The amount of visuals that we have at our fingertips is remarkable. Stock agencies like Getty make thousands of existing photographs and illustrations available through a simple search. With many budgets on the leaner side, working with stock imagery has become the norm for many higher education and association publications. But this inexpensive option comes with a downside— if you can find an image with a simple search, so can your competitor.
Original commissions not only enhance your stories, they make your magazine unique and strengthen the brand alignment.
Stories are Everywhere
Stories are no longer confined to print publications. Your readers are being barraged with articles delivered via social media and digital channels, like an e-newsletter or website. If you rely solely on stock imagery to make an impression, your content will get lost in the mix. Directed narratives align with your brand and ensure your content stands out from the crowd.
Art Director, Not Designer
Many in higher ed and association publications have moved into their roles as editors and art directors from journalists and in-house marketing designers, respectively. While they know a good story and brand design, many times they do not have the experience working collaboratively as an editorial team.
In addition to assigning articles, I’ve witnessed editors—even writers—assigning photo shoots, while the art director works with existing imagery and creates layouts. This is not what they should be doing. Shaping direction is a key role of an art director and one of the things that distinguishes it from the role of a designer. An art director should be looking beyond a singular piece to visualize a cohesive system.
In the case of a magazine, an art director must be involved at the onset: discussing story concepts, considering visual directions and delivery across channels, and selecting potential photographers and illustrators to bring each story to life.
A Final is Final
The tone of an article is just as important to its visual direction as it is to its content development. When we are working on visual direction at 2communique, we curate a selection of samples from the photographer or illustrator; this step helps us to more clearly define our thinking to both the editor and the artist.
Along with this visual direction, it is also important to define the story that needs to be captured. This does not mean conceptualizing the final piece, but having a set of points that are essential to the story. These points provide the artist with a path and better enable them to bring their unique strengths as a visual communicator to the project.
Unlike with writing that can be edited or even rewritten, a photograph or illustration is final. For this reason, it is imperative that the team be in agreement about direction from the onset of the assignment.
For those that are new to working with illustrators, it is helpful to work through an illustration representative. These professionals offer insight to an artist's strengths and weaknesses and can negotiate any hiccups should they happen along the way. (See the list below for some of the firms that we work with.)
Likewise, there are some great resources available, like Wonderful Machine and Diversify Photo to help with finding and selecting the right photographer. Because photographers are working directly with your community, it’s important to get a sense of who they are and how they communicate with their subjects. An introductory phone call is a wonderful opportunity to discuss the assignment and the photographer’s approach. I recently had a photographer share with me that he appreciates a call versus an email as it provides him with a chance to discuss direction.
Let it Happen
The exciting part of art direction, and sometimes terrifying part, is waiting to see what the illustrator or photographer provides. I remember a project early in my career where the story’s writer boasted the subject’s penthouse apartment, but when the photographer arrived it was, in reality, a tiny apartment on the top floor. Fortunately, the photographer knew what needed to be captured and got a great shot. My career is also filled with countless examples of how illustrators surprised me with fresh ideas on stories.
The talent, the collaboration, the unique brand value...there are so many reasons to consider directed narratives. I hope you’ll let it happen on your next project.