Art Direction vs. Graphic Design


It’s been awhile since I last focused on design elements on this site. This evening, I came across an article by Dan Mall on, which talks about the differences between graphic design and art direction. Previously, I have discussed on the differences between an art direction and a creative director; let’s look at art direction and design this time.

Sadly, many designers don’t understand the difference between design and art direction; sadder still, many art directors don’t either: Art direction gives substance to design. Art direction adds humanity to design.

Dan Mall gave several examples in contexts of which art direction combines idea and design to evoke cultural and emotional experience. I find the following table useful for those approaching graphic designing and art directing:

Approaching art direction and design differently
Color Does this color scheme fit the brand? Is it appropriate for the situation? Bright colors may not fit a sad message. Do these colors look good together? Are they vibrating? Is each color the best choice for the medium, e.g., Pantone swatch for print, web-safe online?
Typography What does this font connote? How do the letterforms themselves send the message without the actual words? Comic Sans might be too silly, but Helvetica might be too vanilla. Does my assortment of type sizes create the right visual hierarchy? Does this font have enough weights to be used in this context?
Composition How balanced should this composition be? Balanced compositions are pleasing but often passive. Unbalanced compositions are often uneasy and unsettling but visually more interesting. Are my margins even? Is there a natural rhythm in the visuals that will guide a person’s eye through the piece?
Concept How well do the visuals support and convey the mood of the brand? What is the message or story the design conveys? How well do the visuals align with the brand guidelines for logo spacing, appropriate typography, and color palette?
Overall Does it feel good? Does it look good?

Read more on Art Direction and Design via


About Jason Tham

Jason Tham is a PhD student at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. His research interests are digital pedagogy, connectivism and connected learning, computers and writing, and visual rhetoric.
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2 Responses to Art Direction vs. Graphic Design

  1. Mindy Leigh says:

    Well done! I liked both of your entries on this subject, and I often come across this question when I say that someday I want to be an art director, and people say “oh like a graphic designer?” and I always respond with “not exactly”

  2. Pingback: The Marketing Terms that People Often Confuse | Education Needs

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