Shadow My Day as an Art Director at DDB Chicago

Emily Walton | | @emmybear43
My job is to come up with ideas. Fun? Yes. Exhausting? Sometimes. Rewarding? Definitely. Entering the creative advertising world has changed my life. It has opened my eyes to seeing the world in a different, unique way, and has created a way for me to pour my creative expression onto a blank canvas every single day. 


6:23 am First Alarm — I blindly reach for my phone hidden somewhere in my covers, squint one eye open, and press the little blue button on the screen. For some reason, every morning when my eyes open I read “snooze” as some alien language, as if I’ve never seen this word or didn’t snooze ten times every morning. I can never read what it says, but I press the little blue word and go back to sleep.

7.35 AM - instagrid.jpg

7:35 am REAL LIFE — One hour later…I turn my alarm off. I lay in bed and scroll through my Instagram feed to wake myself up. I follow a ton of artists, travelers and photographers from all over the world, so a lot of times while I’m asleep, they’re out exploring and posting about where they are and what they’re doing. Kind of fun to see all of the things that happened while you were sleeping. (Here are some of my favorite accounts – check them out!)

7:45 am Morning Routine — Force myself out of bed, brush out my hair, throw some makeup on, scramble to find some sort of matching clothing and head downstairs. My cat, Violet, is following me everywhere begging for treats! 

8:50 am Train — I leave my apartment and walk two blocks to get to the Clark & Division stop for the Chicago Red Line. I head down the steps underground into the gray ‘L’ station, which weirdly I always kind of like in the morning. 

8:58 am People Watching — My fave! I see a guy in a suit looking very tired, a woman singing out loud while listening to headphones, and a girl kiss her boyfriend goodbye. I watch a homeless man walking around asking for money. A girl yells at him… “I could use $20 too. We all could!” Lively group this AM. 3 stops later, I hop off and walk through the Underground Pedway for about 15 minutes before I make it to my building. 

9:25 am The Office — I made it. Funny enough, there aren’t a lot of people here yet. The creatives usually wander in between 9:30 & 10am. It’s quiet, which I like. I walk into the kitchen and make a tea, sit down in front of my computer and read The Skimm

10:00 am Day Dreaming — My boss is in a creative meeting with a fast food client. I am waiting to hear what the client thought about our work, so in the meantime I hop on Google Flights and use the “Everywhere” feature to search for the cheapest destinations. It’s looking like Asia has the best deals! 

10:30 am Back to Reality — I review staging links for some banners that the client wanted. This is the last part of the web banner making process. It usually starts by creating 5-6 separate frames in Photoshop and stringing them together in a series to make a storyboard.  We write little animation notes underneath each frame and pass them off to our production artists. They are the ones who bring the banners to life.

When they are done, we have an internal web sharing system where they can post banners for review (aka stage links). This is where I can watch them and sign off on whether or not they are client ready. Although this isn’t the most exciting part of my job, I can’t complain. I can think of way worse things to look at all day than maple syrup pouring in slow motion and steam rising off of an Egg McMuffin!

View of Millennium Park from my office

View of Millennium Park from my office

11:30 am Regroup — The client liked most of our ideas, but for some we need to go back to the drawing board. I decide to take a little lunch break before I jump back into the madness, so I head over to Millennium Park for some fresh air.

12:30 pm Inspiration — We are writing TV scripts and thinking of big digital ideas today. There is a lot of work to be done! But, I’m feeling uninspired. To grab some inspiration, I head over to my go-tos: AdWeek, Digital Buzz Blog, Designspiration & Pinterest.

2:30 pm Check In — My copywriting partner and I have tons of ideas. We both have totally different creative processes. I think visually, and she often times thinks in sentences or phrases. This is why copywriters and art directors typically work in teams. When you can find a way to put words and visuals together in a smart way…you’re golden. We run through all of our ideas and see where some of them overlap. We make these into buckets which usually become our ‘big ideas’.

We then take other smaller tactics and put them under those buckets. This is the way that we start to create big campaign ideas. If there are a lot of ideas that fall under a certain bucket, we say it “has a lot of legs” …or basically, that it has potentially to be a good campaign. After we go through this process of picking our faves, we decide to share them with our creative director. She wants a few ideas mocked up, so I open up Photoshop and get to work. 

Love our kitchen wall!

Love our kitchen wall!

4:50 pm Distracted — I sit right in front of the kitchen, and I hear The Ellen Show blasting on TV. My partner and I decide to take a quick break to watch! (Love our kitchen wall!)

5:05 pm Editing — We create ‘decks’ (aka presentations) in Keynote to present our ideas in a clean and simple way. We are a small part of a larger team, so we share decks between all of us and get to add in our individual slides. Now that we have our ideas ready to present, we edit our slides in the deck to send through to the rest of the team. My partner cracks open a beer and we go through all of the work we just did to determine what still needs to get done tonight. 

5:45 pm Outta Here — On my way out of the office, I pass my favorite closet in the agency. The awards closet! Maybe it’s a little bit ‘braggy', but I love it! The award-winning work that comes out of this place is one of the main reasons why I wanted to work here. (DDB hired a sculpture artist to create this masterpiece out of all of their awards!)

6:10 pm Mental Break — On my way home I meet my friend Sara for dinner at a new taco shop around the corner called Broken English. We order margs, share a plate of tacos and catch up. The marg has a gummy worm as a garnish which makes me ridiculously happy! 

7:50 pm Home – I get off of the elevator and hear Violet meowing through the door, just like every other day! I change, sit down on my couch, and grab my laptop to finish work.

10:00 pm Head Upstairs — I play a little bit of piano, then plop down into bed. I login to Hulu to re-watch episodes of Broad City. If you haven’t seen it…you must! 

11:45pm BED – Time to catch some Zzzzzzzz’s.