In this post I will show you how you can increase your productivity 10x and get to better results faster in any creative discipline. We'll uncover the essence of perseverance and the iterative process in the realm of design and creative problem-solving.
We are all grownups here: We know the secret to success in the creative industry does not rely on the genius, or the talented, or even the...well genius. The secret is really that the ones that want to solve the design problem the most, and by want, I mean, REALLY want the thing, they will solve it. At any cost.
The Importance of Persistence in Design
When facing a creative problem, the designer that manages to create more value per output, is the one that will get closer to success. Design is a process of discovery, you will start doing something, and it will not match what you have in your head, so you need to iterate over and over until you start discovering that little seed, that little thread that you need to pull until you figure out what that thread is.
It is in the repetition, in the exploration and in the discovery that you will find what tool, technique or driving force actually starts to multiply the output. That is for example, the essence of style.
The Significance of Style
Style is a set of choices and decisions that are repeated over and over forming a pattern that is recognizable and over time, it starts to mature its coherence.
The Dual Approach to Problem-Solving
The formula is on one side understanding the problem and on the other side trying to brute force a solution, eventually you will manage to marry both. The more experienced a designer you are -more library, more tools, more skills- the faster you will transform overclocking your brain and trying to bash through a problem, but everything starts on those two energy demanding edges.
Application of Principles Across Creative Disciplines
Here is the thing, that principle can be applied from developing a custom set of brushes, to drawing circles in order to learn how to draw basic shapes and also if you want to learn anatomy in order to complement the foundations, and you manage to repeat this every day until it becomes second nature, then you will start finding solutions faster.
This happens also when you are trying to solve hyper complex design problems, in real time for example, working on a landscape or an environment, you need to understand your foliage brushes, distances, landscape design, scale, composition, etc. Then in order to get to a perfect frame, you need to go through hundreds of iterations.
In concept art, usually before starting drawing, people do thumbnails, and they do sheets of dozens of them until they find that seed of what they are looking for.
Same applies to character design, character designers go through many iterations until they find the right curves, the right colors, the right expressions, etc.
With photography its the same thing.
The Art of Discarding
Bear with me with this one... In philosophy, via negativa is used to explore the nature of existence and reality. It emphasizes the limitations of human language and understanding when it comes to describing complex or abstract concepts. By focusing on what something lacks or what it is not, philosophers aim to clarify the boundaries of what can be known or defined.
We judge design, by what its not, and so, we try to define what it is, since designing is bringing something useful into this world (serving a commercial purpose then digital design has intrinsic value), we poke, challenge and stress test design and see where it fails.
Some designers value their work too much. They believe that their output is something that comes from the gods, and treat their work. But its the other way around, you can create divine work only if your decisions translate to an end result that solves the design problem.
Therefore, like evolution, the strongest designs, meaning the ones that are judged by stakeholders, will eventually be challenged, morphed and adapted to fit that particular need that the design is trying to fulfill.
Therefore, you have to get used to discarding your work, to try millions of iterations until you learn something, until you find something that is useful not to satisfy your ego, but to solve the business problem and provide value.
The Path to Infinite Productivity
You cannot brute force your way without an intellectual understanding of a problem, but the secret, in the end is not too complicated. Start. That is 50% of the battle, then keep going, repeat, try something else, repeat again, gain confidence and speed, iterate as much as you can and have as many options as possible, have a backup plan and be a master of your craft. Be open to examine your work, as if you were an ice cold judge, poke holes and challenge it, be brutally honest with yourself and make sure that the only thing you are mostly aware of is your own ignorance. If you ruthlessly apply this principle to every single stage of the process, no matter how small, it will mathematically push you forward in your discipline.
I don't think I can write something truly original today, I'm tired. And I have to admit that, sometimes I use chat gpt to get rid of nuances, but I obviously hate the final output, I tweak it a little bit and try to make whatever corny text I got back, to make it more human. More myself. Soon enough, the nuances will be picked up by the LLM and get my writing pattern. I will just have to say dumb things to the voice recognition software, and then process it and get some decent text out of it.
Now, back to the header topic. Originality comes from many different places. You have thousands of theories, articles, and pop books about how everything is recycled, or you have to copy the masters, and eventually you will come up with an original stlye. That is not incorrect.
But what truly makes something original. Particularly in this day and age where, digital, a medium made for ease of replication seems to allow for very little originality in the creative output. The NFT promise enabled a generation of artists to find a sense of originality in their post, but, what became more popular is not the original visual style -think punks, and apes. There's literally a million of other projects out there with more original content, stories, and visuals than those project.
I am of the belief that true art, is just an expression. A mixture of mastery (or luck) in a certain domain that manages to bring something new to this world. Art does not reflect but expresses truth. Right? There's no more absolute definition.
But originality can be found in many places, design, physics, mathematics, sports.
What makes something unique? Is it a stamp? A marketing campaign?
The important here is the differentiating factor. Something original is a mixture of something that has a new way of expressing something, and idea, a picture, a car. But not necessarily, expressing something truthful to this world.
It is as if, we need to process, process and process a lot of information, chew it, replicate it, find a way to express it, copy what is out there, and slowly by boredom or intellect, we decide to create something that is not quite. Something different to what is out there. With a twist, perhaps.
Why do Apple products obsess me so much? The iPhone is the first and only smartwatch, everthing else is just a copy. Does that make it a piece of art?
Then how do you create something original after that. Its closest competitors either copy them, or focus on a completely different type. But the experience and of the iPhone (and almost entirely of its ecosystem) is unique.
How do you craft originals? In storytelling, for example, we revisit always the same patterns. The hero's journey, rise and fall, sky beams final battles.
There's always an edge to be found in technology. Back to the iPhone example, the new tech that the product enabled, allowed for a new and original product. In tech, the NFTs, the apes are popular partially because they were piggybacking on a new tech, and an economic bull market. They found product market fit, almost by chance. If it was not going to be the apes, it was going to be some other similar project. But the guys at Yuga, figured out original ways to foster and develop their community and looked for new approaches to ownership and IP expansion.
Creating a new product - not so long ago- I was chatting with a girl in a small party, and she was telling me that she was working at a startup that was training an LLM to create a better Siri. It just struck me, why do you want to invest your time copying two existing products and make a worse version of whatever it is that Apple or ChatGTP can potentially already have in their roadmaps?
