10 Things an Art Director Wants

“If you, my fellow copy writers or art directors, want to win the award, devote your genius to making the cash register ring.” – David Ogilvy, The Father of Advertising

While I’ve spent much of my career working as a graphic designer, freelance illustrator, product photographer, and copy writer, it was the creative lead roles that got me to see things full circle in the field of communication arts. 

If I could go back and meet with my young designer-self at the start of my career, I’d explain how to be more successful, not just in the work, but in the more detailed nuances in being a positive, enthusiastic “resource” for creative directors.

In this month’s article, I discuss 10 THINGS that most Art Directors (AD), Design Managers (DM), and Creative Leads (CL) look for when hiring resource artists (freelance illustrators, photographers, graphic designers, and copy writers). My intent is to share insight to those considering a role as a resource artist, those actively in the field, or even those in creative lead roles who may benefit from a view from both sides of the project table.

The video, below, provides more detail and personal experiences.

1. Be the “Go-To” Person

ADs and CLs are often consumed by multiple projects, meetings, and deadlines. They often don’t have time to spend researching resource artists. What they value is someone they can reach out to that is dependable, will react on short notice, be prepared, and can jump into a task with minimal direction. They want a “go to” person whom they cannot live without. But, becoming a “go to” person requires a lot of work and effort to establish a repertoire and a trusting relationship. When established, though, it ‘s often fantastic for both parties. 

2. Reliability 

Whether a “go to” resource or new talent on the job, ADs have high expectations regarding reliability. From meeting deadlines, showing up on time, or chiming in on conference calls (appropriately), it doesn’t matter what field you’re in, being prepared and professional is paramount to being a reliable resource. 

3. Responsiveness 

Again, CLs don’t have a lot of time to spend looking for resources. When they want something, they want it fast. This is why stock image services have sprung up like all over the internet, providing quick, easy access to millions of images in hundreds of categories. So, when a CL calls, it’s important to respond right away. They’re not interested about your family, school, or other clients. They assume you’re sitting by your phone, waiting for them to call. Often, they’ll reach out to several resources, and whomever responds first gets the job and potential first calls in the future. 

4. Ability to Follow Creative Direction 

They’re called “leads” and “directors” because while their job isn’t necessarily to do the foot work, their job is to assemble the talent whom they can direct to get it done. They want resources to directly tap into and feed information to that will be produced exactly how they envision it. A resource delivering a portrait image when the AD asked for landscape is of little value. Submitting a 72 dpi image when 300 dpi was needed is not going to work. In Hollywood, many of the greatest performers are not famous because they’re so skilled, but because their directors were so skilled in bringing their performances out of them. The same often applies here.

5. Being Flexible & Positive 

So, you spent 10 hours drawing a dog looking out a car window. It looks great! But, just as you’re getting ready to release the artwork, the AD calls and says, “the client hates dogs! We need to change it to a cat!” You’ve got two options: complain & gripe that it’s not fair, or simply say, “no problem!” and tackle the job. 

A happy AD is one who can make the client happy without thinking. When a resource exhibits a sour, difficult, or negative attitude, it doesn’t matter how good their work is, no AD is going to want to work with them. However, a cheerful, accommodating, and positive resource is someone an AD will be confident with and look forward to working with, time and time again. 

6. Three is a Magic Number 

Something I learned the hard way is not to overwhelm the client. When presenting sketches, comps, or dummies, too many options can be confusing, while too few can be limiting. After making this mistake a few times, early on, it became rule of thumb. It’s fairly universal to present a triad of three, well-rendered, well-conceived, refined sketches to allow the CL to bridge each idea with their own, forming a more complete overview of which direction they’d like to go in.  

7. Expectations: Meet Them & Go Beyond! 

No matter the field, all directors have expectations of their resources. Recognizing and understanding those expectations is vital, like meeting deadlines and following direction, but going beyond what’s expected can impress them and make a difference in being called back for more work. For example, you’re asked for a JPG of the artwork, so you submit the JPG. That’s good and met the ADs expectation. However, also including GIF, PNG, AI, PSD, and PDF versions of the artwork with a note explaining, “I’m sending the JPG you requested, but also these other formats, as well, should a need for them arise,” will show that you had the foresight to think ahead, something most ADs will appreciate, even if they don’t need it. 

8. Say What You Mean & Do What You Say

I call them the “Five B’s: Be brief, brother, be brief!” Most people don’t wish to engage in lengthy conversations about a dream you had, intricate plans for the weekend, or how you organize your fridge. Your creative lead doesn’t either. Long-winded emails, countless texts, or constant questions or updates on a project may draw a negative response. It’s wise to keep contact points brief and on task. It’s also a good idea to avoid personal dialogue, unless initiated by the CL. Even then, let them do the talking. 

Be considerate that the CLs inbox is likely full of important messages they need to address. So, if you’ve got questions, try laying them out in a single message, not several; present bullet points instead of paragraphs where details can get lost. Only text if it’s acceptable to the CL. Keep to the facts, refraining from words like, “think,” “believe,” and “feel,” and hold opinions unless asked. 

Say what you mean and be clear. Use notes to read from during a call. Fishing for responses creates a lot of “um’s” and “ahh’s.” Also, do what you say. If you wrote that there’s a PDF attached, be sure to attach it; If you said you’d call at 10:45am, then call at 10:45am, even if they aren’t there. 

9. Always Ask, Never Assume 

So many times I’ve hung up with a busy AD who rushed through a project brief, only to leave out vital details or left the scope blurred after the call. Having a full compliment of questions to ask before you dial the phone will help collect information so you be guessing later. Knowing which questions to ask comes from experience, like, “what will be the full range of end-uses for the art,” can save time and headaches, later.

An AD might say they need a logo for the web. But, asking about end-uses could reveal they may need it for print, embroidery, or large format banners, down the road. Don’t assume the AD is always right, too. Be ready to question or confirm things that don’t make sense, even if already discussed. The AD will thank you, later, especially if you catch an error.

I’ve made mistakes in telling a resource, “it’s a four color brochure,” when in fact, it was a two color brochure. Questions keep everyone on the same page and allow an AD to consult the client if something is off. 

10. Follow Up, Then Follow Up, Again 

At the end of a job, it’s good to assess whether it was a positive experience. If so, once the job is off your plate, it’s wise to send a brief thank you message along with an accurate invoice, expressing gratitude for the work, noting that you look forward to working with them again. If, after a month or two, you haven’t heard from them again, it’s wise to send another follow-up to put yourself on their radar. Using your current availability, announcing a new skillset, or even enhancements to your website are great, non-invasive ways to remind the AD that you exist. It happens all the time where just that post-follow up can trigger a need for your service that the AD didn’t realize they had. 

Something I’ve been doing for years, is to send a small, personalize hand-drawn thank you card which I send via snail mail. Several times I’ve stepped into an Design Manager’s cubicle and seen the card I sent months ago hung on the wall. Very cool!  

In summary, the most important things in creative roles are: Professionalism, accuracy, and deadlines. They’re what most creative leads expect from resource artists. 

By adding consideration for these additional “10 THINGS” can help to enhance the relationship and may provide a better insight as to what life is like through their eyes. Being able to understand a project from multiple perspectives is always going to work to your advantage, no matter what role you play.

I hope this article was helpful for you. I’m grateful for your time and thank you so much for checking it out. Best wishes in all your creative endeavors! Cheers!