catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 11, Num 8 :: 2012.04.13 — 2012.04.26


Lost ideas

“Well, the client says she likes lots of color, so I decided to hit the design with these bright kind of splashes all over the place.  You can see it: here, here and here.  And all along this edge.  I was liking the red and the purple on this side, so I decided to complement it with browns and yellows and blues and greens over here.  And orange type.”

“Right.  So, are these their brand-approved colors?”

“That’s a good question.  I think probably.”

“And how would you describe this color scheme?”

“Uh.  Well, I guess I’d describe it as ‘all the colors at once.’”


The chroma-happy designer’s real name isn’t Rafael, but, for dignity’s sake, it’s what I’m going to call him.  And much like the brochure comp he’s showing me for approval, what follows isn’t pretty.

I’m a marketing art director, which means I get to have conversations like this with designers like Rafael all the time.  And since art is a personal thing, I’ve been given the very special privilege of breaking the news to creative professionals under me that this design they’ve sweat over, these ideas that they’ve poured their hearts into — well, they’re not passing muster.  The contents of their soul just aren’t pretty enough to print.

I don’t know much about “shepherding” and, full disclosure, I don’t think I’ve actually met an honest-to-goodness, real-life shepherd before.  But from what I gather, it’s not easy work — a lot of running around, chasing, climbing and cajoling, all in the name of wrangling a pretty thankless bunch of wooly malcontents.  But while I do have a group of designers and the occasional contractor to manage, I don’t exactly see myself as a shepherd of people per se.

Ideas.  That’s where I do the most shepherding.

“They said they wanted to convey the idea of ‘partnership,’ too.  So I thought, you know, what better image than a nice big stock photo of a handshake?”


While Rafael may have an aesthetic that’s, er, confused (to put it kindly), my style of management is to try my best to resist snap judgments.  Underneath the grab bag of mismatched hues and yawn-inspiring imagery, maybe something’s there, a brilliant little idea, trapped on a cliff side, wriggling around in the brambles, crying for its mom.  And, sure, it’s not my favorite part of the job, but somebody has to climb out there and bring the little guy back.

On the surface, “How Would Jesus Art Direct?” might seem like a non-starter, but hang on a minute.  You probably don’t need a WWJD bracelet on your wrist or a Gideon’s New Testament in your back pocket to remember that Christ wasn’t and isn’t hip on mediocrity.  Would he have gone to similar lengths to shepherd a website design as he did to rebuke and restore his disciples?  I don’t know.  I think so.  I hope so.

Anyway, sometimes it’s the tiniest corner of a forgotten page of an annual report.  Or maybe it’s the way two interesting colors bump up against each other for just a second onscreen during a test animation.  Or a quirky bit of type or a slightly skewed bit of photo cropping.  But, even if it’s by accident, there’s often something odd and exciting inside the most ill-conceived designs.  If it’s there, I’ll take it.  I want to build on it.

So, is the idea more important than the idea-maker?  Is the design bigger than the designer?  Am I focusing on the wrong thing?  It’s a subject that probably deserves its own essay, but my responsibility as an Idea Shepherd is to deliver the best, most interesting, most memorable ideas I’ve got to our clients.  And it almost always comes down to being honest with my team about what’s not working and encouraging what is.  Being a Christian manager in a decidedly non-Christian, creative environment isn’t always easy, but I think it starts by requiring excellence from both myself and those who are following my lead.

But the rough part, the part I’m not particularly good at, comes when it’s time to start gutting all the horrid imagery and clashing colors in favor of that sparkling little piece of inspiration that I know is sitting there underneath.

“And since they really want to make sure people pay attention to the details in the copy, I thought it might be interesting to have all text in all caps, including body copy.  What do you think, too much?”

Roll up your sleeves, Rafael.  It’s going to take a little time, but we’ll get there.

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