The task at hand – the planning, design and layout of a company information document, featuring research highlights from the past year. It is a big and important publication, aimed at key stakeholders, and intended to grow the client base of the organisation. The graphic design team, in conjunction with the editor assigned with responsibility for the document, have been brainstorming the look and feel, and have a strong design concept in mind.

Meanwhile, the marketing department has commissioned a photographer to create a portfolio of photos covering the scientists and the projects to be featured in the publication. The photographer has completed the task, and the photographs produced cannot be faulted – classic corporate portraits done in subtle shades of blue and grey. Formal and serious, as has always been the style of the company.

The only problem is that the publication, created to expand the client base of the company, is being aimed at a slightly younger and more dynamic market. The document has been edited to speak in a young, modern language, and the designers have a vibrant and slightly edgy look in mind, with lots of diagonal lines and warm reds, yellows and oranges. The newly commissioned photographs – classic, formal and serious – are worthless in this context, and the company is left with two choices: abandon the planned publication design, or commission another new set of photographs. Both these options are unnecessary, costly and time-consuming, and could have been avoided had there been open and regular communication between the editor, designers and photographer.

While the above is just a theoretical scenario, similar situations occur regularly due to a lack of communication between the different players required to provide creative inputs or contributions to publications.

Even when the photographer is clearly briefed on the requirements regarding the content, style and proposed look and feel of photographs needed for a specific publication, working too strictly within these constraints during a photo shoot might also be limiting. The graphic designer or communications manager may well be aware of other publications coming up soon, covering the same subject matter in a different context or with a different style. For example, photos of the scientists and projects mentioned in the scenario above may also be required for the company’s Annual Report, which is typically a more formal corporate document. Thus, if the photographer only took dynamic, angled and non-traditional photos as per the requirements of the original document we discussed, an extra photo shoot will have to be arranged to create the more formal and traditional images required for the annual report.  However, if these additional slightly longer term requirements were also communicated to the photographer, he could make sure that both dynamic and traditional angles were covered in the photo shoot.

Getting by without an art director

In advertising, and in particular in the large professional advertising studios, individuals are assigned specific coordinating roles to assure that all the creative inputs (editorial copy, design elements, visual material etc) are aligned to the same goal. Creative directors, or sometimes art directors, are responsible for the creative concept, and communicate this to the graphic designers, photographers, copyrighters etc.

In publishing, art directors typically work with the publications editors. Together, they work on a concept for sections and pages of a publication. Individually, the art director is mostly responsible for the visual look and feel of the publication, which means communicating with designers, photographers and illustrators. The editor, on the other hand, has ultimate responsibility for the publication’s verbal and textual content.

In the Corporate sector, however, organisations seldom have the luxury of having a creative director or art director on staff, and as such the marketing and communications staff, editors, graphic designers and photographers need to take responsibility on themselves to ensure that communication channels between them remain active and open.

Even if the brief is open and undefined, the photographer can take responsibility by enquiring about the application of the images, and the proposed look and feel of the document they are shooting for. In addition, as mentioned earlier, he/she may do the client a great favour by also covering other angles and styles not specifically asked for. Importantly, however, the photographer should clear this with the client first – there is nothing as uncomfortable as when the photographer believes he is doing the client a favour by covering additional angles and styles, while the client feels the photographer is merely trying to make up time by producing extra images that have not been requested in the brief.

The bottom line

Clear communication is critical, both to ensure that the outputs of the photographer match the requirements of the design team, and to ensure that there are matched expectations between the client and the different service providers.

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