6 Steps To Good Art Direction & Design

Last month, two of our designers – Lewis and Mihkel – attended the Art Directors’ masterclass at the Estonian Design Centre hosted by a celebrated British art director, Alexandra Taylor. Famed in the world of advertising for her work on award winning campaigns for the British Army, Silk Cut cigarettes and Parkinsons UK, Alexandra rose to be the joint head Creative Director of Saatchi & Saatchi and was later nominated into the D&AD executive board.

Amongst her influences, and in Alexandra’s own prodigious work, there is a clear sense of designing from the user’s point of view. Take the work of one of her greatest exemplars, Helmut Krone, on the Avis car rental campaigns of the early 1960s. Those adverts dare the readers (and potential Avis customers) to complain and encourage the rental company to provide a better service.


Or, take for example Taylor’s own work on Parkinson’s UK Everyday campaign. A series of billboard adverts, presenting a jumbled up distorted world, as if seen from the Parkinson’s sufferer’s point of view.


These works and influences, amongst others, treat design as something created for end users and customers. As service designers we feel a strong resonance with that idea.

So, without further ado, here is a service designers’ rendition of the lessons learned packaged into a six-step guide to good art direction and design practice.


1. Simplicity knows why

This is a quintessential part of our work – always asking “why?” Ask it five times. Boil it down until you have a simple answer to the problem. If you understand the answer and the reasons behind the answer, communicating to both your client and their customers will be simple and easy. Otherwise you might end with an answer like ‘42‘.


2. Don’t sacrifice functionality for art

Treat things like body copy as a part of the whole. Headlines and logos might the biggest thing on the page, but it’s the details like the body copy which the audience need. The most beautiful gig poster in the world is pointless if the design and band names cover up (or don’t make noticeable) the time and location of the gig. Treat your content as a whole to be digested one piece at a time. Lead the users eye through the information.



Get away from the computer. Digital software can do amazing things for production and post-production, but it is no substitute for ideas. Adobe Concepts™ is still in the works so use your head and your hands before touching a mouse or keyboard. Sketch it, scribble it, draw up the walls. Your wireframe scheme, customer journey map, logo (or whatever) will be twenty times quicker realised if you can draw it before digitalising it. Honestly, this can’t be said enough – humans don’t think in Bézier curves, rasterized layers and bitmaps. The highest quality resolution invented is ink. And the quickest most efficient connection between your thoughts and the real world is through a simple thing like a pencil.


4. Don’t over embellish

This wastes a lot of time and can lead you into creative dead-ends. And if the foundations of your idea aren’t clear don’t keep building on it! Hack dirty. Fail fast to see what works. For instance try  the Pareto Principle, more widely known as the 80-20 rule, which states that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the work. Or, if you have 20 hours for a client, limit yourself to spending 4 hours each on developing 5 concepts. Maybe only 3 will be presentable but they will be fresh and much better than 1 or 2 laboured ideas. This does not only apply to the design process but the final deliverable as well.


5. Know where you’re from

Basically if you ain’t Dutch, don’t pretend to be. Celebrate your people, place and time. Beyond faddish localism and treacly nostalgia, being true to yourself as an Estonian (or English or Afrikaans or Ukrainian – whatever) designer will create more meaning for you and your clients. Good design, lead by good art direction, is emotional and touches people’s hearts. Keep it real and celebrate your difference.


6. Everything can be solved by looking back at the brief

This one speaks for itself, right? Problems with creative direction, intended meaning, who the audience is, what it is you are actually making – all these can be solved by going back to the original formula for the project. That being said, the formula needs to be a good one.

The first brief, more often than not, is an insight into the clients’ world. As designers you have to find the underlying need behind the wishes and wants. Only after reflecting the findings back to the client and having reached a deep understanding, can you get going. A good brief is a road map. There could be a lot of ways to reach your intended destination, but by going off road and ignoring the map, you’ll get stuck in a muddy field surrounded by angry cows.

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