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What is Art Direction? It’s a bit like McDonalds actually…

What is Art Direction you ask? Here’s an analogy that will explain the role which Art Direction plays in the realm of advertising and communications (plus it will probably make you hungry at the same time).

What is Art Direction? It’s a bit like McDonalds actually…

One of the questions I get asked from time to time is what is art direction? Which really translates to ‘Why do I have need it and pay for it’? This is a fair question to ask, I would want to know exactly what I am paying for too.

In the past, I would have a boring answer like this:

“In a nutshell. Art direction is the development of a visual language that applies to one or multiple pieces of work that spans across your campaign. It makes sure that the personality of the artwork appeals to and resonates with your targeted audience and fits within your brand blah blah blah…” 

But now, I have found the perfect analogy to explain to the people who are not so familiar with the subject of branding and design, just what Art Direction is.

Art Direction is a like McDonalds

Every McDonalds looks the same, taste the same and feels the same. Even though there are different things you can choose from the menu, they all somehow taste similar. And when you go to a McDonalds restaurant, you know exactly what to expect and how much it’s going to cost you.

Just like MickyD, Art Direction does the same thing by giving the audience a consistent, curated experience. It sets the tone of the design to appeals to the audience you want to attract and unites all the artwork across different channels to look the and feel a certain way.

Using fonts, colours and photography (and sometimes video and animation), Art Direction is the reason why this looks expensive (right) and this looks affordable (left).

And this looks fun (left) but this looks important (right).

All of these visual cues let your audience know if the artwork is relevant and if they should pay attention. The consistent use of the same visual language across all the different channels will make things even more memorable.

You don’t go to McDonalds for caviar

Why not? Because it simply wouldn’t fit in with McDonald’s affordable, family-friendly menu and cater for the expectations of the people visiting a fast food restaurant.

Art direction does something similar. It is the thinking behind making sure that the artwork’s personality matches your brand's personality. Just like the ingredients list of a McDonald’s burger, Art Direction decides what colour palette, fonts, photography goes in the design that would perfectly represent your brand. 

In another word, if I remove the logo and the product from an ad, you should still be able to tell which brand produced it. This is especially helpful when most people do not pay attention to ads, a passing glance is all you get.

Can you tell where these came from?

Did you get it right?

These are the reasons why Art direction should be part of every single project from logos, brochures, posters, and ads all the way to videos and websites. It is for the creation a consistent, curated experience that is tailored to your product, your audience and your brand.

Article by Jeanne Markus

Jeanne Markus the Creative Director at The Ideas Hatchery who is one-part brand architect, one-part communications coach and one-part design geek. Over the years she has helped many businesses build their brand and grow their audiences. Fascinated by behavioural science, she is an advocate of creating lasting, meaningful connections through memorable and affective user experiences.


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