Production Art – What Is It?

When I first put myself out in the market for a graphic designer position, I got emailed by an agency asking if I was interested in being submitted for a production artist role. I certainly liked the sound of it right off, but wasn’t sure how to define it. So what does a curious-minded individual do when one is curious-minded? Well… you look it up! Lo and behold, it didn’t take me long to hone in on its meaning. The short end of it is it involves working on existing artwork, by making modifications to it, as directed by either a lead designer or creative director. These could include making changes to text content/typography formatting or adding/replacing images and overall adjusting the layout of the page. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, there’s more to it…

Is Production Art like Graphic Design 101?

Now some may think of production art as a graphic-designer-lite position, but that doesn’t come close to describing it. In fact, a seasoned “prod artist” really needs to know their stuff! Fortunately I received great training in the area of typography and photo editing from Adobe Certified Experts, so when I delved into my first production art role, I relied heavily on both skill sets. What surprised me the most was how poorly the document had been set up from the get-go. When a document gets modified – content added – content taken out, AND it’s not setup correctly, it starts to fall apart quickly. “How so?”, you might ask. Imagine that you need extra vertical space to separate two paragraphs. Most people would simply press Enter or Return a few times, effectively adding carriage returns. The problem with this is if these two paragraphs get separated over two pages, the 2nd paragraph will most likely appear x amount of carriage returns below the top margin for the page it appears on. To correct this, the production artist would have to remove them. As the document continues to be modified, the placement of this paragraph may yet change again. The prod artist may have to add those returns back. See where this is going? Without knowing how to set this up right, you constantly have to go back and fix this issue, which never should have been an issue in the first place! The solution in this case is to have a thorough understanding of typography (and to make use of something called Space Before / Space After).

The goal of a great production artist is to address things like this and countless other anomalies. Detail-oriented is a must-have skill as well as taking direction from peers. All of this has to be translated that into a nicely flowing document that can more easily be edited, while maintaining structure and consistent formatting.