Helmut Krone helped define modern advertising art direction in print. A new book looks at his life's work and at the Creative Revolution he was a part of in the 1960s. Paul Belford looks on in admiration
It's fashionable these days in ad agency creative departments to dispense with the job titles of "art director" and "copywriter": you become a kind of "concept creator".
When each member of a creative team claim to both art direct and write, they tend to do neither very well. Of course, the most important part of our job is to have ideas, but all too often good concepts are executed in a way that is boring, predictable and ultimately, fairly invisible. Take a look at any newspaper or magazine. You'll see what I mean. Then take a look at Helmut Krone. The Book. to see what a good art director can do.
Modern advertising art direction began in the 1950s, in New York at the beginning of the so-called Creative Revolution. And the people we have to thank for this particular giant leap for mankind were Paul Rand and Bob Gage. And Helmut Krone? No. At this time he was actually pretty ordinary. Which leads us to one of hundreds of thought provoking Krone quotes in the book: "Until you've got a better answer, you copy. I copied Bob Gage for five years. And Bob originally copied Paul Rand and Rand originally copied a German typographer called Jan Tschichold."
Bet you never had anyone telling you to copy before did you? Well, there's more. Much more. Do ads need logos? Can the body copy be as big as the headline? Do you need a headline? Does it matter if no one reads the copy? Can the treatment be the idea? Radical stuff. Except for the fact that these ideas were floating around in the 60s and 70s.
I genuinely doubt whether Helmut Krone could hold down a job in an ad agency creative department today where it can feel that you have to be fast, cheap and (only if the first two criteria have been met) good. Krone certainly wasn't fast or cheap. And he wasn't good. He was great.
But he was also lucky. In Bill Bernbach he had an agency boss who was a friend and, most importantly, understood the value of innovative work even if some of the clients didn't. So they put more energy into selling that work. Great work. For great brands. Volkswagen, Avis, Audi, Polaroid, Porsche - the list goes on.