In a world of Instagram filters, iPhone favorites and Facebook uploads, graphic arts feels kind of like a lost art. But don’t lose hope; artistry isn’t dead. Designers and artists are creating visual aids all around us making everything we consume just a bit more pleasing to the eye. Sports, rapidly evolving towards a data-first profession, screams for art to balance the raw statistics, clinical jargon and over-the-top analysis that fill our televisions, iPads and smartphones. Sports media companies as well as leagues themselves are hiring artists to soften the science of sports and remind fans that, in a time not long ago, sports were presented as a beautiful distraction to the facts and figures many of us deal with from sunrise to sunset.

Art directors use their talents to sell eye-catching headlines and tie together the stories that we consume. Too many uninterrupted words on a page ruin the dramatics of our tales; well-placed visuals help make a story pop and flow. Even in a digital world, we need art directors, and the people they direct, to connect fans to the games we love.

What do art directors do?

Product packaging, magazines, newspapers as well as television shows and movies all need art directors. Major media content websites, video game makers and television advertisers also demand their bold vision and leadership. These men and women are responsible for images and visual styling, creating general design concepts and leading others within the art department. They are the visionaries that bring products, services, opinions and news to life.

When Sports Illustrated did a major website redesign in 2014, it wasn’t a haphazard, disjointed project. One department didn’t design the NBA page while another designed the NFL page. Design decisions were made across the entire site with editors and art directors weighing in on the overall style and tone. When, then SI editor, Paul Fichtenbaum used words like “bolder” and a “bigger, more striking photo and video experience” when discussing the redesign, it spoke directly to the efforts of an art director and a staff of designers, artists and photographers. Art directors layout a vision for whatever product they’re assigned to. Then they corral a talented crew to put all the pieces together. A jigsaw puzzle starts in thousands of pieces; someone has to put that jumble back together.

What makes an art director great?

Art directors are communicators. Art directors are creative. Art directors are passionate leaders. And art directors are skilled time managers. Wrangling a herd of creatives into a cohesive unit is a big part of the job. Artists, even ones in the corporate world, rarely fall into a team-oriented mentality without a strong director that can explain, and sell, their vision. A director’s career is deadline driven and, because of the money and stress involved, great ones don’t buckle under pressure. Talking to clients, laying out schedules and defining concepts are a large part of the job. But a technical mind and willingness to evolve with technology is important. Know modern tools of the trade—AfterEffects, Motion, Photoshop, Illustrator each has their purpose. A true art director never loses the love of creation and the willingness to step in to meet a deadline.  

Art directors have a tough task no matter what industry they’re in. How will you visually represent a concept, product or service? Which kind of art and photography will show off the story behind a hall of fame coach or downfall of a once untouchable athlete? Can you work with clients to grasp their want while developing an approach and style that grabs fans’ attention? And can you handle all that while developing timelines and budgets that work for everyone? Supervise and mentor a design staff. And orchestrate the activities of a group to weave together a final piece of artwork. Art directors pour their hearts and souls into their projects—work that touches, inspires and entertains fans all over the world.

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