There is always this belief that cross pollinating ideas or concepts is a formula for creating original content. Think Sharknado (Sharks + Tornados), Godzilla vs King Kong, Pocahontas + Blue Man Group (Avatar).
But on the other hand, you have Ridley Scott pitching Alien as 'Jaws in space'. What worked there, is not only the script and the noir take at sci-fi, but brining in a crazy person such as H.R. Giger to design the alien and the overall aesthetics.
Originality is that rare combination of factors and circumstances that give birth to something new.
The best way to be original is being yourself to the absolute max. I speak mostly for designers and maybe some artists. And yes, its the cheesiest advice ever. I don't consider myself original, but I feel that the more library I build and the closer I am to new tech the more original my content is. And at the same time, the more hours and discipline I put on something, the more I get rid of the obvious. Some people get there faster, I just do not.
The best way to achieve originality is, actually, getting faster to getting rid of the obvious. Some people develop conscious processes for that, and sometimes those processes just randomly stop working.
The secret, is to keep going, be consistent. Go to the masters, copy, imitate, try to master the tools to express what is in your head, and always aim to be world class because you are competing with the world and the world needs more original content.
Let's have a think about references and I will tell you why you scroll down pinterest when an idea itches your head and you can't truly nail it.
We usually have amazing ideas in our heads that we need to communicate to our peers, our clients.
We need to craft a vision about something that is in our heads, and because designers are designers because most of them can't really draw as good as they want to, we need different visual tools to express ideas.
Have you ever roamed the vast internet realm with a half-formed idea, feeling that it makes perfect sense in your mind, yet you lack the words or images to convey it effectively?
You want to create something new but all you see is recycled content. The images you see on the internet are processed versions of some old cohort of references that were trendy 6 months ago and a 3D designer just regurgitated 15 days ago on an NFT platform.
Even Midjourney, after some time of heavy use, starts to spit out similar shapes/textures over and over.
Now, what I really wanted to say with this blog post is - that usually - we scavenge the internet looking for that perfect reference that matches with that idea in our head for a very unique reason: we are looking for a reality check.
If the idea we have is great, it's already been done before, and it already exists in some shape or another.
It's a bit of a sanity check - having competition on something (in this case, an idea) means that you are not crazy, that it works.
That is why it's so easy to cross-polinate for insta originality... 80s vibe meets lo fi beats, superheroes but its a neo-noir, shark meets tornado.
We scroll the internet, look at design and art books to make sure that our idea works, that there are pieces of it distributed in the zeitguised that we can put the pieces together into something that already resonates with the world. After all radically new things, usually need some time to get to the public imaginarium.
Then it relies on your creative capacity to put those things together and generate something original out of that. All art is recycled ideas from the past, we just live this eternal cultural collage that only moves forward.
The select few who bring forth novelty in this world are the true artists, serving as conduits for the art itself. What they receive is merely a whisper from the muses. The rest of us find ourselves tethered to the real world, attempting to make sense of it all.
Or the AI clickbait version: The Presentation Code: Cracking the Formula for Conquering Your Creative Demons
There is this thing in the creative industry, which is, there is always a point where you have to share your work with someone else for review...the presentation.
In the creative industry, the moment of presentation is akin to baring your soul before others for scrutiny and critique. It's a process that often induces trepidation, even for seasoned professionals. I've experienced the nerves & the sweat. However, I've also learned that these presentations, when approached with the right mindset, can be transformative, providing opportunities for growth and affirmation.
Presenting always involves exposing yourself, raw, naked in front of someone else to get ripped apart, your flaws will be shown in public, and every mistake that you did will surface. Depends on the audience, if its a peer that is more senior than you, there is a really big chance that your work will be challenged in a way or another.
This doesn't mean that the experience will or has to be traumatic, it might be intimidating in the beginning, if you are a more junior in your career, even though, I always dread some feedback sessions, I get nervous and sweat, feel insecure or get an instant imposter syndrome shock in my bloodstream.
A presentation with an empathic, benevolent partner, can give you honest and motivating feedback. It can give you confidence that you are working on the right path and maybe share with you a key or two that can unlock your career path. You never know. Sometimes, after a presentation you realise, that you've grown.
The more experienced that you are presenting, the more confidence you can project and the easier it might be for you to navigate your audience. But there are certain guidelines that can help you arrive to your appointment more prepared and reduce not only the level of stress, but of insecurity, dread and give you protection when you are facing a challenging counterparty.
First things first, you are a designer, not an artist. You solve problems. It's crucial to remember that every element you present must be justified. From the color palette to typographic choices, every design decision should have a purpose. A cohesive narrative that ties together the elements of your presentation can make all the difference. Anticipating potential weaknesses and having well-prepared counterpoints ready can fortify your presentation against potential challenges. If you are presenting a moodboard for example, you cannot have random images that don't make sense one next to the other. People will always, and I mean always, pick up your weakest spot within your performance and question you around it.
A well-prepared presentation not only encompasses the content but also the design and communication strategy. It's crucial to ensure that every detail is meticulously planned, allowing you to confidently navigate through your presentation. By being aware of your current position in the creative process and having a thorough understanding of your work, you can confidently present and respond to any challenges that come your way.
This also trickles down to the presentation design, the story beats, the way you prepare the editorial. How you communicate your ideas. The more solid and prepared you come - the more you know the upside downs of your work, the higher the rate of success. If someone challenges you, better to be over prepared, have stuff under your sleeve, that you can pull off to make a point.
If you have all your systems in place, all your content on point, and you are aware what stage in the process you find yourself, you can present and respond with confidence. Confidence in presenting is not just about displaying your work; it's about showcasing your journey and the expertise that underpins every creative choice you make.
This is a basic how to guide to become a creative director. Besides the obvious clickbait title I will break down how you can become a creative director in no time, even starting as a dumb designer at the bottom of the food chain. This text tries to be less of a prescription and more of sharing some mental models.
Develop you own ideas.
Find a style that you can scale.
Present, present present.
Own the responsibility.
Aim to be world class.
Develop you own ideas.
As the titles suggest being a director, means directing projects, people, teams. You set the vision and you bring everyone together where to go. You can't do that dry, empty, or copying everyone else. Your position only generates value if your vision is unique and clear. Solve problems, bring new ideas to the table that you can execute and always be developing and nurturing your vision and ideas. Collect them, share them, mix & match, go to the past and bring into the future.
