Making Word and Image Sing

The Collaboration Between Editor and Art Director
Photo: iStock

In the development of a magazine there is no greater partnership than that of an editor and art director. If the word and image sing it is because the people pairing them are working together. With respect for each other’s expertise and roles different viewpoints can lead to a stronger final. That’s not to say there will always be harmony.

In the simplest terms, editors focus on the written story while art directors focus on the visualization of that story. But a seasoned editor can visualize and an experienced art director can write display copy to package an article with the visuals. This means a blurring of the roles at times so it is imperative there is respect and understanding of the responsibilities.

Some of the favorite layouts I have created are the outcome of a partnership with an editor. A final photo that may have required rethinking a lead or an amazing piece of art that inspired a new headline. It hasn’t always gone smoothly. Years ago I was designing a themed publication and the headlines for the individual articles were not consistent. As I designed the layouts I rewrote the headlines to work cohesively. Unfortunately I neglected to tell the editor I was reworking her headlines before I shared the designed layouts. My input was seen as a lack of respect instead of the collaboration I had intended. I learned that while I had a good idea my lack of communication with the editor earlier in the process was a mistake. Of course, I have been on the other end where an editor cut-up and reworked a layout before talking to me about what wasn’t working. It’s all about respect.

Because visuals are immediate, art directors can experience frustration when people share their immediate reactions to a visual. “I don’t like those colors, that illustration is creepy, that photo looks like my cousin Ira….” While art directors experience this surface level reaction editors experience the deeper, more critical feedback.

Through a volunteer position at an association I had the opportunity to redesign the chapter’s publication and act as editor. I spent countless hours rethinking the publication—the articles, nomenclature, organization, as well as the design. I oversaw a team of volunteers to produce the magazine every other month. It was an incredible improvement over what had been created in the past and I was proud of the finished piece. But in the end the feedback I got was about a misspelled name and a typo on the contents page. It was an eye-opening experience for me. I understood that as the publication’s art director I had to bear the gut feedback on surface issues while my editorial counterpart had to deal with getting the story and details perfect.

As much as editors and art directors work as a team there will inevitably be those moments where one feels the other doesn’t know what they are talking about or that we forget the importance of our partnership. It would be interesting to have the two swap roles for an article. Let the art director develop the story concept, find the right writer, keep her on deadline, review and refine the final piece. While having the editor track down the best photographer, direct the photo shoot, edit the selects, and bring it all together into an award-winning spread. It would deepen the appreciation and respect for what the other person does, as well as our own role.