The art of art direction, part two

What skills does it take to run a creative project effectively? How do you manage a team of designers? In the second of two parts, Graeme Aymer talks to five top art & creative directors.

Gerard Saint
Big Active's creative director and co-founder Gerard Saint discusses pitch-perfect art direction for the music industry

How did you get your start in the industry?
When I left college, myself and a couple of other designers pretty much set up Big Active as soon as we left. We didn't want to work for anybody else. We'd been inspired by people like Malcolm Garrett and Peter Saville. We just wanted to try and do it on our own.

We were also fascinated by studios such as Push Pin and Fletcher/Forbes/Gill back in the 60s.

Did you consider yourself a 'creative director' back then?
We just thought of ourselves as graphic designers. I think my role as creative director has grown as Big Active has developed as a studio.

Why is Big Active so music-oriented?
Mostly because we're all interested in music. I certainly wouldn't necessarily advise anyone to choose that route nowadays. We just happen to be known for it.

How do you work with an artist like Alison Goldfrapp, who has such a strong visual sense herself?
She always comes to a project with a very clear understanding of where she wants a project to get to, but not necessarily a clear idea of how she's going to get there.

How well-formed are her ideas?
She'll always be cutting things out from magazines: imagery she likes, moods she likes. A lot of it in her case is down to how she's styled as well. The team's wider than just us. We also work with her stylist Cathy Edwards - she's fashion director on Dazed & Confused - to pull together the look, not only the way Alison's styled but also the mood of the photography.

How different is that from a pop act, like the Sugababes?
It's different, just like every band is different and every brief is different. A lot of music design is about creating visibility and a defining image, in a sense, that reflects the spirit of the music, or the artist, or the release.

It's very much about creating commercial art that pitches the music in the right area and creates a really good story around the release visually.

Is that very different from art-directing a magazine?
Not at all - I think it's exactly the same. When art-directing a magazine you're still looking at the whole: the whole magazine as a product. It's about pulling the right team together.

When we look at developing a music campaign we're not just thinking about how the front cover of the album is going to look. We're thinking about a much broader, holistic design solution.

Like video promos and websites?
It could be that, or how the wider advertising and marketing might work so it all holds together as a complete story.

Have you seen any inspiring up-and-coming talent?
I'm a big fan of an Icelandic guy called Siggi Eggertsson who we've actually just signed to Big Active. I find his work very inspiring. It makes me smile, and I can see how it can be applied in lots of ways to many different things. It feels very fresh - he's a very talented image-maker.


Paul Brazier
AMV BBDO executive creative director Paul Brazier provides a glimpse into his working day and the secrets behind the perfect Guinness ad

How does your current role of executive creative director differ from your job at the start of your career?
I used to use my skills to work out how to get a great ad out on my own. Now what I have to do is to get everyone else to get great ads out as an agency of 300-odd people.

I work with small units, give people tasks to do, try to balance power and empower. When they're looking for inspirational leadership and clarity, I think that's what creative directors should do.

Have you mastered the role?
No! I don't know if anyone would say they have! I'd say I'm much better than I was, and more comfortable doing the job than I ever thought I would be.

Do you have any role models?
When I got to Abbott Mead Vickers and saw how the agency revolved around David [Abbott], there was a lot of learning around that. For example, what I'm obsessed with is strategy and planning. I think if you can find the strategy, if you can find the rational argument and combine that with the emotional arguments - that's when you get the perfect tone of voice. That's what I learned from David. He thought very strategically. That's something I remember.

What's the most important task you do every day?
Making sure I've done my job probably and making sure I've got home in time for about 8pm, when I bathe my children and read them a story.

Do you get much opportunity to do creative work these days?
Absolutely. I do it with the teams. But very often I use my creativity and give it to [creatives] and say, "Now go and do what you need to do to stamp your mark on it and make it even better."

What do you need to know to provide creative direction for a Guinness commercial like Tipping Point?
There's a whole host of things to take into account. Communion, sociability, power€¦ nature plays a part at times. Goodness is another one - there's a whole list of things to understand for a good Guinness ad. The exact tone of voice - it can't be too worthy, but on the other hand, if you do something that's too light you end up in lager territory.

How easy is it for you to pick a winning script?
Whether it's instinct or experience, the truth is I know from the first paragraph if it's not going anywhere. It's pretty quick. I go: "Next"; "Seen it"; "Next"; "Don't like that".

I'm always looking for something that captures my imagination - that bit of magic dust, where you go: "What is it that makes this ad special? What can this ad do that's far better than anything that has gone before?"


Andrew Altmann
Primarily typographers, Why Not Associates has a track record that goes back some 21 years. With a growing reputation for environmental art, its creative director explains the discipline

How did you become interested in design?
I found art easy at school, even though I didn't try very hard. On my foundation course at St Martins I began to love typography. And it was seeing one book, Pioneers of Modern Typography by Herbert Spencer that's full of stuff by Kurt Schwitters and Apollinaire, that inspired me to think that typography could be something else.

It became a fascination with me. And then I've always liked art that's used type. So people like Ed Ruscha, who just paints words, or Ian Hamilton Finlay, who was a Scottish artist who did a lot of type in the environment.

When you were at college, is this what you thought a career in design might be like?
I had no idea. I never looked further than the next day! All I knew was that I didn't want to work for anyone. That was my only vision.

