When it comes to creative art direction, S. Katherine Braz, senior director of creative communications for the Purdue Alumni Association and editor of Purdue Alumnus magazine, has it down to an art and a science. Braz shared some of her many creative ways to produce stunning magazine visuals on a budget during the session “Resourceful Art Direction Ideas to Stretch Your Budget,” at AM&P’s 2017 Annual Meeting.
Braz says there is no excuse to have subpar visuals. Referencing a magazine cover in which the source for the cover story is seen riding a glowing unicorn, Braz says it is important to make bold choices. “You have to make bold choices to compete with all other media people consume. If you’re not making bold choices, you’ll get left behind,” she says. “I don’t know what your glowing unicorn is, but you have to surprise people.”
Surprises and unicorns don’t have to be budget breakers if you are a little creative with your visual choices. Braz offered oodles of tips, tricks, and examples during the session. Here is a small sampling of her advice.
Get Free or Low-Cost Photos
Braz says professional photographers, photojournalists, and college students are often happy to volunteer photos. In most cases, you just have to ask — and show that you care. “If they know you are going to treat their work with respect and give it the treatment and placement it deserves, you’ll be surprised how willing they are to work with you,” Braz says. Sometimes just getting good photos can open up possibilities. “In one issue, we ran 14 pages of birds because we had great photos of birds. People loved it. What do your people want 14 pages of?”
Out of Many, One
When dealing with submitted images, underwhelming visuals, and awkwardly posed photos, it might be better to go all-in. “Don’t have one photo that can hold the spread? Use 40 photos,” Braz says. Photos that don’t size well or are static can become more visually and contextually interesting as part of a much larger spread. Given the ongoing DIY craze, Braz says it might not be a bad idea to consider a photo collage. “You can do a photo collage once every five years without looking tacky.
Embrace the Past
Go to your archives. What old images can you pull out and dust off? “Embrace grainy photos. Make it part of the story. The feel of an old photo can be an element of your spread, but you have to own it. Double down on the graininess. I’ve taken old photos — so old and low quality that most people would never even use it deep inside their book — and I blew it up and made it the cover. And it was awesome.”
Get a Little Artsy
Sometimes all you have are headshots. So dress them up a little. Maybe all the headshots should be magenta. Maybe you can pop the heads on illustrated bodies. “Make crap photos into illustrations,” Braz says.
Get a Little Crafty
Props can add character and visual interest to otherwise pretty boring portraits. However, most association publishing teams probably don’t have a large prop closet fully stocked. “Beg, borrow, and steal,” Braz says. “When you visit friends’ houses, inventory their stuff so you know who to borrow things from. Buy things and then return them. I can’t count the number of photo shoots we’ve done using furniture, appliances, and what have you from my home.”
Ultimately, Braz says, the more ideas a team can produce, the better the chances of coming up with something spectacular that doesn’t break the budget. “A great way to get ideas from your team: Take them to the bar. Feed their brains with beer. Get them loosey-goosey to get ideas flowing,” she says. “Really, just get them out of the office, out of the comfort zone, and get them going.”