We were chatting in our studio the other day about art direction, particularly how to give direction in a way that helps designers or writers correct the work by themselves. I realized the conversation also applies to professional services proposals and pitches. It applies to a consultant’s recommendations to her client’s board and certainly, to a litigator’s argument before a jury. And it is completely applicable to the review of your own marketing materials.
Art direction seeks to help the creative team focus their attention on the white line in the middle of the road. It’s so easy to drive off into the field. Even the simplest lapse in understanding will send the communication approach careening off the road, over the shoulder and into the ditch.
There are three distinct stages of design: great idea, great design and great execution. We demand all three before a piece goes out the door, but the effort comes with some serious emotional cost in our creative environment. Could there be an easier way than our process currently allows? I’d like to suggest the most effective “art direction” may lie in asking yourself a simple question that allows you to art direct yourself and others: “What’s your takeaway?”
Quick! What’s your takeaway? You’ve got three seconds…
Before you present a creative idea (or any kind of idea, for that matter) to anyone, print out the work full-size, lay it out before you and verbally (yes, out loud) ask, “What’s your takeaway? You’ve got three seconds.” Actually, three seconds is generous; your readers won’t even give you that much time if the first impression is not a compelling one. Competition for attention is rough and the bar for grabbing attention has been raised high.
Every designer and presenter has to gain perspective on their own work. It’s central to growth as a professional. You will discover that all the problems with a presentation or marketing piece show up in high relief as soon as you ask, “What’s your takeaway.”
The most common problems with work in development are:
- The entire approach is off-message. Even slightly is off too far. As I said, the drift catches up with you the further you drive down the road. Return to your creative brief or the goals of your initiative.
- The message is not visible — literally. That is, it doesn’t jump out at you and grab you in the throat. That signals a design and copy problem — typically, the headline and visual solution. Once again, review the work with the big picture in mind.
We go through this all the time. We have had creative concepts that are near the message but struggled to get the concept dead on the money. If you were to look at some of the versions along the way, you could see the problem immediately. Close, but no cigar. So, we do this same analytical exercise again and again with our work. What’s your takeaway? Well, what’s it supposed to be? If you don’t know, you’re not ready to design anything.
We recommend you apply the same discipline in evaluating all your communications — in print, online or in person. The results of that forced perspective are instantly obvious when you say, “Quick! You’ve got three seconds. What’s your takeaway?”