People will take you in for your unique way of seeing the world. Do you have great taste, can communicate ideas clearly and also be business savvy enough to deliver value to your clients even from the early days? Then you are on your way.
Find a style that you can scale.
Similar as before, your style, is the personality that you bring into the table. You like clean and minimalistic things? Let that be your forte. You want to make the world a better place? Then focus on the projects that you feel are the most meaningful. Strive to be unique and find that which separates your from your peers. I remember one of my first assignments at the university, I had to design an energy drink. And everyone of a class of 300 people where coming with skinned versions of Red Bull cans. I got the highest score because I brought a bottle, at the time - a radical idea. But I wanted to differentiate myself of everything that was out there in the competition and it worked. That small lesson made me focus on always trying to be different, finding a style that I can scale.
I try to work so that my style becomes - timeless. I hate looking at Pinterest and seeing that everyone is doing the same type of work over and over. There are shape languages, color palettes, ideas that might change, but work that considers the fundamentals of design, composition, light and storytelling -and obviously- your unique (justified) spin is guaranteed to be successful in the short and long term.
I don't feel one ever masters this, but being aware is definitely a differentiating factor.
Present, present present.
For many, many years, I was always the guy making presentations at design studios. I used to design them, prepare them, and eventually go to present them. This is a very underrated task, many people fear the spotlight. Looking back some of the presentations I had in the past to clients are nothing compared to the ones I get to do on a daily basis directly to global clients, where I get to joke and convince people that the work that's been done is what was asked for and delivers value to them.
Offer always to create the presentation deck early one your career, use it to get your foot in the door the big table, be part of that meeting, see how the masters present, learn from them. And to our previous point, see what they are not doing and where there is room for improvement, but also, see how other people react to the jokes, the pacing, the editorial, the story beats. The more you present the more you will get to be yourself at the top. Obviously - try to do more public speaking and a bit of theater doesn't hurt.
Own the responsibility.
Directing projects and teams, means that you will be looked as the vision holder, and you will make decisions, and sometimes you will mess up. You will make someone on the team unhappy, you will not consider production needs, or you will make that bad joke that someone go offended. Own it. Be able and be ready to defend all your work, designs and ideas at each granular level. If you are insecure, be honest about it, maybe take more time to become more confident. If you fear things will be delayed or are heading into the wrong direction, open up, let people know. Some designers, artists, are happy just being on the other side, waiting for direction, masters of execution, the risk is easy to mitigate, but if you give bad directions, you are responsible of the output, and also for their wellbeing of your team. If you are just getting started, own each aspect of your work, and your decisions and soon you will be the one making decisions for teams and projects.
Aim to be world class.
Can't state this strong enough. Like it or not, in the era of the internet, you are competing with the whole planet, so, aim to be world class. A world class designer, with storytelling aspirations to grow, should look at whoever is on top of you that you admire and, in the beginning try to figure out what they do, that you can apply to become better. So simple. Compare your work with the whole world. Challenge yourself and be honest, own the responsibility of being self aware of your strengths and weaknesses so that you can double down on fixing both. Do you need to be more curious? Are your ideas the best in the world? Compare yourself with the best, and endure the pain of competing against the world and yourself. If you manage to tolerate that pain, understanding that it's just making you a better creative, then there is no way to fail. You will only fail if you stop.
Just one more week, and this pitch/presentation/project/design would be perfect.
Of course I just asked the client for more time, and the only thing I can think about is to have one more week, heck, even just one more day and I could pull off more references and create more mockups, designs, sketches and finally get the idea that I have in my head and get it perfect.
Sure thing, one more day might get you to that point in your deadline where you theoretically want to be, but let me tell you a secret. It will not.
You know how you will feel one week from now if you got that extra week?
Exactly like how you feel today. Desperate…wishing you would have one more week to polish that little thing here, and change that detail nobody sees over there, and things that add absolutely no value to your presentation.
I would even bet that using the power of Pareto (aka the 80/20 principle), 80% of the genius of your presentation, comes from the last 20% of time left in your schedule. If you would have one more week, then you are basically forfeiting your chance to discover your great ideas.
In order to create a killer presentation, you need critical mass. So, even though you structure your presentation nicely, you need to review and edit your work in order to make it make sense. And that won’t happen until 2 or 3 days before your deadline.
Once you have everything in place, you will realize what is missing to make it look solid, therefore, you will have to rush to get things done, and that is when you start wishing you had just one more day/week/month/year.
Let’s say that your wish came true, and the deadline has been extended one more week. You will lose momentum. You will ‘let go’ that grip of focus that took you weeks of procrastination to master. I don’t believe in that week you will ever really, drastically improve your presentation in such a way that is worth extending the suffering for that one more week.
So embrace the suck, finish that presentation as good as you can and if you are lucky, and confident have it ready a couple of hours before deadline, so you can reward yourself with a little coffee and a clear head.
It's great that you can write a script and visualize it in 2 hours with the use of AI. Both Midjourney and ChatGTP this obviously unlocks creative power and speed. My original plan was to create this as a videogame experience, but it's too much time and effort which at the moment I do not have, so I'm releasing here the script with the visuals.
I'm not sure this is world class creative work, but for very little investment you can have a whole story visualized in half a day.
Although I think I got pretty close here is what the AI can't tell me: does my story suck? does my attempt at connecting certain story elements/jokes succeed? Is my story too obvious? The image prompts are quite on point to be honest -they even seem almost exactly what I had in my mind-. But that rises a lot of questions too. Are we complacent the first moment we see an idea close to what we want? Do we delegate too much to the AI? Being a director involves having a clear vision, so, is this a collab or does it really help the director creat the proper vision. I guess only the final product would tell.
At the moment, the product is the blog post. Hope you enjoy the story.
No More Moons
Immerse yourself in the dream. Picture a quaint suburban house with a barbecue sizzling, a frolicking golden retriever in the yard. Then, suddenly, consciousness breaks in.
Which reality is the dream? Which is the tormenting nightmare?
Your surroundings are oddly familiar yet strange. A space station that echoes domestic comfort - a paradox, both a residence and a void fortress.
Peering through a shattered glass, your breath rasps, harsh and laboured. Your hand catches your attention, a haunting glow of "Oxygen 13%" emitting from it - a dreadfully unlucky number.
