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I belong to a number of LinkedIn industry groups, mostly to follow some intriguing discussion threads. Last week, Edwina Owens Elliott, an Illustrator/Owner of FASHION + ART, an e-commerce gallery, posed the mother of all topics to the “Creative Intensive Network – For All Advertising Creatives.” She politely asked “Should Art Directors and Designers be Licensed?” following Advertising Age’s Small Agency Diary post on “Should the Ad Industry Have a Certification Process?” You would think she had smacked a hornets’ nest with a Louisville slugger. The resulting daily (and nightly) dust-up has gone on for 17 days with no end in sight. Soapboxes have been stood upon. One liners have been unleashed. Jabs have made. Hoisting has taken place on more than one petard.

Should Art Directors and Designers Be Licensed?

Should Art Directors and Designers Be Licensed?

The unscientific majority of responses tended toward either outrage or amusement over the concept of trying to certify (regulate) creative folks. Most posters saw it as  (a) Big Brotherish, (b) silly, or (c) a blatant revenue grab. I couldn’t resist posting a few times: to ask if anyone had ever seen a well-designed government form; to note that one’s art school credentials and/or one’s portfolio were each a form of certification;  and to mention that the University of San Francisco is already advertising a certificate program in online advertising. Some rightly noted that certification does not have to come from the government; it could be through a school, an industry association, or an independent auditing organization. Others pointed out that the government should regulate activities where someone could be physically harmed through negligence (doctors, airline pilots, architects, even nail salons).  Of course government intervention derailed the discussion into areas as diverse as climate change and artistic integrity.

Yesterday, I was talking with a printer who noted that even the Forest Stewardship Council is its own bit of certification strong-arming. There is pressure on printers to pay a lot to be dues-paying FSC members. However, non-members can pay nothing, still purchase FSC-certified papers on behalf of their clients, and do just as much for the environment.

After more than two weeks of fascinating posts to Edwina’s questions, I have been entertained, amused, and enlightened. Anything that adds cost, stifles creativity, encourages auto-pilot attitudes, while being nothing that the client is clamoring for is going to be unnecessary and unpopular. If you’re going to push for universal professional certification in this industry better have a thick skin, a lot of patience, a masochistic streak, and/or a bottle of bourbon handy at the end of the day.

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Part I took place in 2007 predating this blog, but it is familiar territory that all of us at at Newton Associates found ourselves sadly revisiting this week. It was the sudden unexpected loss of a graphic arts great, whom we had the pleasure of collaborating with as a resource and getting to know as a friend. It was déjà vu of the worst kind.

In Memorium: Peter Cowell, Package Design Pro

In Memorium: Peter Cowell, Package Design Pro

Back then, the news was if possible, more shocking, because of its totally unanticipated nature. A week after wrapping up a design project with frequent freelancer, Peter Cowell, we received a phone call reporting that Peter had passed away in his sleep after going to bed early the night before with a headache. It seemed beyond surreal given that the ever-colorful, always entertaining Mr. Cowell had just been doing his ever-reliable best to create some believable but fake brand labeling for a print ads, sales literature, and trade show graphics for one of our clients that makes dairy packaging machinery. The results were utterly convincing in English and in Spanish, thanks to Peter’s attention to detail (and as an international man of mystery).

The news was too shocking to be true. Peter couldn’t be gone. He was just here, cracking jokes. A few days before, I had met him at his home studio to pick up finished comps. Sadly, it was true — the way-too-young artist was gone in his prime, leaving behind a family he loved and a lot of shaken business associates.

Some of Peter Cowell's intuitive package designs

Some of Peter Cowell's intuitive package designs

Three years later, we find ourselves still missing Peter’s talent, professionalism, and great humor. But especially because we are experiencing that sad unexpected moment with the premature loss of another artist friend of ours, Pat Crombie. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Crombie family, just as they did for the Cowells in 2007.
Like Peter, Pat passed away very suddenly. In his case, it was a heart attack.

In Memorium: Pat Crombie, Instinctive Designer

In Memorium: Pat Crombie, Instinctive Designer

He was a devoted family man who managed to effortlessly balance his career and home life. But Pat had a very different skill set as a designer than Peter. Where Peter excelled at package design, Pat was a great organizer of content for literature and for web sites. What both shared was an elegant style, a sense of order, and an uncanny awareness of visual appeal. None of us ever saw either man ever shaken by a crazy deadline or a too-tall assignment. In fact, they both had a marvelous self-deprecating way of taking it all in stride.

When you are in the agency business, you are constantly exposed to wonderful portfolios, especially these days when great design and illustration and photography are but an e-mail or web site click away. There are so many distinct styles and talented professionals out there. However, not all artists are adept at managing the other aspects of this business, from customer service to always hitting the right notes for your client and the assignment at hand. In this sense, and so many more, both Peter Cowell and Pat Crombie were the real deal. I hope they are someplace better, sharing a drink, cocktail napkin sketches, war stories, and an awareness that they have left a huge void down here. Heaven doesn’t need more artists and friends, but we sure do.

Pat Crombie's designs were always seamless and striking

Pat Crombie's designs were always seamless and striking

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