What’s the dealio with Art Direction?

art direction branding studio

Back in 2011 when I first started SBD I had a fairly simple perspective on the world.

Hamburgers must have ham on them. 7-Eleven stores were all open 7am to 11pm. Lindsay Lohan had a British twin. A graphic design agency simply employs graphic designers.

And then, BOOM! I entered a whole new world of truths. My business taught me many lessons (here’s 20 of them for you), often the hard way of course, but one of which was that Graphic Design agencies actually employed a whole team of different superstars. Here I was hiring designer after designer, wondering why I was so stretched and not able to grow the business in the way that I had hoped. It was like building a skyscraper with toothpicks and both hands tied behind my back.

I quickly learned that I needed these things called account managers, and studio managers, and marketing managers and art directors. Who’d have thought?!

The best part though? Because I’d never worked in another agency before I had no real idea of what these people actually did on a day-to-day basis. For the seventeen thousandth time, my business threw me into the deepest darkest waters of research. I spent countless nights researching what these roles were and how they worked together.

Fast forward to today, and we have two very talented, very hardworking art directors, Katie and Felicity. You can see a cute and endearing photo of them here that they’ll curse me for sharing with the world.

We now also offer art direction and content creation as an entire arm of our business to clients all around the globe. We shoot, style, strategise, direct, craft and curate brand stories in an array of different mediums to best showcase our clients’ work, brands and products.

The whole team is involved in these projects, in fact, our latest baby, Baskk is a very good example of the extent of art direction our team is capable of.

But what the hell even is Art Direction some of you might ask? Well, I thought who better to ask than the gals living in this world day-in, day-out.

Welcome to the stage Flick and Katie.


On a day to day basis, what do you actually do? (Disclaimer, this is for the purpose of the interview, I do know what my staff do… most of the time!)

F:  In one sentence – I take a big vision and making it accessible, achievable and successful. Alongside our amazing team, I oversee creative concepts to make sure all our work is hitting the mark both conceptually and technically for our clients and their needs. I work with a range of amazing clients to bring their ideas to life through branding, websites, packaging – anything really!

I also guard the Smack Bang brand, directing how our own aesthetic is developed and showcased. This involves brand strategy, visual implementation and constant self-checking to make sure Smack Bang is leading the way in the creative industry. I manage our own portfolio – organising, styling and shooting our best projects.

K: I direct all the technical design, making sure everyone is learning, growing, inspired and creating the best possible designs with accuracy and attention to detail. As the design-world is constantly evolving, I attend workshops and conferences to up-skill and remain relevant within the industry, coming back and running monthly meetings to pass on my learnings to teach the design team too. My aim is to grow the team from within, to break new ground in creative design innovation, setting design benchmarks and trends for the industry.

I get to meet awesome people (who become clients) with big visions and dreams for their business. I am involved throughout the entire process, working on their brand from start to finish to maintain a clear direction. I oversee design concepts, making sure that we are always proud of everything that leaves the studio, and mentoring the designers along the way. At the completion of any print job, I oversee all the final artwork that is ready to be sent to print – making sure we don’t run into any hiccups down the line.

What would be the perfect kind of brief for you to sink your teeth into?

F: The best briefs are the ones with a big scope, a flexible brief and an organised client. Creatives always work best when they’re given room to move, explore and do what we do best – create. I love my clients who trust me and trust the process – we always end up with a winner of a project when this happens.

K:  I love to take on a range of different project types, to keep my mind ticking and challenging my design. I am a big fan of creating beautiful, innovative websites, pushing boundaries and thinking outside the box aesthetically and functionally with UX front of mind to create the best possible user journey. Still there is something so beautiful about seeing your designs come to life in print too.

What’s the difference between a senior designer an art director and a creative director?

F: From a purely practical point of view, an Art Director is the person who conducts all the moving parts. They get the bigger vision from the Creative Director and then they make it happen! They coordinate talent (designers, finished artists, videographers, editors etc), they set and assess the creative brief, and they make sure that at each point in the project the creative outcomes are consistent, cohesive and answering the brief. The designer’s job is to then execute that direction – they’re the ones on the tools!

K: An Art Director brings clarity and definition to work, helping to communicate a message through the design and concept. Art Direction takes on more of a ‘bigger picture’ view, foreseeing the best possible directions for the brand to take and overseeing all elements of the design process to make sure all the cogs are working succinctly and smoothly. This differs from a Senior Designer, whose main role is to support Junior Designers and the Creative Director who oversees all projects, offering insight and wisdom to maintain consistency in the level of design that leaves the studio.

What do you see as the benefit of having an art director on a project? What part do they play?

F: An Art Director is able to oversee a project in a way that gives a really clear direction and acts almost as a ‘safety net’ for your brand. Especially on projects with more than one creative (designer, photographer etc) – the art director is the point person to make sure all the elements come together clearly, conceptually and cleanly.

K: An Art Director provides a greater level of awareness and enhanced conceptual thinking. An Art Director will challenge, push, encourage and teach fellow designers to be the best, most creative versions of themselves on each project they tackle, with a forward-thinking approach to everything, making sure designs are innovative and strategic.

What does our art direction service look like for clients?

F: Our Art Direction service ensures a cohesive brand across every touchpoint. It means your branding speaks to your photography, your photography highlights your products, your products are showcased cohesively on your social media, and that your social media strongly correlates to your website.

K: Art Direction will allow for greater exploration into the meaning behind your brand. Art Directors will take all paths into consideration when conceptualising, thinking through how visuals best support and convey the mood of the brand, and how this assists in the message or story of the brand. Creating the best possible solution for your brand.

What is the most common misunderstanding about art direction?

F: I think most people don’t really know what it is – or think it’s super airy fairy and conceptual. Art direction is extremely detail oriented, as well as thinking of the big picture.

K: I honestly don’t think many people know what Art Direction actually is. Art Direction takes more of a future-thinking approach with the bigger picture in mind, creating with a mindset of accuracy and attention to detail.

How is it distinct from graphic design?

F: Graphic design is choosing a font, choosing a colour, choosing an image, designing a layout. These are all crucial to a brands end aesthetic – but they need some direction! Art direction is setting the vision for all these assets to align to.

K: Graphic Design is simply making elements work beautifully together. Art Direction takes beautiful elements and makes them work to fulfil a greater concept, adding meaning to your brand.

What makes good design?
F: Good design is thoughtful, good design solves a problem, good design isn’t ‘on-trend’.

K: Good design comes through thorough research, considered design and the ability to notice where things need to be removed rather than added, to communicate the brand message.

What’s the Smack Bang approach to design?
F: Make it beautiful, make it meaningful, make it function well.

K: We design good for the greater good, with an intent to always elevate the brands we work on. Each project takes on a slightly different approach, however, we always research, gain inspiration and get excited with ideas flooding in, strategise and reflect on which ideas are best suited to that particular project. We create with simplicity and a lean approach always in mind! Less is more, and ‘simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’ as Leonardo da Vinci wisely put it.





  1. Reading your blog posts is like heaven, very education heaven! You are our guardian angel is this crazy business world. Without your Ebooks, we would not have just launched our own little shindig. Wish us luck and thank you, thank you, thank you! Love Betsy & Francis x

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