What’s the difference between art direction and design? I hold my hand up, even after 10 years working as a designer I was not sure I could explain the difference clearly.
After discovering and subsequently poring over a terrific article by Dan Mall on the subject, my understanding is better. Now I get it. Here’s my understanding: art direction establishes the emotion a message needs to convey and design is concerned with how that message is delivered.
This really is a well written and informative article and well worth setting time aside to read the entire piece.
In case you need more convincing here’s a list of my favourite quotes from the piece:
Art direction is about evoking the right emotion, it’s about creating that connection to what you’re seeing and experiencing.
By contrast, design is the technical execution of that connection. Do these colors match? Is the line length comfortable for long periods of reading? Is this photo in focus? Does the typographic hierarchy work? Is this composition balanced?
Art direction and design work together to communicate the message on an emotional level and a physical level.
Design is perfection in technique; art direction is about the important, yet sometimes intangible emotion that powers the design.
Many consider “look and feel” to be synonyms instead of complements, treating them interchangeably. > Creating a design is creating the “look”. The “feel,” however, warrants specific attention from a seasoned > art director to ensure that the message isn’t compromised.
The article goes on to quote a number of eminent designers on their understanding Chris Cashdollar’s insight clearly comes from the mind of a seasoned art director:
Art direction is a filter for making judgments; you pass every design choice through it. Start by determining the overall emotion. All the copy, photography, UI elements, buttons, and the kitchen sink should be pinged against this ideal.
So now that I have a better understanding of the concept of art direction will I be bolting it on to my design process? Well the truth is I’ve always been self art directing my work, albeit subconsciously.
On every project I’ll spend a lot of time thinking through each design decision I make and making sure each one is appropriate for the message I’m trying to communicate. I mightn’t always get it right but I’m very conscious every decision and pixel communicates something as after all one cannot not communicate.