Content Marketingweb design

Southerly’s 10-step guide to the art of art direction

By September 17, 2015 No Comments

Less is more, that’s what they say, whoever they are.

Modern content marketing needs a modern type of art director. Digital design is similar to its sister practice, copywriting, where there’s a place for every word and every word has its place. There’s no space for the superfluous – we want flat design that comes from simply executed ideas that tell a succinct story and deliver an emotional response. And, strange as it may seem, a simply executed idea can be a lot more difficult to get right than a complex one.

As Southerly’s Art Director, I’m going to let you in on a few trade secrets to enhancing your design capabilities.

  1. Perfect your idea

One of the most common mistakes is rushing into the nitty gritty of design without interrogating the concept. Finding the perfect idea requires a solid investment of time and energy. I would always argue that finessing the idea is the most important thing, not figuring out how to execute it.

  1. Know your clients

The best way to get your concept right is to spend learn as much about your clients as possible – they are the source of your information and, ultimately, inspiration. Find out their needs, their history, what’s worked so far (and what hasn’t) and their vision for the future. And always request detailed briefs – that’s your launchpad. All too often, you’ll only find out what they really had in mind after you’ve delivered a first draft, so try to encourage that information out them before you start work. Sometimes, asking what they definitely don’t want can be more effective than trying to focus on what they do want.

  1. Work with great copywriters

Having access to strong copy can really make your designs stand out and mean something. Work with writers who can breathe life into your ideas through a powerful phrase or clever word play. Involve them in the process from the start and keep talking as you progress to ensure the copy and design work together as effectively as possible.

  1. Start with your weakest point

Let’s say your client has a terrible logo that you’re unable to change – start with that. If you have a weak element that you need to add to your composition, just work with it. It’s never going to change so you might as well deal with it.

  1. Find your type

Typeface is so important in setting your tone of voice and cementing your brand. Research and work with great fonts and I’d advise staying clear of flouncy, flowery styling (unless the brief requires it). Minimal, classic designs go a long way these days.

  1. Size is everything

Make sure your proportions are correct. Print out everything and look at it in the correct size wherever possible. Similarly, try to test digital designs on a range of screens to make sure it works across different dimensions.

  1. Be comfortable about accidents

You’ll find amazing things can happen by accident, so embrace them. Exploring concepts that are outside of your comfort zone can throw up ideas you’d never have thought of if you hadn’t wandered into unchartered territory.

  1. Steal, beg, borrow

OK, maybe just that last one. Borrowing is inspiration by another name. A concept that’s been overdone won’t help you to get noticed, but by all means borrow a good idea and make it your own.

  1. Get out now

When you lose your inspiration, or you’re feeling stuck – and it is ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ – step away from your studio and do something different. Go to an exhibition, watch a film, visit a bookstore or take a walk. Your inspiration will come again when you least expect it, so don’t try and force things by staying in front of your screen.

  1. Explain yourself

Take time to explain your concept to the client in as much detail as possible – your idea and the thought process behind its execution – so they understand why you did what you did. And most importantly of all, love what you do. Passion and enthusiasm are hard to resist.

At the end of the day, there are times as an art director when you have to trust your gut instinct – you will inherently know when something is working or not. If it’s not feeling right then ditch it. An original idea is hard to judge because nobody’s done it before. Don’t slow yourself down by battling against something that isn’t gelling. Instead use that momentum to plough straight into a new concept.

About Southerly

We are a creative content agency. We are storytellers.


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