California Attorneys for Criminal Justice: Ink of Innocence

The California Attorneys for Criminal Justice (CACJ) is an organisation that helps defence lawyers and fights for courts and the criminal justice system doing the right thing. This campaign by Grey New York highlights CACJ's drive for proper DNA testing across the board. But rather than simply communicating that DNA testing should be important, or highlighting the stories of people who were wrongfully convicted in the past, this campaign uses some very clever art direction thinking to make the medium itself the message. The ink in these posters is carrying the DNA of the people whose portraits we see in these executions, the very DNA that if it were tested properly (or at all) could have proved them innocent of the crimes for which they were accused.

So often we are asked to define just what art direction is (or any of the disciplines we teach) and this is such a great example. While we weren't in the room at the time of this campaign's conception, we can let you in on the probable process from the art director's point of view. As an art director, your job is to best visually represent an idea to the viewer of a piece of communication such that it is as impactful as possible. The idea of testimonials or other forms of telling the story were probably bandied about, but shot down very quickly as they are not always impactful. But then... someone had an idea to use the real DNA of people in the ink to print the ads. We now have a serious synergy on our hands that can make these ads incredibly powerful.

But what about what they should actually look like?

Here, the art director would have found a number of sources, styles or pieces of inspiration to brief an illustrator to bring this idea to life. The messy, ink-blot style itself is indicating to us just how messy DNA testing can be, and how it's not always done properly or as scientifically as we would think. They would then have provided the illustrator with these references and worked with them to create the portraits. Bearing all this in mind, we can see how the illustration style itself (guided by the art director) is really telling a large part of this story. They could easily have mixed the DNA with normal ink and simply printed photography here, but it wouldn't have been so arresting. All of these vitally important  decisions are up to the art director to make.

From there, text is added (provided by the copywriter) to add more meaning to the visual and turn it into a fully-fledged advert or piece of communication. And while it's never as simple and clear cut as we've defined in this piece, that's how you go from a message to an idea to a finished execution.

If this is the kind of thing that excites you, why not look at our Art Direction courses - we'd love to have you on board!