“Gerry Human is Chief Creative Officer at Ogilvy & Mather. In 2015 he will be Jury Foreman on the D&AD Awards Art Direction Jury.
Below, Gerry teases apart the meanings of art direction and design. What becomes clear is that art direction is not as valued in digital media as it is in print. Something’s got to change.
My hippy design lecturers at Art College regarded a career in advertising as a vulgar sellout to commercialism, the equivalent of studying medicine only to get a job washing bodies at the morgue. We were trained to aspire to the prodigious philosophies of Constructivists and Modernists like Moholy-Nagy, Lissitzky and A.M. Cassandre; wizards who established design principles and ideologies nearly a century ago, but whose ideas still exist today. Unlike those materialistic and self-obsessed advertising gits, who were mainly concerned with banalities like flogging breakfast cereal and television sets.
Back then, and I suspect it’s the same these days, a job in a small, purist design partnership was the only worthy way for a burgeoning graphic designer to make a living. The hippies took no pity on anyone desperate and unprincipled enough to take a job in an advertising agency. Imagine how privileged I felt when I was employed by…er, an ad agency – as an art director.
Luckily the agency (Hunt Lascaris TBWA) turned out to be the opposite of what I’d been indoctrinated to believe about advertising. It was an inspiring place to be. To help me learn, my boss Sandy De Witt handed me a few copies of THE BOOK and, well, my head exploded. Not just because of how beautiful everything looked, but because the art direction compelled you to read further. And when you did, you were richly rewarded and importantly, you wanted to buy stuff as a result (Saatchi’s great 1989 ads for Le Creuset are the reason I still have so many under-utilized but nice-looking orange pots).
This thing called ‘art direction’ actually utilized design principles, but it was fundamentally different because its primary function was to be in service of ideas rather than be the idea itself.
We live in a different world now. The relationship between art direction and design is just as relevant, but sometimes it’s difficult to tease one out from the other, especially when it comes to digital formats.