Before you, a lifeless screen. The station is plunged into an abyss, save for a solitary, foreboding red light that blinks ominously. As you advance towards it, reality warps around you.
Abruptly, you're back in the garden, engulfed in uncanny silence, faint voices murmuring from nowhere.
An unsettling noise pierces the tranquility. A phone ringing, its screen pulsating red.
You touch it and find yourself back at the stark, cold station.
With trembling uncertainty, you approach the red button. As your fingers graze it, the lights stutter back to life, screens flicker and an eerie rumble resonates. It feels like a presence stirring in the metallic beast.
Now bathed in hesitant light, the station invites exploration. A door, slightly ajar, beckons. On it, a name - "N.N."
Crossing the threshold, you discover a journal - an antiquated relic of handwritten thoughts.
As your fingers brush the dusty cover, reality ripples and you find yourself transported to a cozy home office. Photos with blurred lines adorn the desk, next to an old computer and a tape recorder that murmurs cryptic sounds.
The computer awakens at your touch, a blinking cursor on the screen. With each press, a dire warning: "Oxygen 13%". Your helmet UI flickers. Another press - "Emergency procedure activated. Do you want to restart the oxygen systems? y/n."
Desperate, you respond: "Yes."
A haunting change suffuses the room - light filters in, revealing an infinite stretch of grass outside the window, under an impossibly massive moon hanging in broad daylight.
Suddenly, you're back at the space station, spinning wildly in the vast expanse. The office returns, a photo frame catching your eye - is that you?
A blurred face, indistinguishable. Beside it, an image of a child slowly disappearing. Breath becomes a struggle.
The AI assist propels you towards the oxygen charging station.
In your frustration, you yell out “FUCK!”, and your wrist AI responds by displaying images of ducks.
Amidst the chaos, a post-it note catches your eye: "Every day I am with him, I'm thinking I could not be having this moment."
Amidst the chaos, a post-it note catches your eye:
"Every day I am with him, I'm thinking I could not be having this moment."
A whirl of emotions overcomes you, and suddenly, you're back at the workstation. On the screen, a smiley face. A recording echoes in the room.
Your world shatters and reforms, now presenting a child's room.
You see crayons, a chalkboard with a smiley face, a duck drawing, and a raccoon plush toy concealing a little spaceman.
This reality, of all possible ones, is one you've tried to forget. A sharp reminder of what you've lost. Yet, it's the one you're forced to relive. Your body is screaming in pain. You'd do anything to spend just one more day forgetting this and remembering it at the same time...
Oxygen is running low. You're back in the office. On the computer screen, the silhouette of a duck, a raccoon, and an astronaut. You play along with the 2D game. Upon completion, the oxygen level rises, providing temporary relief.
With the imminent danger momentarily averted, the station doesn't look as chaotic anymore. Still, it's dead silent.
A dark tunnel reveals itself when you open the fridge, leading to a room of infinite reflections - the multiverse in its entirety.
Every possible version of you stares back, only with slight differences. Amidst them all, you spot him...
Wake up. You can't stand the sight of him lying there, tubes protruding from his mouth, struggling for breath. That's the only memory that stays. How do you escape this place?
Suddenly, you're back outside the house. Footsteps echo around you. The weight of the world is on your shoulders. The moon crashes towards the Earth, its fractures casting a beautiful yet terrifying purple glow.
Gravity bears down on you. You fall to your knees, the UI flashing a warning: "Oxygen low...3%." You're on the verge of hyperventilating.
You glance up at the sky. The space station glows in the distance.
All around you, the world dissolves into a riot of colors, ducks everywhere.
For a split second. You see a giant astronaut in the garden elevated.
Again. I’m at the station. All screens have ducks. I glitch.
Back in the garden. My screen cracks. UI has gone berserk. Nothin makes sense anymore. The astronaut glitches and it transforms into a giant plush toy raccoon.
Looks at me. His eyes start to glow and I look at him. A child comes running to me and hugs me. I cry. Suddenly, there's nothing but darkness.
The sun is black. The Earth is still. A space station glides across the tranquil blackness, a lone red light blinking. An astronaut emerges, floats out, disappearing into the void. The Earth rotates, revealing a moon embedded into it.
We have covered now the early stages of the creative process for an art director and now it is time to move into the early phase of preparing a concept or direction for your project.
This is a process that involves a couple of different phases. I will try to guide this in a perfect world scenario. But each project is different and most of what I share at this point is going to be flexible.
Conception refers to the stage of the process where you have to create a concept based on your visual ideas.
In a real world scenario you would establish with the client different stages for feedback, and different stages for changes. It may happen that different clients have different requests, or that suddenly the whole marketing team changed and you have new people with new ideas, or they just want to change things to establish their new authority.
There are many ways of guiding a client, and my personal recommendation is that you always keep him in the loop and involve him at the steps you need him to be involved to move your and his idea forwards.
It’s really important that before even start working you agree on how you are going to work, you should explain him your process and how you are planning to move forwards with each phase of the creative process.
You are being hired because you have a set of skills that they don’t and it is your job to guide them through your knowledge to what you think is best for them. This should also show in your project management skills.
So, after a couple of calls you end up with the following task.
Create a poster about the film “Donnie Darko”.
After your research is done you will have floating around your head a couple of ideas that you believe are stronger that others. Your guts will probably will be pulsating into going into a specific direction, and I will advice to trust your feelings Luke.
If you start with around 5–10 ideas I would recommend that you start trying to combine the stronger ones with the weaker ones. Or just try to see which ideas are similar, and start distill and concentrate all your creative power into 3 strong directions.
You should aim to have at least 3 possible directions to present.
One direction is very limited. There is no room for movement and give the client no chance to feel part of the creative process.
Two directions seems a little bit binary for my personal taste. You are basically telling the client, you can have either this or this. No-Go. It is not necessarily rude, but a little bit limited.
Three is for me a good number of choices. You can have a strong direction, an alternative and one completely different direction. You can mix it, or you can present 3 different options that can complement each other.
You can go for more options, this can be done if your client is more creative and you are in a rush trying to grasp what the client or project wants but if it is a formal presentation I would keep it simple. You do not want to overwhelm your prospects.
