D&AD’s “The Art of Art Direction Masterclass” with Alexandra Taylor

Posted on: September 21, 2012

The annual D&AD Awards are recognised throughout the world – those famous yellow pencils which set the absolute standard for creative excellence in advertising and design. Alexandra Taylor has worked for Weiden & Kennedy and Saatchi & Saatchi and won numerous awards including “Agency of the year”, best overall ad at Cannes, 189 entries in the D&AD Annual, four silver D&AD pencils and eight silver nominations. She was also listed in D&AD “Master class Art Direction Book” which represents the best art directors of all time. While at Saatchi & Saatchi she was appointed head of Art by her mentor Paul Arden.  Alex is now founder of Mrs McGuinty Ltd. So I seized the opportunity to spend a day with her and other aspiring creatives from around the world.

It’s impossible to do justice to such a rich, interactive and full day in the space of a short blog but I’ve given it a go…

Although I wasn’t expecting to receive advance preparation – which involved selecting my favourite advertising campaign of all time and attempting to put my own spin on a leading car campaign. But arriving at Jerwood Place (near London Bridge) – a truly creative workspace – I was cheered to hear none other than Patrick Stewart doing the lift announcements. Very theatrical. And then I admired the views from the balcony across The Gherkin and The Shard. Very impressive. Suitably inspired, we were up and running.

My fellow delegates were from all sorts of backgrounds – digital, design, production and even teaching. Alexandra was a delightful combination of impeccable style and Northern down-to-earth pragmatism, but with her passion for her subject igniting every utterance. We were transfixed by her modest introduction to a show reel of some of her best known work and her quote that “art direction is not a profession but a disease”.

Then there were video interviews with 12 of the world’s biggest names in advertising explaining what it took to be a great art director – “a bit mad”, “dedicated”, “obsessed”, “lonely”, “resilience”, “hard working”, “do the unexpected”, “passion”, “drive”, “desire”, “intellectual”, “artistic”, “entrepreneurial”, “have your own point of view”…. Bit of a tall order then?

We then talked about our choices of favourite adverts and then it was onto more videos addressing topics as diverse as selling tomatoes,  Paul Smith and the early days of “Harpers Bazaar” magazine. Then more videos of past advertising and art direction masters – including a long interview with a chain-smoking Helmut Krone on the intricacies of graphic design – demonstrating the obsession with detail that is the hallmark of many “Mad Men”.

Alexandra showed us a show reel of some of her own award winning advertising (the clients and campaigns were instantly recognizable – including British Army, Silk Cut, V&A, Renault and Castlemaine XXX) and then talked about the background to how the concepts were developed and translated by art direction (whether through personal interviews with people, the use of world famous photographers, tricky film shoots in foreign places) into stunning pieces of work.

Professional services people don’t often get the chance to get involved with advertising – although I have worked with some great agencies during my time at firms such as Deloitte and Nabarro – so it was interesting to see her views on a campaign from accountancy  giant Ernst & Young.

After lunch in the lovely Glass House Cafe, we spent time inspecting everyone’s efforts at reworking that car advert. Alexandra showed no mercy but was suitably encouraging of clever or interesting approaches and all the delegates appreciated having feedback on their ideas. They were all so fired up at the end of the session they practically ran out the room to make use of their new found creativity and confidence.

As well as providing fascinating insights into the art of art direction and branding, Alexandra also imparted lots of pragmatic tips and priceless words of wisdom such as “no more than five elements”, “do not seek praise, seek criticism”, “when lacking a good core idea, concentrate on design” and “collect images and shapes from everything you do and everywhere you go”.

For further information about D&AD’s Workouts http://www.dandad.org/learning/professional-development

For further information about Alexandra Taylor  http://www.dandad.org/awards/professional/2011/juries/artd/art-direction/1/alexandra-taylor

 

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