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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Dark Side of Creative Direction

By Jeanne Frazer, President, vitalink® and The Expert Speakers & Mike Steele, Creative Director, vitalink

Taking an idea or concept and translating it to a graphic design that represents the subject matter takes a certain type of talent – one that really cannot be learned. The graphic artist must understand the subject to be put to the “canvas” – the essence of what is to be conveyed to the end viewer. The artist must step outside himself to make sure the design conveys the brand, message and overall impression needed to sell the product or service. It is rare to find an artist able to put aside his or her own style and step into the shoes of the intended target market.

So how does the artist start with a blank screen and come up with an extraordinary design? vitalink’s Creative Director Mike Steele recently created a design for his daughter’s high school theatre production of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. He walked us through the steps he took to move from an empty screen to final product.

Step 1: Research
As with most projects, the first thing the artist must do is research the subject of the design. If it’s a product, this may include talking with the brand manager or product manager to understand what the product will do, who the prospective buyers are, and to understand more about the company selling the product. Searching the web to find similar products is a must, as is understanding what’s different about the version you will depict in your design.

In the case of Dracula, the book was written long ago and has been “done” many times in movies and plays; recently, the popularity of vampire books and shows has exploded. What Mike really wanted to do for his design was to show something totally different than what has been done in the past. The research here was to understand what not to do.

Step 2: Brainstorming
After the research is complete, it’s time to take your findings and come up with ideas you can use for your design. As we like to say, throw the ideas against the wall and see what sticks. What first came to mind when Mike thought of Bram Stoker’s Dracula were the words “dark” and “sexy”. (Okay, this is a high school production, but we’re selling to an audience of adults, right?) He also knew he wanted to convey an impression of quality to draw a larger audience. Ideas started to stick to the wall.

Step 3: Implementation, a.k.a., Trial + Error
Mike began by searching for a font style and colors that would match the concept starting to form in his mind. Taking a font that represented his concept, he created the first layer of typography for the poster to promote the program.

The next two layers combined some photos he found of columns and clouds. This is where that innate artistic talent comes into play—it’s not easy for all of us to look at single photos and make that creative leap to see how they will look when combined or after their color is modified!

Combining the type, tweaking colors and layering the adjusted photos gave Mike a background he felt represented the dark, sexy image – the essence – he wanted to convey for the production.

Step 4: The Final Product
When the overall design is almost complete, it’s time to step back and see what else needs to be added to promote the product or service. For the Huntington High School Theatre group, that meant turning the design into a poster to be used to advertise their production. As usual, including the who-what-when-where-why-how answers is a must. After approval by the brand manager (in this case, the school), you have your final product.

“I love the whole “creative” process,” says Steele. “Taking a concept and making it come alive for the client is a tremendous rush. I work to take the personality and unique qualities of each client and incorporate them into the design.” Adds vitalink President Jeanne Frazer, “we are so lucky to have Mike heading up our creative group. Over the years I have learned that we can do a bit of brainstorming on a concept and Mike will come back with some fantastic designs for our clients. I think it’s great that he chose to donate his time and efforts to the Theatre club’s production. The Theatre group was so excited with the final design, they had T-shirts printed for the cast!”

About the Authors
Mike Steele is the Creative Director/Graphic Designer for vitalink and has been with the company almost since the beginning. Most of the logos, newsletter templates, and creative design work that are produced by vitalink for its clients are the result of Mike’s talent and efforts.

Many are struggling to find the path to success in today’s tough economic times. Jeanne Frazer will motivate and inspire individuals and businesses to discover their strengths that lead to long term success. Frazer makes concepts easy to understand and implement. She has significant experience speaking and has authored articles on a variety of marketing topics, including public relations, research, integrated marketing, branding, media, niche marketing, and strategic planning. Her unique point of view has been sought after by the media to provide input as a marketing expert. Frazer writes a blog that offers marketing tips and information. For a detailed bio on Jeanne Frazer or information about our expert management, marketing, non-profit and motivational speakers, visit

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