So lets say now that you have 3 different options for a specific topic. You have a folder with all your references, your research, etc.
For our Donnie Darko poster we will present 3 quick possible directions.
Route 01:Time Travel — (Sacred Geometry, Math, Occultism) Rout 02:Cellar Door Route 03:Helloween Party Flyer
Start creating moodboards.
A moodboard is a collection of reference images that try to illustrate a specific concept or idea by grouping different elements trying to convey a specific mood.
It is a map of your idea, using references of images that already exist, to try to guide the client to imagine what it is in your head.
So then when you share this with your client, you can discuss with him specific things. Such as “Do you like how this typoghraphy is working on this book?” “How do you feel about engraving it into a piece of wood?”
Dont place random images because they just look nice, try to find nice images that tell the story that you want to tell.
I sometimes try to tell stories in my moodboards, or organise them in such a way that they tell a story, maybe I will use landscapes or more abstract things in the left then towards the center introduce my characters and towards the right have some images that have a conclusion.
The idea here is that the client can read through and get your point.
This is a very subtle but key element when designing your moodboards. One very common misuse of this basic resource is just collecting images that look nice, pass them over and expect that the client or even other designers, get what you want.
You can really tell the quality of a designer or art director by the quality of their moodboards and how they express their ideas.
So now that you have your moodboard ready, it is the time to present your ideas to the client.
Note — For some inital parts of the process. Moodboards might just be a visual tool to get the client moving into one direction. After this is established more narrative moodboards, or moodboards that involve a bit more different images might come into place.
There is definitely no specific rules for creating moodboards, I think with great taste you will be able to express your first concepts, but be careful and keep it simple and tasteful, do not include things that you don’t want or are not sure because it is usually a rule of thumb that the client will pick up that one.
A good presentation is a maker or destroyer of creatives and projects. The presentation is the medium where you will present your ideas. It becomes the guiding document for briefing your client, team, colleagues.
As a designer it is good to have some general idea of editorial design. Once again whatever we are doing here is presenting and selling our work and our ideas. A good presentation has to be clear and understandable. Everything has to be explained to the last detail.
It has to be ready made to be opened by someone that has no idea whatsoever about the project and by the time he finishes reading it it, he is sold with the idea.
It has to be clear and everything has to be explained, and if you design it well it will bring you a lot of success.
The following is an example of a good structure for a good presentation.
Cover — the cover page is the page where you present the project and the most general details about it such as date, client, and project name.
First Creative Thoughts — a brief introduction about the project. Here is where you state to the client your understanding of what you have to do and how you want to do it. The goal here is to introduce your vision of the project.
Challenges — sometimes I include a page that talks about the challenges that the project has to meet and the ones that the project is going to face. So for example we speak about the creative challenges that we want to accomplish, and the reality challenges that will influence our goals, such as limited budget, resource availability or time.
For the first presentation I would dive directly into the first different routes.
Do not fear over-explaining everything or being redundant. As mentioned before the presentation has to be self explanatory in every point.
Route / Direction 01–02–03 — So, I will assume I have a Title page that says “Route 01". Try to name every concept, this is actually part of the conception phase. It is up to you how creative you want to be with the naming. Some people are more playful or witty, some people prefer to be more direct.
The title has to resume your concept in one, two or three words. Try to make it catchy. The title has to resume your idea so when the client looks at the images he can already start constructing your vision in his head.
You should add a small description of your concept / idea and explain the benefits of this one.
After this, you can introduce the moodboard.
Conclusion (or finishing thoughs, summing up, etc.) — in this slide you will wrap up all your ideas. You can write down your top choice and why you recommend going into that direction, or just write some other things that are in your mind worth talking with the client.
Contact — Be mindful to include a thank you page with your contact information.
If your presentation is branded, much better. I mean, why would you not brand it? You are a professional right? This branding has to speak about yourself. You can have a logo, or your name, but the choice of color, typography and editorial design will also speak about your skills as a designer.
The best advice here is to have a template presentation with a template structure for the moodboard to speed and structure your whole process. This is key for every professional. Create assets that will save you time and energy.
Respect the grid
The grid will help you stay fit and organised. You will have to discover what grid works best for you and keep it in an editorial fashion.
This is the grid I used for one of the moodboard. If you compare the 3 you will notice that I modified the arrangement and the size of the masks of the moodboards but I kept using always the same structure. This will help keep your presentation entertaining and organised.
If you want to break the grid and be a bit more décontracté, do so at your own risk and only if you need to. I do not mean to preach a hard school on grid, but it helps to keep everything in order. If you want to take a creative licence with it, keep some other constants respecting the grid.
In other words, arrange the images as you want, but respect the rest.
As a side note, it would be great when you can; before sending the presentation to the client to rehearse it a little bit.
In many cases you will just need to send over a PDF with your presentation and then keep the communication by email. But in many other ones you need to call the client and guide him through.
From my own personal experience, I prepare the presentation, read it 50 times, and believe that everything is perfect. But then when I am presenting it to the client I realise that there are many things that are not clear enough, or that I become very redundant or that the copy doesn't allow me to close up my thoughts. Or even find myself reading the copy out loud and realising that what I just read doesn’t fit the context of the conversation or I just said the same that I did 2 slides ago but with different words adding absolutely nothing to the pitch.
If you have some time, maybe some audience, try presenting it to someone else and fine tune the things that make no sense spoken out loud; listen to yourself and watch other people’s reactions.
My two best options for presentations are Adobe InDesign, or Keynote.
Adobe InDesign is a great tool for creating editorial design. It is optimised for doing hardcore typographical work and it has a great grid system that will structure your output very easily.
It isn’t a very flexible program and it is a bit hard to edit images on the go, but I assure you, this is what you need. Use the grid. Be mindful of it and reap the rewards. You want structure and you want editorial. This tool provides you with that.
Apple’s Keynote, on the other hand is a more flexible tool. Very good for live presentations. You have some sweet animations and transitions and its very easy, fast and flexible to edit things on the go and spice up your work. But this flexibility can be a bit costly in terms of design.
If you do not keep track of it you might in time, start dragging errors and your presentation form will get lost.
I would not recommend Power Point. This is one of the most unsexy and terrible tools I have ever encountered and I am still shocked to understand how it is an industry standard.
So now we should have our beautifully designed presentation with our 3 routes and ideas. It is time to present it to the client.
