Friday, November 13, 2015
Ashley Stephan, Art Director

In an effort to demystify the ad agency and its various positions, our series, “What I Do Around Here” lets different employees explain their job, in their own words. So whether you’re a client wondering what you’re paying for or an aspiring intern wondering what you’re getting yourself into, we hope this series sheds some light on just how we do what we do.

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When I tell people that I'm an art director, I sometimes wonder if they’re imagining me in a beret and black turtleneck, waving a paintbrush in front of a big picture window overlooking a beautiful landscape.

Well, at risk of bursting your bubble, it’s not quite that romantic. But it is pretty cool.

My job as an art director is to work with a creative team to take an idea from concept through execution from a visual standpoint. It’s my job to keep it on-strategy and on-brand while still being fresh, authentic, and interesting with each piece.

Seems simple enough, right? Naturally, the doing is a little more complex — so here’s what its like to be the one wearing the beret. 

Big Idea

Whether it’s a big branding assignment or a supplementary project, each job starts with defining the problem and how to answer it with the big idea. We call this “concepting,” and it means sitting down with writers, creative directors and designers to get the wheels cranking and ideas flowing. We get ‘em, we test ‘em, we kill ‘em, and do it over and over until the best one rises to the surface.

Defining Visuals

Once we have the idea, we start asking ourselves a long list of questions to better define it from a visual perspective. What should it look like? How should you feel when you see it? Is it bright and sunny? Tough and gritty? How does it fit within the brand and already-existing materials? My job is to keep an eye on the finish line, and use the answers to these questions to get us there.

Presenting

Since the client hasn’t been in all the concepting meetings and hallway discussions where we’ve hashed out this big idea, our next step is to think about the best way to share the idea with them. I help to present the idea and execution and discuss it with the client.

Planning

After we have client’s approval to move forward, the really exciting part arrives: putting our nose to the grindstone and making it happen. As an art director, this starts with planning. This could mean working with our traffic department to schedule designers to work on layouts, or getting in touch with outside talent like a photographer or video crew to start planning a shoot. Or both. In either case I’ll meet with the team and get a game plan in place, and then we’re off.

Hovering

If you’ve seen the famous hovering art director blogs, then you know where we’re heading next. In our defense, we hover because we care! You’ll find me on site at a photo shoot, reviewing the previous shot with photographer and talking about the next. I’m hovering over a testimonial subject, prepping them for their on-camera interview, straightening their collar, and removing that piece of fuzz off their shoulder. And I’m always working closely with designers and production artists to make sure each print and digital execution is going as planned.

Basically, my job is to keep projects on track and true to the concept and brand — from the big picture to the smallest of details — until the project is ready to be released into the wild. Even if it means we need to move that logo just one more click to the left.

Every art director does things a little bit differently, but at the end of the day, it’s about making beautiful, meaningful work that connects with the audience and inspires action.

The beret is optional.