Chris Larcombe is the Art Director and all-round creative guru at McKenzie Partners. From an engaging ad to a total rebrand, Chris can do it all! We got chatting with Chris to find out about the projects he works on and what his job is actually like day-to-day. Spoiler alert: it involves a whole lot more than creating pretty pictures.
In a nutshell, what does an art director do?
An art director is responsible for any visual elements of any communication piece, but there’s also a lot more that goes on behind the scenes.
Any advertising piece, such as a TV commercial, goes through a process that includes idea conception, storyboard, development and implementation. The art director has to make sure that visually the ad follows direction from other departments, as well as design principles and boundaries set by industry standards and brand guidelines.
The art director works with the creative director, concept designer, brand manager and design team through the whole journey. They make sure that the finished art follows the direction that was intended and that it visually meets requirements set out at the start of the process.
Can you talk us through a typical workday?
It usually starts with a coffee. Or two. Every day is different and is usually dictated by the type of project we are working on that day. I usually help formulate plans for a project and help each team member with the project management along the way. I will help set out the ‘rules’ for a job and then make sure that these rules are followed by reviewing the finished proof.
For example, if we’re putting together a campaign for a Mercedes-Benz ad, I will make sure that all channels are using consistent artwork, the use of fonts and visual elements is all consistent and that all elements work cohesively to serve the intended purpose of the ad.
I’m quite hands-on so there is a lot of sitting in front of a computer screen. I work with a team of designers that have a variety of skill sets, including digital, video, animation and print. I have to understand each of their processes from the beginning to the end.
As we work on a range of brands, projects can last from 1-2 days through to months. It’s important to be able to juggle multiple jobs at once and be up-to-date with many brand guidelines.
Can you explain the different kinds of jobs you might work on?
Anything from the local corner store needing a logo and brand identity to a website for a new eCommerce business to television commercials for a nationwide campaign. The variety of our work and clients is something that keeps it interesting – it’s not the same thing every day. There are plenty of media channels such as YouTube, social ads, display banners, MMS campaigns through to print media like business cards, brochures, ambient ads and shop fronts.
How did you become an art director in the first place?
I always had an interest in design and was good with computers. I studied design at university and became a graphic designer for Fairfax media and started making newspaper ads. I branched out and became an advertising and marketing consultant. The digital world was expanding and opened up a whole new platform to explore. I started with McKenzie Partners in 2012 and my ability to understand a business and their communication needs led me down a path of client and project management. I’m now the art director and I manage the design team on a daily basis to make sure we deliver every ad at the highest quality possible.
Who is in your team and how do you work together?
We currently have five full-time designers and some contractors that work for McKenzies. I manage the design team and make sure that everyone knows their roles in each project, as well as the direction needed for every job. We’ve been working together for quite some time and we have great systems, so some days we are just working autonomously. On larger projects, we work collaboratively and often over the shoulder of each other.
What has changed the most about your job since you’ve been in the industry?
Digital. When I first started, the ads I produced were 95% print media. Now it’s pretty much the opposite.
What’s the best and worst thing about your job?
Best thing is you have creative freedom to think up and deliver crazy campaigns that catch people’s eyes. Worst thing is, everyone thinks they know better and tells you how to do your job. We spend a lot of time learning and developing our skills and at the end of the day the client always has the right to change it. We hear things like, “Make the logo bigger” or “There’s too much empty space” – many people don’t understand that there’s a reason for why we do what we do and making your phone number bigger doesn’t force people to call it.