Everything went great and he decided to go with the Route 01 — Time Travel, yeah!
It can happen that he also likes some ideas from the second direction. We take notes, and agree to a polished development of the idea for a second review in 1 week.
Now it is time to keep working. This has just begun…
Research is one of my favorite parts of the process. I actually enjoy most of them, but research feels like the golden moment. Anything is possible.
You get to spend time learning and experimenting and checking out all new kinds of cool stuff. Your mind is, or should be exploding with ideas and ways of connecting all sorts of new concepts and ideas, colors with typography, texture with different materials and so forth.
How do we structure the research process? Where to start first?
The first part of research should be non-visual.
Open wikipedia and start reading as much as you can about the briefed topic and feel free to explore some hyperlinks to lateral subjects.
Let’s assume that you got a briefing for creating a whole brand identity for a museum (I actually never did a Museum branding but I will try to be creative on this). A contemporary art museum that wants to celebrate 100 years of an artist that works only with colored pencils to create sculptures.
So what to do first? Well, encyclopedia. Lets open Wikipedia and start absorbing as much as we can about that museum:
When was it created? Who created it? Who was the architect? With which materials is it constructed? What kind of previous exhibitions were there in the past? What kind of people go there?
A good client he should provide you with most of this information from better sources, and can even render information about the audience that attend that museum, goals such as if they want to create a hype and bring in new types of audiences, etc. All this information is vital to have at least present at the time of creating the designs.
The next step would be to get deep into the life of the artist.
Who was he? When and where was he born? What did their parents do? How is the history of his work? Is the exhibition about a specific period of his life? Is there a concept for the curatorship of his work? How does he work? Which materials does he use? Is he creating any specific process that differentiates his work from something else? Are there any particular moments in his life that had a great impact in his life?
You should be documenting all this information.
Digital vs Analog?
The answer is: both. You should always to have a notepad with you.
I cannot stress the importance of this. Ideas come and go, and if you don’t write them down they disappear in the ether.
On the other hand the direct connection between seeing all your ideas on paper can fire up new other ideas and can give you a very clear panorama of things that you are missing.
In many ways the “process” is linear, you feed with different sources it but it always goes into one direction and it is your job to explore different directions but eventually decide for one with the client and explore it from beginning to completion.
The notepad is the fastest way to do small sketches and to have a mental record about what you were thinking at that particular moment.
I am personally a notebook junkie. Whenever I see a nice notebook I buy it, and I think “here I will write all ideas related to this” and in this one I will write all my project management, or long term goals. In the end, I always use the same. I have a lined Moleskine A5 size for a couple of years that I use for almost everything, and a couple of satellite notebooks that accompany everywhere I go.
I find the connection with the analog world to be a bit more solid. As discussed in the previous post, digital can be fleeting and ethereal. I think there is some sort of sorcery and magic that happens in the brain whenever we pick up a pencil or a pen and start writing.
My guess is that it activates a mixture of creative and logic parts of the brain that the digital world does not. There is always that glass screen that doesn’t let us really connect with the result.
Whenever I am doing research I use Word or Pages in order to store faster bigger chunks of detailed information.
(In parallel, I create a folder structure in order to store different images that come into my way, while we do the most basic research.)
The other advantage from text editors is that it forces us to start structuring the information, depending how deep we want to delve into the subject.
The times I’ve had the time to do proper research write down notes and deconstruct properly the creative brief, the more ready and secure you are to present your ideas.
Another advantage is that a lot of the stuff I start directly writing on my text editors, I can later on copy/paste into presentations, emails, etc.
I found the use of mind maps or mind trees not so long ago (cheers up to Ash Thorp and Learnsquared) and I tried to include it to my workflow. I must admit I haven’t stuck to it 100% because new habits are hard to acquire but they can be super helpful.
I would definitely recommend to give it a shot and play around.
Evernote, Notes, Reminders, Google Drive.
All these note taking systems are also pretty cool, but I like to keep it simple. I usually have a honeymoon period with each app or service, but eventually I tend to go back to the basics. Notepad, Word, etc.
Since I am a Mac geek, I find the Notes app in the Mac OS and iOS to be pretty sweet. It is very nicely integrated and it feels seamless to sync all your notes between your devices and computers.
Another tool I use a lot for collaboration is Google Drive. Mostly because it has become a web-cloud based standard for word processing and sharing that is pretty much unbeatable. It works seamlessly between Mac and PC and mostly everyone has a Google account for something.
Back to the research!
So now we have our notes, we have our digital tools, we created a nice Mind Tree about the museum and the interaction with the artists, we have some interesting first ideas, we doodled a couple of nice posters, drawn some nice details for a typography game.
We have written down a couple of possible directions and things that have called our attention.
At this part of the process I feel my idea as a small source of light in the middle of a dark space.
We are standing in the middle of blackness and this light is glowing, it comes from both inside of us and its reflected in the exterior of this dark space.
Our job is to connect both lights, the interior one and the exterior.
The strength of the light is pretty weak. It is fragile but as the light glows, we can feel all the colors and the possibilities imploding at the same time, fighting to combine connect and explode into our final product.
The more we feed this light, the richer our project is going to be.
So now we are going to do exactly that.
In order to feed the light we have to diversify our research and start diving deep into our first thoughts and ideas.
Lets say we read that the architect of the museum was working with some special brushed steel material for the exterior of the museum and we feel a small weird connection between this, and some aspect of the life of the artist. For example, he spend his first years working at a steel factory saving money to finance his materials for his first period of work.
My next step would be to dive into the research on the subject of steel.
But this time make a little folder called “Steel” in your computer and start documenting everything that you find about steel and steel production. Make the research visual, try to find interesting things in the steel production, just as special machines, or high-res photographies of steel metal plates, brushed, raw, with special chemical treatments.
We are trying to find both conceptual and graphical elements that might link the museum to the artist. This might work or just be a stupid idea, but its worth to explore.
Another thing you can explore is the work of the artist.
He works with colored pencils, so maybe this can be another another topic to explore. Pencils, pencil production, materials, wood, type of pencils, type of colors, different color palettes. Try thinking of the pencil not as a pencil but as a shape.
Can we make an abstraction of the shape? Can we isolate specific color patterns that the artist is working on?
We can explore the process of repetition that the artist is using. Maybe that repetition is similar to other processes in nature.
