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May 7, 2024

I Am an Art Director and I Love Spreadsheets

Written by Heather Stahlman | Associate Art Director

Yes, you read that right. I’m here to break the stereotype that spreadsheets are just for account executives. In actuality, they are a valuable tool no matter what your job responsibilities are. When it comes to being a designer or art director specifically, spreadsheets can help us to be more creative. Sound paradoxical? Allow me to elaborate. 

As creative people, we are constantly juggling multiple projects and mentally keeping track of what is due, when it’s due, and who’s working on each part. And that’s on top of doing our actual job which is creating beautiful, meaningful, original work. I have found that using spreadsheets to stay on top of things helps free up a ton of space in my brain for more fruitful creative thinking.

On any given day, my brain is going about a mile a minute, constantly dealing with information input overload. I’m sure most creative people can relate. Too much input and not enough output can cause our brains to enter a state of block. In other words, we get stuck. Creativity thrives with a clear headspace, when you can sit down with a pen and sketchbook without worrying about the next task (or ten) creeping into your thoughts. With the use of spreadsheets, we can organize our thoughts and find peace of mind in the knowledge that everything on our to-do list is accounted for and laid out in a way that makes sense to us.

One project in particular where spreadsheets made life easier was the 2024 Destination Niagara USA travel guide. This was a massive undertaking consisting of 76 pages featuring 18 articles, half being refreshes from the previous year and half being brand new. I was the lead art director on this project and knew that a deliverable of this scale could easily become overwhelming and messy if organization was not a priority right from the start. I immediately made a color-coded spreadsheet listing all of the articles, with columns serving as checkpoints for where each one was at in the process. 

To paint a more detailed picture, the columns were as follows: “Refresh/New”, “Art Director”, “Copywriting,” “Art Direction,” “Typefaces,” “Photography,” “Layout Done,” all with checkboxes underneath corresponding to each article (with the exception of the “Art Director” column which had a space to put the name of who was leading the article). I then split up the articles between four art directors including myself and shared the sheet with all of them so we could have a streamlined place to track our progress and be aware of where everything was at. Right off the bat, this eased my mind and allowed me to fully delve into the creative process without those details swirling around in my brain. This set the tone for the rest of the project, alleviating unnecessary stress and causing us to not only hit deadlines but finish ahead of schedule with a final product that the entire team is immensely proud of.

Well, you heard it here first folks: art directors and spreadsheets are a match made in heaven. I hope one day all of the designers out there find a little room for spreadsheet-ing in their big ol’ creative hearts.

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