This week, for our Feature Friday series we feature Atlanta based Art Director, Brand Designer and illustrator, Ashley Rhoden. Ashley shares her thoughts on collaboration and empowering your team.
Jayda B. - Who are you and what do you do?
Ashley Rhoden - My name is Ashley Rhoden. I’m an Art Director / Creative Director.
Professionally I’m an Art Director but for my personal work I'm a CD.
J - What is the difference between an Art Director and a Creative Director?
A - Art Directing is more of understanding the vibe and the business look, feel, energy and you execute based on that. Creative Directing is coming up with the vibe and the business identity, to then be communicated to the Art Director, Junior Designers and so on.
J - How did you get started with Graphic Design?
A - I always knew I was going to do something creative. I grew up in an environment where that was fostered. For example, when I was about 2 or 3, my mom found me drawing on her curtains and instead of being pissed off, she said “oh that's kinda nice - don't do that but here’s some paper!”. My dad was a little apprehensive about me pursuing art and thought I’d be painting in the subway. As I got older, I knew there would be a way I could not be a starving artist. I really immersed myself to learn design practices, so that I could be an actual working creative.
J - What does “Functional Design” mean?
A - Executing client requests and trying to not just check off the boxes, but really think about how the design will be used. I try and put myself in the shoes of the user a lot. For example, when I’m designing a web page, I think, “If my mom were to come to this website right now, would she be able to do what the client wants her to do?”. Could she go to this site and effortlessly understand what's being asked?” Designing through that lens helps.
J - When you give feedback as an Art Director, what's most important for you to communicate with a Junior designer for them to understand what needs to happen to move forward?
A - Two things: Most importantly, context and explaining “the why” something needs to be done.
Here’s a rookie mistake: Someone asks “what are your thoughts on this logo?” and for me to begin rattling off feedback is a big nono. I need that context: What are you trying to do? What's the goal? Once that's understood, I can ask, “Is this successful? Is it doing what it's intended to do?”. It’s not really smart to go into feedback without understanding how the designer got there or the data that drove that design. It doesn't matter what your title is, it's fine to not know everything. If you’re pretending to, people will know you’re full of shit and you’re just doing everyone a disservice. The more you can empower your team, the stronger everyone is.
J - How would you say it is working with others who may not understand that?
A - This happens all the time, leadership or someone above me will say “change this, make this bigger!” with again, no context and mostly what they’re saying is counterintuitive. I’ll usually just tell them that. A title is a title and at the end of the day, we’re all supposed to accomplish a goal for the company or the client. It's not about me or that person. If it’s a hard conversation, I’ll ask myself “how would I want to hear what I’m about to say?” and go from there. Everyone wants to be an art director but nobody wants to study to be an art director.
J - What makes a good collaborator?
A - People who understand what they bring to the table. I always use the analogy at kick off meetings that we’re like a pit crew. The person who’s putting air in the tires, they’re doing that because they’re amazing at it. They aren't looking at the person who's fixing the lugnuts like “oh no no you should be doing it this way”. Everyone comes in with their expertise and that's what makes the car able to shoot off the lot. Establishing a good collaboration is defining everyone’s role, what they’re going to bring to the table and letting them know what they are bringing is valuable and that we’re relying on that.
J - What's something that you always keep in mind when you’re working?
A - Tim Gunn’s voice saying “Make it work” is always in the back of my mind. I’m not a heart surgeon, the stakes are actually never that high. I will do my absolute best and I’ll make it work.
J - Any last words?
A - Do your best, you don't have to know everything. If you want to get into design, study the foundation, study balance and proximity. That is the major key when you see something that intrigues you but you don't know why or how it works, you just know it's perfect. When I was a very junior designer, I would read books about Swiss and Japanese design and some things felt so simple. I would try to do just that and for some reason, it wasn't right. I later realized that it was because I wasn't paying attention to the foundation and I wasn't understanding that if it were just a circle on a page why it worked so well. It was because I didn't understand the rules, but once you do, then you know how to break them.