Juggling Act: The New Art Director Skill Set
With the rise of the Web, streaming video, mobile text messaging, and now Web 2.0 and social media, the pressure for art directors and designers to come up with compelling imagery and smart design increases every day. "I know we are competing with shorter attention spans, so I try to hook the reader with more callouts, creative type treatments and compelling images," says Smithsonian art director Brian Noyes. "But we have the same responsibilities we've always had: Make the story look good and read well."
Creativity vs. Application
Art direction requires both creative design and application skills. If the visual is not engaging, the magazine will be tossed aside. But art directors of today cannot rely on fine art training to be successful;they need to have knowledge of publishing software and applications, and stay up to speed on constantly changing technology. "Designers have to overcome the difference between print and electronic media," says Jeff Weiser, art director and production manager at Las Vegas-based Kellogg Media Group. "To be successful, you must be able to do more than make something pretty."
The same rings true for art directors who lack creative training, but may have a strong understanding of applications. With the rise in technology, magazine design has become more refined, but that means more editors and non-trained designers may become jaded into thinking they are capable of magazine design. "Anyone can have the illusion that they are a designer because they are able to work in Photoshop and Illustrator," says American Lawyer creative director Joan Ferrell. "But there is a lot more to it than throwing type on a page, changing the color and importing a picture."
Editors, who are becoming more software savvy, are getting more involved than before, says Jared Reeder, art director at Arts and Antiques. "In the old days, art directors would read word files and go off and do their own thing," he says. "But nowadays with editors and writers having keen knowledge of Quark and InDesign, the art director has to work more closely with edit teams."
More Work, Less Time
At some smaller publishing companies where the concept of a Web designer is as foreign to management as the concept of MySpace, many art directors have to play a dual role, design of printed products in addition to converting print content into online content. This could mean anything from cutting and pasting copy from a Quark file, to sizing employee headshots for the corporate site and creating graphics for the home page. "The primary responsibilities of an art director five years ago were design and production of the magazine," say Weiser. "Now since Web sites are an integral part of the business, you need to understand the process that puts that together, so you can produce the best possible product with the least amount of work."
At larger publishers that have Web departments and Web designers, print art directors may serve as a design consultant for e-media projects. "I will be involved in designing a Web site because we want to make sure there is a consistency in the look of the print and the online visual material," says Ferrell. "It's a branding and identity issue. There should be a seamless quality that is recognizable to the reader."
Because technology allows for more work to be done in house, the art director has more control than ever, but there is a tradeoff. Technology has lead to smaller staffs with individuals responsible for more tasks. "The job is faster and more direct and you don't have to wait around for type, proofs and pictures," says Ferrell. "But we are all working much harder and longer because we're doing it ourselves now, suddenly it's like you're a one-man band."
The Indefinite Future
And as some magazines are shutting down print production to become online-only publications, the role of the art director continues to change. Perhaps the art director of the future will be a virtual art director. "There will always be room for art directors," says Reeder. "Computers will never be able to fully understand space, balance, color, type, and the mind of the human."
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