We look at the key reasons why art direction could help you produce more valuable content.
Design is an integral part of any good content marketing strategy. It’s a well-known statistic that people remember only 20% of what they read, compared to 80% of what they see, so if you want your marketing messages to stick, design is the way to go.
Beyond that, graphic design is used in content marketing for the purpose of:
- making information more accessible in a digestible, visual manner;
- breaking up large chunks of text for a better reader experience;
- providing real-life examples;
- quickly answering search queries (e.g. comparison tables).
Since every visual asset used should serve a point, it’s also important to provide graphic designers with an art direction that will make the design process smoother.
What is art direction and who provides it?
In the creative industry, the terms creative director and art director are often confused. There is a good reason for this since oftentimes one person fulfills both of these positions and both require similar skill sets.
A creative director provides team members and clients with a concept and oversees things like execution, team management and strategy. A good art director, on the other hand, has a more hands-on approach in coming up with the look and feel of any graphic asset (in graphic design that is, but art directors also work in fields such as film, theatre, visual arts, etc.).
By definition, art direction is oversight of all artistic elements of a project. For a design project, this means the basic design elements such as shapes, colors and so on. Art direction is provided by an art director in line with the concept and strategy conceived by a creative director.
Many small marketing agencies and small businesses can’t afford to pay a great art director in-house, so usually, the most senior designer will take on this role.
Reasons why you need art direction in content marketing
Like we said at the beginning, content marketing is mostly associated with writing, which usually follows a strategic direction in line with the overall marketing strategy (e.g. are you focused on producing shareable content on social media, or big lead generation magnets such as ebooks and infographics).
Here’s why having a good framework for making aesthetic decisions can also improve your content.
Builds brand awareness
If you’re a writer writing for a specialized medical or financial publication, you probably wouldn’t use colloquial language or pop culture references. Just as writers have guidelines for the style and tone of voice they should use, designers need to know what is the visual style of the brand they’re designing for.
Art directors decide on a strategic direction for the brand’s design. This includes how the brand should be perceived by its target audience (brand image), as well as what you want to achieve with the help of good design.
For example, if a company wants to position itself as a thought-leader, the visual content should be informative rather than just flashy or eye-catching. Or, if the goal of your design strategy is to increase brand awareness (and unless you’re Coca-Cola or Nike this is usually part of any strategy), then the visuals need to reflect the brand’s vision and target audience.
Helps you create a visual language
We’ve already mentioned that visuals have a much better chance of being remembered than text, but why is that?
Well, one possible explanation given by some researchers is that images are “stored” in our brain dually, in the form of an image and in the form of words (describing the image).
Another, less scientific explanation could be that images are more “universal” than languages and therefore create a more powerful effect. Finally, a good graphic designer knows how to use visual communication to avoid censorship and create a special connection between the brand and its audience (the feeling of being “in on the joke).
Since content marketing is used to create organic interest in your brand, it usually doesn’t include pushy and “salesy” language, but rather offers audiences valuable information, a good laugh, or a commentary on current events (known as moment marketing).
Here’s a creative social media post from Durex (their marketing design is incredibly creative, by the way) which refers to the Cambridge Analytica scandal and promotes their products in a clever way.
Makes the creative process more efficient
Unlike big design projects that come up only once in a while (rebranding, web design, even specific campaigns) content creation is a part of a designer’s day-to-day. Having a totally different approach for each blog post cover or visual is very inefficient and therefore costly.
The more valuable content you publish on your blog, the less likely are that it will be crawled by search engines and help people discover your website. Creating template designs or at least a general art direction will make the process quicker and the results will always be predictable and professional.
Take it from our own experience! A couple of years ago, we used to design each blog cover from scratch. This didn’t last very long as we realized designers working on the blog covers were spending a lot of time on this while our company wasn’t necessarily getting much in return. We soon switched to a system of templates, however, this struck as a bit repetitive after a while.
After our big rebranding at the end of 2020, we created our current art direction which uses elements of stock photos (allowing us more diversity) together with our brand colors and signature style.
The old blog cover for one of our articles, too intricate and time-consuming to produce
Current blog cover, professional and in line with our brand guidelines
Helps you convey the right messages
Any designer will have command of the basic graphic design principles such as balance, hierarchy, contrast, etc. But art direction can sometimes also mean being able to stray from these principles to serve a higher purpose.
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This is especially important in content marketing since it focuses on delivering valuable information to the readers. For example, balanced compositions in design are usually more pleasing to the eye, but also more passive. Unbalanced compositions can challenge the audience and ask them to question what it is they’re seeing.
Everybody knows Coca Cola and their ads are usually recognized in a heartbeat. But in an attempt to spread awareness on the issue of environment preservation, in 2015 the corporation created a series of graphics using optical illusions that get people to pause and examine the ad, rather than simply thinking “it’s just another Coke ad”.
A rather different example to demonstrate how valuable art direction is in this simple Happy Birthday graphic. Although the design itself is pretty bad (there’s just too much going on), the art direction still allows it to convey the key messages: fun and celebration.
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It minimizes the space for errors
It can be pretty difficult for a piece of content to go viral. And it seems more often than not this happens for all the wrong reasons.
A brand’s art direction means that design reflects the brand’s vision and values. If your brand is environmentally friendly, by all means, show it off. But, if you’re just using it as a way to get noticed, people will find out easily and you’ll become the butt of the joke.
For example, this ad from Match.com completely negates their supposed brand mission of appreciating each person’s individuality. An art director could have seen that this visual by no means reflects that and instead talks down to people who might want to use the service. By the way, I think freckles are pretty awesome, so that’s another level where I find this ad hard to believe!