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How to be an award-winning art director


‘Everyone needs to be a people person. You can’t just put a turtleneck on each day and swan around pointing at things.’

Sunday’s lead creative Robert Hearn and art director Isabella Fernandes have been awarded prestigious marketing prizes for the outstanding quality of their design work.

Rob won Art Director of the Year at the BSME Awards, Isabella won Designer of the Year at the PPA Independent Publisher Awards. So, we thought we’d bring them together with our digital design director Alex Breeden to find out how their careers brought them to this point, why art direction is important to the success of a project and how they collaborate with clients to bring their vision to life.

Alex Breeden: Most art directors have an area of specialism that they begin at university or art college. What did you specialise in before you started working at Sunday?

Isabella Fernandes: I was at Central Saint Martin’s, specialising in graphic design and then I moved over to LCC (London College of Communication) and did my BA in Graphic Communication. The course I did was very vocational and encouraged us to do lots of work experience and internships. So, once I graduated, I had lots of contacts to hand.

Robert Hearn: I did a Graphic Design degree at Norwich University of the Arts, which had a publishing-specific pathway in the second and third years. I specialised in books and magazines, which I really enjoyed. I bound my dissertation into a book and published the book myself, which was fun.

AB: How did you discover art direction as a career? Were you inspired by anyone?

IF: My dad was a graphic designer and re-toucher. When I was young, I would go and hang out with him at work (and be a pain, I imagine). I remember when I was at school, a lot of my friends didn’t know what they were going to do. You had to have those meetings with the teachers to figure it out. I would say: “Yep, I’m going to be a graphic designer.”

RH: My start was quite similar; my dad went to Central Saint Martin’s and has a creative career now. I watched him do that kind of stuff when I was younger and thought it was interesting. But at school I really liked history and politics and nearly went into that instead of design.

AB: Being an art director, you collaborate with a lot of people who have complementary abilities. Can you tell us about any recent collaborations you’ve been involved in that really stand out?

IF: Working with Nigella Lawson on OcadoLife magazine. I would never have thought I could work with someone as well-known as Nigella – everyone knows her, at home and abroad. All the content we create is working across email, social and web, plus getting coverage in mainstream media and seen by loads of people, she’s really on top of her game.

AB: And how do you collaborate with the client to bring their project, brand or brief to life?

RH: Try to think around the questions the clients are asking. Even if a brief has been provided, be prepared to re-write it to really understand the problem. Talking face-to-face as much as possible, rather than over email, is important too.

IF: It’s a fairly obvious one, but have a really good understanding of the audience your client wants to speak to and the commercial aims. A lot of the time clients have a general idea of what they want to see, and as the creative experts it’s our job to potentially push and grow ideas in a way clients may not have considered.

AB: Working with different talent for projects, guiding them through a brief and achieving the best work isn’t always easy. How do you convince people of your vision and how do you support and motivate future talent?

IF: I think a lot of it is purely down to communication, always talking to people, never siloing yourself away. Allowing each person in the team to have a voice and have their opinion and taking it all on board. There needs to be a leader but they need to be an understanding leader.

RH: I’d echo all that and add being honest with people. Be as open as you can and try to get people to trust your opinion. Also not pushing things too far too quick. Some people just need longer than others, or more nudging.

Everyone needs to be a people person. You can’t just put a turtleneck on each day and swan around pointing at things.

AB: What do the recent award wins mean to you?

IF: It’s nice to be acknowledged for what we do because we work hard and it’s humbling to know that the industry feels our work is good. But the reason I’m here is because I’ve got a great team helping me, it’s not just me.

AB: And finally, what one piece of advice would you give a junior designer hoping to become an art director?

RH: Although feedback and learning on the job is important, be confident in your vision. Make sure every creative decision you make has a purpose, then you can properly learn from them.

IF: Always try and keep learning. Take inspiration from other creatives, whatever level of experience – the more diverse ideas you can immerse yourself in, the more well-rounded you can become as an art director and the work you produce!

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