The idea is to try to distill all the aspects of our research and try to get as much visual material in order to feed our minds and imagination before we start creating.
Try to go deep into your sources and avoid at this part of the process looking at other people’s work.
This type of research can take you to weird places, and I love that. You can end up reading about weird people that invented weird things or dwelve into 12th century monks creating special pigments for book production. You never know. Allow yourself if you have the time to explore these tangents, but keep in mind that you have to come back and try to respect the brief.
Now its time to dive into the graphic references. I like to have this process after our initial research to avoid getting obsessed with others people work and give some space to some more “pure” ideas.
On the other hand it is also important to be aware of what other people have done with similar briefs.
This part is also essential to the process. Without references (especially good ones) it is difficult to have good guidelines of good quality work.
The first I would do is to look for references of similar projects than the one at hand. Museum brandings, or museum related projects. Graphical images about special exhibitions.
I would collect all of this in a “Museum” folder for example. The idea is to absorb and compare.
It is key also to understand what is going on in the world, and have it present, because we want (or we should want) to create something that stands out.
Some things to keep in mind is that, for example, lets bluntly say that most of the museum work use the same typography and same background — lets assume white — we can already start thinking about maybe making the typography handwritten and use colored background.
In order to open the research we can refine our parameters. Start looking for graphic material from other periods of time. If you can find it in special books, or websites, or even libraries.
The next step would be to start looking at other type of work, from alternative places. Go nuts on Pinterest and do some freestyle research.
Research colors, techniques, composition, posters, videos, go to a museum, go outside and start taking pictures, I find really nice inspiration looking at window displays from high end fashion stores for example. Or just cruising around looking for posters in the city.
Try also to fragment the research.
You can do a specific search for colors, another one for pencils, another one for art installation, another one for typographic arrangements, and so on. Try to be conscious and organized and you will reap the rewards later on.
Now you should have a nice folder full of sub-folders with a lot of images from all over the place.
Some text written with initial thoughts, and some random words, concepts and ideas for different directions in notebooks, and random pieces of papers.
If we go back to our poetic metaphor our little black universe, should have now a lot of different colored lights floating around. They are smaller than the light that is coming from inside of use but we can now start to explore these different lights, and start making weird connections.
As a final part of this process one thing I personally do before diving into concepting and deciding for a direction — that I will cover in my next post — is to throw all the images that I have into a big Illustrator file, and start associating different images one next to the other according to random thoughts and connections that I find interesting.
With this I already can have a global look on my research and the flexibility to start playing with it. Keep in mind that even though you will spend a couple of days or weeks doing proper research for a specific project.
New ideas will fire up and maybe new input from the client will make you change your direction or point of view on the project.
This is an open process and it is constantly feeding itself.
You might even be in the middle of the production process and you realize that you need more logo references, or didn’t realized that you need photography references for portraits.
Another good tip is to always keep the good sources bookmarked.
You can have a RSS feed with all the blogs you love, but also keep in mind that a lot of artists are creating a lot of interesting work that is more open.
They might explore just color, or light, or create some really cool characters without an industry related goal. As an Art Director, you should be aware of all of this. You should have some favorites and you should be constantly in the look for inspiration from everyone and everything.
This a post from Jun 27, 2016, it takes about 11 minutes to read and has some outdated link. I will prepare a revisited version soon once I migrate all my content into the new website.
This is going to be an on-going series about how to learn and improve some of your Art Directing skills. I am writing this in order to structure a bit some of the experience I have learned during the years and try to frame it in a guide that everyone can come either use to improve their skillset or just to be reminded of some of the basic principles that can get lost entering the comfort zone of their careers.
My goal is to both improve your skill set but also try to get you to improve your mindset, so you can think a bit more critically and be able to make conscious decisions about your work, or the work of others.
This first part is an introduction. I will try to explain what does “Art Direction” mean, what an Art Director does and why this role is important in order to bring success into creative projects.
So what is Art Direction?
There are many professional areas where the term Art Direction becomes involved.
I would start by defining that Art Direction is the collection of conscious and justifiable design or artistic decisions that hold together the result of any visual creative production.
Ill try to be a bit more simple. In any design, movie, animation, project, its all the visual decisions that make the final product be coherent in its aesthetic.
For example, when someone designs a logo, the decisions that are made are part of the art direction and have to be conscious and justifiable. The strokes, the typography they use, the style, the colors. If not it just becomes a random selection of resources without any intent (or direction).
Same can happen with photography. The decisions about the light to be used, the composition, the elements that are involved in the frame. If the photographic process involves some sort of production for example in fashion, an art director would be in charge of choosing the backgrounds, design the sets, and can also be involved in the look of the models, the combination of colors, etc.
In the case of motion pictures, an art director is in charge of designing almost everything that we see, from the color but everything that involves developing fake brands, labels, book covers, intro titles, etc involves artistic direction to a lot of extended degrees. Different art directors or product designers are involved in different levels of production. Where it is to define a color scheme throughout the movie, or how will the graphic design of the posters and decorations of the shots will look like.
In gaming an art director is responsible of guiding the whole look and feel of the game. It is in charge of communicating with all the departments of production in order to keep the aesthetic of the game consistent.
In advertising the term art director also applies to graphic designers, that work as a duo with a creative director or copywriter, visualizing ideas. So one thinks the other one makes those ideas happen. Or both.
The term is so vast that it is very hard to cover everything up now, I will try to get into more detail as I write more posts, but this should give a general panorama.
How do I become an art director?
There is no real school for this but I would say the most common places to start are graphic design or art schools. I would take a wild guess and say that a big percentage of the industry standard art directors come from these places. The rest come from other disciplines, and a lot are self taught creatives.
And I guess it all comes down to developing great taste.
Cultivating visual and general knowledge will be always the best way towards moving forward in one’s path in this discipline.
It is really important to have a good “library” in your mind’s eye that is being almost constantly updated with visual references that you can access. Your sources and inspirations will become your tools of the trade.
Most art directors produce most of their work. Or did at some point of their careers. If they are delegating work its is much better for them to have a previous understanding of the creative process.
One of the first places to start are books. Most prolific art directors have usually huge design and art book libraries that become their first point of contact with any project.
It is of the utmost importance to start building a good design/art library if you want to have the means to make a difference in this career.
