make a difference. Art is the very human act of creating the uncreated, of connecting with another person at a human level.” No reason you couldn’t do that with other humans, right?

Here are my favorite answers from some of my contemporaries and our own artists at Scott Hull Associates:

"What makes a good art director? A tenuous balance of humility and passion". -Adele

"A good art director is one who can sell a good idea to an editor. A good art director is one who knows a good idea when he sees one. A good art director is one who hires me". ? - Curtis Parker

"Was it Ogilvy who said "Always hire people (smarter/better) than you are? Aspire to be the dumbest person in the room." Plus I'd add that wisdom is worth more than raw intelligence". -Brian

"Star Trek Analogy: We are the creative Federation, Collaborating with Klingon warriors to vanquish the Borg of assimilated ideas, leveraging marketing with Vulcan precision, and all the while making our clients’ Ferengi bean counters satisfied with an increase of gold-plated latinum". - Von Glitschka

"Like a good coach, a good art director is a visual person with a good connection between their eyes and mouth. They know how to get those involved excited about the project. They know how to supply visual inspiration and reference while still giving enough room for the artist's interpretation". – Lisa Ballard

"Leadership skills and good design skills: the ability to coach a designer to find their own best solution". - Patrice

"A great director brings greatness out of others and communicates concepts simply". - Michael Bast

"Bravery. Collaboration. Trust". – Penelope Dullaghan

"He or she has some knowledge of the importance (and historical effectiveness) of illustration in the field being considered: editorial, advertising, multimedia, etc., and how it differs in effect and execution from straight design and/or photography. He or she is willing to trust the instincts and creative input from the illustrator, as opposed to just hiring a pair of hands". - John Maggard

"I've worked for clients who've told me exactly what they want, and others who've pretty much turned me loose. Both approaches can yield wonderful results. Difficulty occurs when the job really has no flexibility, but those all-important parameters are hidden from the artist". -Chuck

"A clear vision of what is needed". - David Reinbold

"I've spent 35 years practicing. Maybe one of these days I'll get it right". -Tim

"A good art director can communicate a vision and then release it to the artist. Next step is partnering with the artist and giving the vision enough room to have its say". –Andrea Eberbach

"Working as both an art director and a freelance illustrator, I've experienced the frustration when design is forced to fall victim to the 'convenience' of stock art. A good art director communicates visually and will often see an image beforehand in his/her imagination that best illustrates their desired message. Problem is, the design process is too often the reverse where we are stuck trying to find an existing image that will work, changing our concept to fit what can be found. I love opening the door to creativity and allowing an illustrator to translate my thoughts graphically". -  Clint Hansen

"An art director is good when they love their job. They're great when they are perceptive, honest, open to communication, willing to challenge you to perform to your best but also willing to hear you out when you present an offbeat idea. A good art director gives input but doesn't lead the illustrator on a leash-- they give their views and collaborate, but ultimately trust the illustrator to deliver more than what they ever expected. They're in your corner and work with you to produce the best work you can for their product". – Meg Hunt