Is Why Not's art direction different from other companies'?
To be honest with you, I don't know how an art director is supposed to work. Most people learn how the system works by going and working for Wolff Olins for example. We've just made it up as we've gone along.

What is your system and how did you 'make it up'?
Basically by asking for advice from older designers as we went along. The ironic thing now is that as time's gone by, people phone us up. For instance, Jonathan Barnbrook is a good friend and he worked for us when he was a student. But he'll still phone me up and ask a bit of advice.

What challenges are involved in art-directing an environmental project, such as your Flock of Words collaboration with artist Gordon Young?
Normally a graphic designer would sit with a Pantone book on their desk. But I was sitting with different bits of concrete, different bits of metal, and me and Gordon would be going: "What could we make this bit out of? That would be good out of granite."

The design was so expensive that we had to go back and work out cheaper ways of doing certain bits. It took five years from the idea to it actually being built. It wasn't just the design; it was to do with lots of engineering and local government issues.

So a lot of the art direction was dealing with those issues?
Yes. It took nearly two months just to artwork the whole thing: to take the final design and break it down to the components that I could give to manufacturers who were cutting the granite in Scotland - they were cutting the steel in Hull, and then all of that had to be put together. It was a massive learning curve. It was a fantastic project.


Paul McAnelly
Hawaii Design's founder and creative director shares his advice about making the jump from freelancer to creative lead

What was the career path that eventually led you to become a creative director?
My career has been extremely varied with eight years in advertising as an illustrator before moving into graphics and being a freelance designer. In 2003 I headed the graphics department at Liberty and then I set up Hawaii in September 2005. I didn't want Hawaii to be purely graphics-based, but to bring the diverse skills that I had accumulated over the years into the workplace.

Did anyone show you the ropes?
Being a freelance illustrator then designer I picked up the ropes very quickly, through wanting to learn and needing these skills to survive. The days are long gone when you could be good at just one thing.

Do you consider your job as creative director at Hawaii Design to be that of a typical creative director?
It's never a typical day because of the diverse work we do. To give you an example, at the moment we are working with Virgin Holidays on the launch of their new departure lounge. The design on this job is very 3D and interactive, so we have had to source and work closely with model-makers and plastic manufacturers. It's really nice that one day we could be ordering 100,000 LEGO pieces for an installation, and the next day the studio will be working on a more traditional branding exercise.

How much of your time is spent doing admin and managing people? How much of it is doing hands-on creative work?
It's a fair share of all the above, though obviously I much prefer doing the hands-on creative stuff. In order for the company to grow and be successful you have to pay attention to all aspects of the business, and that includes the more tedious tasks of admin and emailing.

What are the most important characteristics an art director or creative director should possess?
Good people skills, including the ability to convey your thoughts and communicate ideas about a brief to the designer or illustrator to inspire and motivate them, allowing them the creative freedom to experiment. Ultimately, it's about being able to work well as a team. I think these skills are something you can learn if you're passionate about what you're doing.

Is there any work that's really exciting you at the moment?
At the moment I really like the illustration and typographic work of Alex Trochet and Pablo Bernasconi.


Rosie Arnold
One of the industry's most awarded creative directors reveals how a D&AD evening course helped her go from Central St Martins Design School to BartleBogleHegarty

How did you get involved in the creative industries?
I was at Central St Martins Design School on a graphic design course. When I got to the college, I was a bit disappointed to find that you were either an illustrator or a typographer, and that it was difficult to have overall control of every single element.

My boyfriend, who's now my husband, said I should try advertising because that's all about ideas. I did a D&AD evening workshop and took to it like a duck to water. That's how it started.

Was there a single person who helped you?
I found one rather wonderful woman called Judy Smith who worked at an agency called Collett Dickenson Pearce. It was the foremost agency at the time.

I pestered her until she saw me and then she helped me repeatedly, getting my portfolio together and being really encouraging. It was so rare to find a woman art director at that time. It was fantastic to see that she'd got to the best place and was doing really good work, and was very helpful and kind to me.

What led you to your current position at BBH?
When John [Hegarty, BBH co-founder] first approached me to be a creative director, I wasn't really sure because I was sad about the thought of giving up creative work on a regular basis. But at the same time my partner, who I really got on with, took over the running of another department at BBH. Since I was partnerless it seemed like a natural move.

Would you say that creatives who find themselves in that position tend to have epiphanies?
It's a youth industry. I think there's only a limited number of choices for you as you mature. You can set your own agency up, you can move into a different career, like being a film director or photographer - lots of people do that, or you become a creative director. It's very difficult for senior teams.

What makes a good creative director?
The most important thing to do is to make decisions. If you've got a strong leader who goes, "Right, this is the situation, this is what I think we need to do, let's all get behind it", you're giving it a much greater possibility of success than if you're woolly.

How do you encourage fresh thinking among your teams?
You know, it's incredibly hard. What happens when people have an idea about what the advertising should be is you get these ruts where people just give you the same idea again and again. That's at the top of my agenda at the moment, to freshen up the Lynx work.

What are you seeing out there that's particularly exciting?
Everything that Fallon does turns to gold! And I absolutely love the Get Milk digital idea from America, Milkatraz. It's like an old-fashioned board game, but it's done so beautifully.