How to master jack of all trades creative talent

With smaller budgets, higher expectations and shorter timelines from clients, agencies should understand this new wave of art directors, says DDB California associate creative director

In the good old days, an art director would do what he or she said on the tin: a conceptual guru who held the visual masterpiece and directed the artists, of whichever genre necessary, in pursuit of that vision.

But now, when clients demand higher levels of production earlier in the process, agencies have come to expect considerably greater design skills from art directors, especially those on a junior level. This seems to be particularly prevalent in smaller shops, where the workload is high and restricted in size.

So in today’s world of smaller budgets, higher expectations and shorter timelines, how can agencies understand this new wave of talent and effectively economize their hires?

I graduated from college with a degree in interaction design and was one first hybrid creatives to emerge with specialties in digital and product interface design and development as well as a passion for art and graphic design. But as I headed toward a career in advertising, I was urged to fine tune my specialties and be willing to shed some of those more diversified skills.

But today, design-based graduates are pushing the system even further. Rather than just coming out of school with an education in graphic or interaction design, they’ve already begun to apply their learnings in ways previous generations never had the chance. One swift torrent of the Adobe C-suite and these juniors are designing, animating, scoring and editing their own projects, coding the site they want to host it on and then facing the same dilemma I had: being forced to choose, specialize and constrain.

But instead of dismissing these broad skill sets, agencies should focus on harnessing this valuable knowledge and leveraging throughout the creative process.

So many of these talented newcomers don’t know how to answer the question: "What’s your ideal job title?" It’s not that they don’t have a goal but they have multiple goals. They don’t see why they have to choose between art direction, UX, digital or graphic design. They’ve nurtured their skills in an environment where the medium doesn’t matter and they live in a culture where life-defining decisions — like getting married, having kids and buying property —  are being deferred.

This is combined with, and maybe partly connected to, society’s short attention span, which fuels their drive to become adept at all these skill sets but can be to blame for a lack of deep, hard-grafted craftsmanship.

But if agencies adapt to this mentality and embrace the new style of creative, they can inspire faster, more varied work, with the understanding that this will stimulate growth and facilitate the hiring of superior craftsmen further down the road.

If they choose to manage and nurture these multidiscipline creatives, to leverage them differently on each brief, they can be far more flexible with their staffing plan and more competent in terms of the work they produce on a smaller budget. It also helps to keep perspectives broader — each brief having more possible outcomes, each project offering more potential to influence, with deliverables becoming a starting point instead of the end goal.

The start-up world draws an interesting parallel. Smaller teams of multidiscipline, flexible and relatively young individuals make more with less — and considerably quicker. They also prove fast turnaround of smaller projects leads to more successes in the long run. Even if many of those ideas die, they die quicker.

This structure is familiar to the kinds of agencies a lot of clients seek out because they are quicker, cheaper, more nimble, and producing exponentially more content. These agencies are becoming increasingly more comfortable with the digital budgets and social media timelines involved, expecting that same variety and originality at a much deeper platform level.

So by embracing the diverse skill sets of these new creatives, directors have the option to broaden the type of work they petition for and produce. Promoting this style of work at a cultural level within the agency, they’re also going to attract those creative spirits — the ones who didn’t fit in anywhere else and just want to be creating.

As demand for more content in new and original formats increases, these nonlinear, non-traditional mindsets will drive agencies to innovate.

Dan Read is associate creative director at DDB California



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