What books have compared to digital resources is first, there is usually a specific theme being presented. Wether it is a collection of photographic works, or a design compilation in most cases there is usually a theme that you know you can look up to. There are always texts written down that try to make you go in depth into the presented subject (although in many cases there are just for filling pages) and the most important thing is the time that you can spend with a book and its material presence makes you in some way develop a deeper connection to the work.
Digital media is ephemeral. It’s there but you cannot touch it, and it really depends on your battery levels and your internet connection. It is as if it feels that with books you can absorb knowledge in a much rooted level.
The time you can spend looking and analyzing one image, how close you can get with your physical eye to the paper and the tactile experience makes everything a whole experience.
Digital media feels just something more mental and not so experiential.
Sometimes I am even surprised when I go to creative’s houses and see so little design books. And I can say almost for certain that the size of your library can at some level correspond with your quality of a designer. Usually all successful and prolific designers are book junkies.
Who you are will directly reflect on your work. What music do you like, what did you listened when you were a teenager, the artists that you admire, the decoration of your home, your general interests, whether it is politics, history, art, etc.
A general knowledge about art in the world and how the different points of view have affected societies around the world. After all an art director should know something about art.
Most schools have some sort of art history course, and a lot of self taught designers/art directors usually have one or two big artists as inspirations that got them into the game. For a general introduction to art history I recommend The Story of Art by Ernst Gombrich.
It offers a general panorama about all art history since the early civilizations until today, and it is all done with work that can be easily found at the most important museums around the world.
This brings me to my second point: Museums.
Museums are by definition the house of the muses. As design books, the exhibitions are curated live visual content.
It is always good practice to go to museums and exhibitions.
Your mind is open to absorbing information in a different way of a book, or digital, the experience here involves a different state of mind and a physical presence. And you can buy a nice book or two in the gift shop.
I find it also really interesting going to the theater, or music venues. They both involve such an amount of creative preparation and execution that always allows your creative mind to flow in a different state and make unusual connections.
Also the illusion of disconnection can bring out solutions to creative problems that have been roaming the mind for a long and stressful week.
So, all of this is what makes you a valuable individual. To develop and nurture your taste through these experiences means that you are developing yourself and creating value to your profession. It is important to always have a keen and open mind and let curiosity be your guide.
It is also super important that you are open to understand and ask the right questions about everything. Some interesting things to ask your self are:
What am I doing here?
Who’s work am I experiencing?
When was it created?
What was happening in the world at that moment?
Why is this exhibition/concert here and not somewhere else?
What questions would I ask the artist/s if they were present?
Why do I like this?
We live now in a world and an industry that spins around digital tools to make our lives easier and generate value one click at a time. I don’t really see much room today for any artist or designer that wants to be part of this industry without using digital tools at some point.
I am assuming that you are already familiar with the Adobe creative package. “Photoshoped” has become part of our language, so lets speak about some tools of the trade that I personally use that make my life easier.
I would say that my first tool whenever I have to do research is Pinterest. They have become industry standard and their algorithms seem to “get me”. This is scary. But the way it is designed for me gives a huge advantage on organizing and categorizing my visual references.
I have tried tagging references, syncing them to my different cloud accounts but in the end this takes so much work and investment that I end up using just Pinterest and then browsing the dark corners of the internet for lateral references using my own personal mind library.
The biggest disadvantage that we have with Pinterest is that you get to see a lot of already processed work. You don’t get to the core of things, but just look at masticated and regurgitated beautiful images that present the current state of the zeitgeist. Be careful with this.
But a good art director will know exactly up to what point use and what to use from these images. I will expand more on this in later posts.
My second in command image search engine. This looks around the whole internet and tries to find the best match according to your search. It is not tainted by design, and you can filter really good by usage rights, color, and size.
It is great to find some of these hidden gems that are in the public domain.
I use sometimes Picasa’s collage tool to create moodboards. Now a days it is called google photos I think and the tool is still there but it is a bit more uncomfortable to use since it’s all web/cloud based. I recommend getting an older version.
Since I am involved in the Motion Graphics / VFX branch I use Vimeo as my number one video inspiration. I like the website Motionographer too as a curated selection of great Motion Graphics and Interviews but Vimeo as a social network feed of what all my colleagues and studios that I like are looking at the moment. I get a great source ranging from finished work to more experimental tests, etc.
Blogs and RSS feeds.
There is a TON of beautiful work and curated content out there. Something similar happens to me like with Pinterest, but there is SO MUCH information going and all these beautiful curated blogs, but in the end I have the feeling that they all dissolve in the internet’s creative ether.
Sites like tumblr have beautiful curated work but they become just a compilation of beautiful images… and that’s it.
There are some specific blogs that have a very strong focus in curated content and a bit more exploration on the work such as Bibliodissey that focuses on book related stuff, buthowdoesitfloat, etc.
You can collect all this information using an RSS feed and create your own curated feed of curated content delivered on demand.
I can go forever (and probably will later on), there is always a new tool coming up ready to replace an old one Pinterest replaced FFFOUND for example.
In my personal opinion it is better to keep it simple. I always keep a folder in my desktop called “PicRefs” where I just collect the nice random things that I find on the internet, and I take a look every couple of months or so. It is very pleasing to actually see those references and they take you back to that moment where you selected them and you can also see a line that reflects your taste and interest through time.
Spend some time exploring great inspiration sources, analysing them and categorizing them for future use.
I have just written about a basic spectrum of basic things about being an Art Director. This is a very broad discipline but some of the foundational elements can be shared along the line of the different areas.
One last thought for this post is that a good art director is also a good communicator. Without being able to communicate your ideas and thoughts to someone else will be the difference between success and great success in any creative endeavor.
It is important to get this basics right. General knowledge and good access to creative source material is key to start. And critical thinking and a constructive and de-constructive mind open the paths to better work and ideas.
I guess that if you found this post in this platform most of this stuff is covered, but in that case, take it as a reminder of those basics that we sometimes forget. Most designers now look only at digital things, go back to books.
Others just go home and watch television or browse reddit and forget that going out to a concert might as well open your mind to new ideas and people could spend part of their weekends exploring the cultural offering from your city/town.
Read a book about the life of David Bowie or explore the futuristic possibilities of virtual reality in Ready Player One. Enrich your life so you can enrich your work, it is that simple.