Insights with an Art Director
Chris Comella, Go Media’s Art Director, has come a long way with the company. A member of the staff for eight of its 13 years in existence, he has seen the company grow from a small crew of illustrators elbowing one another in a small 1 bedroom condo to a million dollar business thriving in the CLE.
We sat down with Chris to talk about his role and advice to young designers hoping to follow a similar path.
Heather: What are the steps that led up to your current position as Art Director?
Chris: At Go Media, there has never really been a rigid hierarchy. So, my role more organically came about… I wasn’t vying for that next ‘title rung’ in the creative ladder so to speak, I just over time started to work on and care about more than just the daily, bread and butter client work. Things like evolving our creative process was a big picture item I began focusing on.
In terms of little picture, day to day things – It’s important to learn how to better understand and guide your clients, guide your designer teammates to produce the best work they can, and really take ownership and pride of the work that’s being produced on a daily basis. These are all things I find myself mixing up in on a daily basis. Luckily for me, my team is really great and they help make the job really easy.
Heather: In your opinion, what are qualities that make up a great art director?
Chris: There are the tangible things that come to mind, such as having a good foundation of experience to draw from, being comfortable communicating ideas to both clients and the design team, having a strong vision for the work itself and how to go about executing that work. On a daily basis, those are the things that will help make you an effective member of the team.
I also can’t help but reflect on some of the intangible qualities of our team which I’ve come to be proud of. Something as simple as our collective personality, or common way of thinking is something that really gives us our edge. At the risk of sounding like a cheese ball, I’ll say that one of our distinguishing traits is that we truly care about the work. Nothing is more of a bummer to me when people aren’t pushing their work, or put another way, aren’t treating the work in front of them as an opportunity. The art director is in a good position to really instill these ‘character’ traits because in a lot of ways, they set the tone of the team. And when you make a point to really show an above and beyond way of going about your work, that becomes a benchmark for the team. I can tell you right now, when someone is excited about the work they’re doing, it’s infectious and it’s something that invites the people around you to get in on it. I think those intangibles are something an art director is uniquely suited to observe and guide. Not only instilling those traits directly, but by observing through others what’s happening and discovering what they all combine to create.
Heather: The design team here at Go Media is incredibly hard working and cohesive. You really gel and it shows in your work. What do you do on a daily basis to ensure that this team functions so flawlessly?
Chris: Good habits and a rhythm start to form when you have a team humming along on all cylinders. For our design team, you can credit that to two things: The design process itself and the individuals on the team. The process provides a sense of structure and stability, which is a wonderful thing to have when anything from a mascot / character illustration to a gas station rebranding project comes in. The more you work together, the more you’re going to understand the ins and outs of how the process benefits the individuals, and vice versa. Over time you begin to tailor how you work, and can adapt to a variety of different situations.
Heather: I really love the way you articulate your concepts to clients, as well as communicate to the other designers. Do you have any advice for newbie designers as to how you developed your communication skills with clients?
Chris: I’ve been in so many meetings, and what makes me antsy is seeing the slow motion, eyes-squinted, ‘yes’ nod from the client… That’s the, “I’m trying to understand you, but there’s something missing here” face. I always try to look out for those little cues. At Go Media, we try to make everything as clear and logical as possible. The goal isn’t chat, close the curtain, perform design magic, and reveal your end product. Nor is it to ramp up the designer-speak to try and overwhelm a client with jargon, and over-wrought rationale. Instead, our job is to shed light on how to accomplish seemingly complicated or abstract problems in a creative way.
For young designers, there might be some inclination to go overboard on the designer-speak. While you want to show someone you’re really serious about what you do, you want to be sure you’re making an effort to be clear and concise. And when it comes to learning how best to communicate, it’s all about repetition. To get comfortable, you’re going to have to do what it takes – Be prepared for calls, and put yourself out there. The more times you’re put in that position, the more natural it will feel. When you’re in a meeting, take note of how people are talking to each other – If you notice someone is doing something particularly well, make a note of it and try it yourself the next chance you get. The same works for the opposite. If you don’t like a way someone is going about something, make sure you avoid doing it yourself. You can learn a lot by simply becoming a sponge when you’re around talented, experienced people.
Heather: You are responsible for some of Go Media’s most successful and profitable designs. Can you name 1 of your favorites?
Chris: Man, I have a lot of projects that I’m super proud of, but one that pops into my mind is the Midway – A proposed cycling network for the city of Cleveland. The very first meeting was years ago at this point, and it was just a super exciting idea. Although it still has a long way to go, I was lucky enough to be there to help name it, design the identity, and help launch the awareness campaign. Below are some behind the scenes images including logo, wayfinding, and outreach graphics that were created.
Heather: Any advice for a designer that strives to be in your shoes one day?
Chris: One thing that comes to mind is when you get a project that isn’t in your comfort zone and initially feel you might not be the best for it, I would challenge you to seek out an aspect of it that you can sink your teeth into. I personally had felt for a long time that, because I was interested in exploring all different types of projects, that it would lead to a disjointed body of work, or even a vague reflection of the designer I am. But over time I’ve come to realize that a passion for a wide variety of work (illustration, identity systems, video, mascot, etc.) only serves to broaden my range. Not only that, but it helps broaden the topics I’m genuinely interested in. Using design as a gateway to new interests in life, generally, helps you grow as a person. And I gotta say, it was super vindicating when at this previous year’s WMC fest Michael Bierut made a point to drop this knowledge – “I’ve learned to be interested in as many things as possible…The work I have been really proud of is all stuff that I was really interested in. If you can be interested in as many things as possible, it will up your percentage. ”
If you can challenge yourself to truly enjoy at least one aspect of each project that lands on your desk, you’ll find that the things you learn will directly apply to the jobs you fall in love with. Changing your outlook will make your work so much better. I really do believe that.
Want to work with Chris and the Go Media team on your next project? Get in touch.