Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What’s it like to be a…Senior Art Director?

My job title is: Senior Art Director
My actual position is: senior art director, graphic designer, photo/video director, copywriter, strategic consultant, product designer, event promotions, illustrator, teacher, public speaker, etc

What does a normal day look like? Is it consistent throughout the year? If you’ve had this position for a while, how have things changed?

A typical day starts with a check-in with our production “traffic” coordinator to find out what projects are hot and if there’s anything that’s changed that I need to be aware of. Then, check emails, open up design programs on my Mac and start working the projects. That could mean brainstorming with a group or alone, researching, idea generating, creating sketches or designs, updating designs, making changes the client’s requested, printing copies and making prototypes, working with a copywriter, going on a photoshoot, traveling to meet with a client, presenting creative ideas or designs to a client, or sending something to be published.

What other, if any, positions have you held prior to your current job? How did you get to where you are now?
I began as an intern in a corporate creative packaging department with a job known as “keyliner” (basically a typesetter) and I’d update packaging container labels in a couple dozen languages. Then I moved on to “production artist” which meant that I could begin to invent my own rules and timelines for getting the packages made. I switched jobs and moved to an agency in Grand Rapids beginning with the title “graphic designer” which is just what it sounds like. After a few years, I became an art director there, in charge of bigger projects with greater responsibility and greater coordination with other resources (writers, photographers, clients, etc). I’ve now been at my current agency in downtown Holland for 3-1/2 years and am a Senior Art Director. I do graphic design still, but work with other senior level staff to generate strategy, come up with “the big idea” and work with teams to design and produce the ideas.

What kind of training/education did you have? What would you suggest? What qualifications/skills/attributes make someone successful in this position?

I got my BFA in art at Calvin, in 4 years, with a minor in Spanish. I took a few classes at Kendall to supplement my art experience, but the best training I had was during my internship, on the job. My advice is to take as many different courses in art as possible, even if you don’t think it’s related to graphic design – it IS! Study art history and learn why artists did what they did and what was relevant to the culture. Learn to be a good writer and/or communicator – you’ll have to be able to sell your ideas and describe your art to others. I also recommend taking media courses – video and interactive is the way to go.

Also, marketing and business classes would have helped me a great deal in advancing more quickly in my field. Good design is meaningless without good strategy and good results (when your client is paying for it and counting on you!).

What are the rewards in your position? Challenges? What makes a good day for you?

I love finding the innovative insight into my client’s marketing needs and creating good design. For me that means I’m in relationship with my client. I’ve heard what they need. I have developed a strategically-based good idea, and I’ve communicated the ideas to my client in such a way that they can engage with and get energized about executing the big ideas. It’s a good day when any one of those things happen. Challenges happen at all levels, from relationships (internal and external) to just having a “bad drawing day”. It’s always a challenge to out-do the last good idea and continually push for improvement.

What trends or changes do you foresee in the next 5-10 years?
Communication media is always evolving, and designers/communicators must keep up. Not only that, but a good designer will be on the edge of technology and design and be able to take the risks that get attention. Internet and social marketing is skyrocketing and replacing traditional forms of marketing communication. Brochures are getting smaller and must have a purpose in order to use resources to print them. Newspaper readership is continually declining. Ad messages are everywhere and it’s tough to be heard. It’s important to know the customer and speak to them wisely, creatively, and boldly. And, the customer is changing…

How could a person find out more about your field?

Job shadow or interview someone in the field. Or better yet, multiple people. Each agency or company operates a little differently in their processes and in the clients and type of work they produce. Shadowing a printer could be helpful as well. You can really get to know intricacies of how designs get published that way. There are many graphic design and marketing magazines, including AdWeek, HOW Design, STEP Inside Design, Communication Arts, Print, Archive, Creativity, as well as online forums.

Can you suggest any careers which are similar to yours?
Graphic Design, Marketing, Corporate communications, journalism, photography, print production

When you were growing up, did you have any interests that you have built into your work?

Drawing, coloring, found object collage, public speaking/performance

What obstacles have you overcome to get to where you are today?

Learning disabilities could’ve kept me back, but I’ve learned to incorporate disabilities into a creative advantage.

What was your first job like after college?
I was fortunate and was hired into the company where I did my internship. My first job after that included a lot of filing and grunt work (typing, making mundane changes in creative documents) until I built up my knowledge base enough to design on my own.

How do your beliefs and values or worldview perspectives impact what you do at work?
I see creative possibilities everywhere because I believe in God as ultimate Creator, and I want to be a part of the greater work of creation. I also know that others have been given unique talents and great businesses, products and services have come out of their gifts. So it’s easy for me to want to help them promote what they do. Except when I don’t believe in the product they’re selling – then it is very difficult to be in the marketing field, and I try to remove myself from the account if at all possible.

Posted by Bonnie Speyers on 11/18 at 05:19 PM

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