5 Questions with art director Frank Schouwaerts

Frank Schouwaerts is an Antwerp based art director with a background in graphic design. Frank is trained both inside smaller agencies and bigger companies.
For a couple of years, I worked as an art director for Kipling which was, at that time, putting a lot of efforts in becoming a more fashionable brand.

I spent my time following the bi-annual fashion seasons and after almost 5 years, it was time for a new challenge. I then decided to aim my arrows at a smaller boutique agency, Flink, where I would be challenged by some talented colleagues and get to know lots more about typography, branding and editorial design and where my experiences at Kipling came in use for brands like Delvaux, Stanley & Stella and lots of others.
In 2014, I threw myself on the freelance market. Which resulted in 4 exciting years working for different design and advertising agencies in combination with some projects on my own from time to time.

What is ‘good’ design to you?

Design needs to be more than just a plain graphic visual language. As a designer, you need to add that something extra. It can be a cultural approach, a smart insight or even a typeface you’re using that reflects just those things a client relates to. To me things don’t necessarily need to look good, they have to work. When design, concept, copy and strategy meet and work as one piece, this for me is considered good design.

What are the opportunities when working as a freelance designer?

Getting to know lots of new faces, is one thing. As you are working with different agencies and clients you get to meet some interesting people along the way. These contacts are very valuable to me as some of them become solid clients and close friends.

Also, and this must be a frequent answer to the question, doing a shitload of different things. One week you get to do a design for a giant corporation with huge visibility and the next week you are designing an identity for one of your friends. The mix of both is great.

And what are the pitfalls?

I guess the uncertainty. 4 years in, I’m getting the hang of it, but I must admit that it scared me a bit in the beginning. As you start as a freelance designer with not that much of a network, you have to find your way around. Which often means getting on the road and presenting yourself to potential clients. It takes a while to get a solid client base that doesn’t necessarily mean you get to rely on them.

Where do you believe the role of a designer is growing into?

As I spend a lot of my time at advertising agencies, I believe that the role of a designer is much more valuable in a conceptual way. As traditional advertising is less and less the only way to go, design gets a more prominent role early in a project. A campaign that needs a strong visual concept is often better conceived in the mind of a designer.

A designer these days has a bigger role than let’s say 10 years ago. If you look at brands like Spotify, Nike, Hay and other big companies and their visual presence, you can see that it is very much design-centric. Strong design along with great copywriting is like magic. There’s not always a need to come up with clever advertising concepts to create nice campaigns.

As I am freelancing in some of Belgium biggest advertising agencies I get to see this shift towards design-centric campaigns. And I am glad to be part of this transition.

What is graphic design to you? What is the work you are most proud of and why?

Graphic design is visualizing a concept in an esthetic way so it creates a feeling, a mood, even questions with the audience.

This considered I think the Darwin project serves well. Besides their new identity, I got challenged with the job of designing the inside of the new office. Together with Barcelona based designer Emil Kozak, we created a visual adventure, the original Darwin bio in mind, that would lead you through the entire agency. Both designing and the collaboration were tons of fun.

Currently, I’m working on a very exciting branding project for a company that is pioneering in the social consultancy business which is quite a challenge.

Check out Frank’s work

Published by

Timothy Helmer

Designer, curator of Let's Talk Design and founder of Creative Network.