Over the years, it’s been my experience that art directors love to see variations on designs. Starting a new project or assignment, I’ve been given the order to “do a bunch of versions” with little to no feedback, or any sense of where to start. To some this might sound like the equivalent of creative carte blanche but personally I’ve found these situations maddening. With no direction you usually end up with a dozen useless or half-ass designs with maybe one that’s somewhere in the ballpark… hopefully. These situations are frustrating as well as being a huge waste of valuable time.
I’ve been thinking about this issue lately so that I don’t ever do this with my own team. The key to being successful is making sure that you’re clearly communicating with your team. I find that 99% of the time problems arise because people aren’t communicating well. It’s important to have a sense of what you want in a project and not give an open-ended “do a bunch of versions” answer hoping that your designer figures out the problems for you. As an art director, if you can’t clearly explain a problem why would you place it on someone else’s shoulder?
That said, you can’t always have all the answers. There are situations where explorations need to be done in order to find the right solution to a problem. Instead of creating endless variations though, I work with my team to create smart iterations.
Iteration means the act of repeating a process with the aim of approaching a desired goal, target or result. Each repetition of the process is also called an “iteration,” and the results of one iteration are used as the starting point for the next iteration.
There are two key pieces to making smart iterations work.
Communicating The Problem
A competent art director should always be able to offer advice to any design problem. This advice comes in two pieces; through learned experience and dedicated research. As an art director you should have a range of experiences that prepare you for most design challenges. If you find that a lot of time you’re unsure of how to get across your direction, or you’re often lacking critical feedback, you may not be ready to be an art director.
Then there’s this thing called the Internet, which has all the answers ever. If you need to design a footer for a website, start looking at website footers. If you need to design the dust jacket of a book, look online for inspiration. There should never be an excuse for giving a designer aimless work. This is why researching your design problems before handing them off to anyone else is important.
When I think of iterating I think of pathways. Each iteration represents a path, and the more iterations you produce, the more complicated the journey becomes. Create too many paths and you’ll be unsure of which direction to go. That’s why a good art director can provide guidance to a designer, helping them figure out which direction they should be going in, hopefully leading to the desired outcome. It’s a very symbiotic relationship. Pathmakers and wayfinders.
Communucating and collaborating makes everyone’s lives easier, and it’s being conscious of this process that’s really important. We’re all so busy that I think these sort of no-duh ideas, which are truly fundamental to the design process, can easily get lost in the shuffle of things.