Every marketing communication firm faces a conundrum. It’s a paradox, actually. We’re constantly pushed to develop smart creative. And, we’re almost always under a deadline to drive the transaction NOW.
The problem is that creativity takes time, as numerous studies show (http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/3030.html). So, how do we as advertising creatives balance the vicious demand of short deadlines and the need for smart, brand consistent concepts? One tool art directors use to deal with the demand is the “thumbnail.”
A thumbnail is a small sketch, usually done very quickly, almost always in pencil.
1. Thumbnailing frees up the mind.
These days, we are bombarded with technology. The world is at our thumbtips. We easily bog down our minds with emails, remembering to call him and meet her, events, clients, and everything else. It’s necessary to lift your mind out of the virtual rat race.
Thumbnailing allows you to jot down mental notes visually. Often, the first sketches are not your best ideas, nor will they provide you with the picture of your vision. However, once you get the ball rolling, you start focusing on the problem you’re trying to solve and get past all the thoughts cluttering your mind.
2. Thumbnailing saves time.
When we talk about a thumbnail sketch, we are not talking about an elaborate drawing that looks like a masterpiece, but scribbles that quickly convey an idea. Thumbnailing lets you to create multiple concepts in a short time before you go into production.
The more you put on the paper, the more raw material you have to work with, when it’s time to revise and refine. You have the freedom to erase, scratch off, even throw away a sketch. It’s good to get your thoughts in order and your brain engaged in the thumbnail stage, because once you start investing time in producing a on the computer, there is a tendency to finesse the comp, and you're almost stuck with what you have created.
By producing numerous sketches you give yourself options. Usually your first sketch is not your best concept, but even if it is your best concept, you will not know until you've explored multiple concepts. Just like you can't say Oreo is the best cookie in the world if you haven't tasted the other cookies in the world.
After exploring multiple concpets, you will also have a better idea of the bigger picture. You'll be able to go back to your previous thumbnails and rework them, combine them until you have a desired result.
3. Thumbnailing solves unforeseen problems.
Every project has specifications, whether it is the dimension of the advertisement, the required content, or the brand itself. The art director needs to work around these boundaries to communicate the message effectively . Ultimately, a creative professional is a problem solver. When there are multiple pieces to the problem, the most effective way to solve it is to lay them all out. Thumbnailing is a productive system to evaluate many ideas.
Yes, there will always be deadlines, but our linear approach—strategy, concept, execution— consistently delivers strong concepts, well produced, through careful concepting and thumbnailing.
Thumbnails are valuable at multiple stages of the process. At the concept stage, it gets everything out on paper—lots of concepts, very fast. As the concepts are narrowed and the execution phase begins, thumbnails are good for anticipating how the various elements will fit together—what works and what doesn’t. At the presentation level, it’s great to have clients who understand concepts in thumbnail format, because it allows us to offer more conceptual choices.
Our guest blogger, Karen Kong Schipper is an Art Director at Gibbons | Peck. Her youthful energy and global experience, having grown up in Hong Kong, bring a perspective to our work and our culture that we highly value.