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Art Direction and User Experience

Recent discussion surrounds the differences between art direction and user experience design due to the influx of individually designed blogs.

There is a lot of recent discussion in the web design community about the topic of Art Direction. This is due the influx of individually designed blog posts, made popular by designers like Jason Santa Maria. Designers can control how individual blog posts and pages can look, similarly to the magazine format. This actually isn’t what art direction is at all, and if web designers want to embrace art direction, they should start at User Experience.

Dan Mall from A List Apart wrote a wonderful post that explains the differences between design and art direction. He gives a clear definition between the two practices: “Art direction gives substance to design. Art direction adds humanity to design.” Basically, art direction is the overall feeling a person experiences when they interact with a touchpoint (such as a website or a magazine). In order to build successful interactions, one must posses the talent of art directing. Art direction is the vision, the story and strategy behind the design. It’s the defined set of rules before one can begin designing.

A great example of where art direction and user experience meets is the Ben the Bodyguard website. The creatives behind the site took the very basic user experience task of a page scroll, and guided a story along with it. As you scroll down the page, Ben the Bodyguard guides you through a grimy street. Text bubbles appear that describe situations that are definitely relatable if you or anyone you know has had anything stolen. When you reach the bottom of the page, it asks for your email address to get notified when the product launches. After being involved in the narrative, it’s difficult to say no to filling out the form. This is the epitome of art direction applied to user interface, which definitely yields a pleasurable user experience.

Another example of a user experience and art direction convergence is the website we built for AIA Los Angeles. Rather than being simply a content driven calendar website of all the architecture spots and events, the site plots everything on a giant google map. The idea is to invoke the feeling of “localization” to the user or member of the association. People recognize roads and landmarks which greatly contextualizes the event listing.

Art direction is about bringing emotion, vision, and clarity to design. When it’s combined with user interface and user experience, it’s a dangerous weapon.


Jason Farrell is the CTO/Co-founder of Use All Five.
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