An interview with Harry Ward: Creative Director at Sky News
I met Harry back in 2008. He had started at Sky News a year earlier than me and over the 7 years of working together I knew he would easily be one of the most talented designers I would work with and that he was destined for great things. Since I moved on from Sky, Harry has been promoted multiple times, transitioning from Senior Designer to Creative Director of Sky News. He’s now leading the evolution of information design in broadcast and digital journalism. Directing an award winning creative team during the most disruptive time in modern history.
Harry thanks for taking the time to answer these questions.
What does a normal day at work involve for you?
It always starts with a quick 9am meeting with the senior editorial team where we go through the stories of the day and how we’re covering them. I find it quite grounding - a daily reminder of why we do what we do. After that, most of my day is spent catching up with the team on projects and nudging them forward. It’s a blast! Although I find it’s far too easy to fill a day and forget to come up for air, so I try my best to find a slice of time to focus on the bigger picture and plan for the future of the team and the brand.
During COVID most creative studios have faced challenging times as they’ve learned how to function with designers and creatives working remotely. I can imagine those challenges were magnified for newsroom studios like Sky News because you also play a hugely important role in actually explaining the government’s rules and the scientific complexity of an evolving virus in real-time. As the Creative Director what have been the biggest challenges and the most surprising benefits as you’ve adapted to this new way of working?
When a big story breaks, newsrooms are a thrilling place to be. The energy of the room ramps up with people buzzing around the place in the pursuit of telling that story as it unfolds. In many ways the early days of Covid was no different, but as we went into lockdown we had to somehow continue that culture through laptops in people's bedrooms and kitchens. Technology was a big challenge too; before lockdown, remote working for broadcast wasn’t possible, but we found a way. Everything just got more complicated at the same time as the pressure to tell the story ramped up! For me the biggest challenge by far was to balance all that with looking after the team, keeping them close and trying to offer some clarity through it all. From a creative perspective, we worked hard to build a full design toolkit for all platforms that gave the team a head start on every commission whilst also creating a branded thread through all our output.
Sky News has always been a pioneer in being first to be on new technologies and platforms. When I was at Sky we’d always be thinking platform agnostic, considering how information graphics worked across Broadcast, Digital and Social. What are the emerging technologies today which you are now considering and how are they changing your creative choices?
At some point in the past, brands had complete control of how audiences found and ‘consumed’ their content. For example the only way you got Sky News was through your TV! Audiences now need to find us from anywhere and on any platform; each place needing something slightly different because the experience and demographic will be slightly different. So for me, technology that allows us to easily adjust and deliver targeted content in a timely way is interesting.
In a data rich world, I can imagine Sky News has access to even more information than ever before. Does more data and complexity translate into more creative visual storytelling or is it more important to focus on clarity, simplicity and audience viewing habits?
A brilliant question. I think more data and more clarity is the way forward. For example in last years’ US election we received thousands of data points every second, rivalling the US networks, but we still kept the graphics clean and simple to understand. The extra data allowed us to do our own real-time analysis that helps find the story behind the headlines. From a design perspective that means working closely with the data journalists to make sure we’re ready to visualise their findings as they get them. Having said all that, balance is really important, so we never shy away from building impact around the headlines too… like building a whacking great big AR White House and placing it in our London studio. Bonkers really.
When we started out as motion designers there weren’t that many of us. Now, animation has exploded with content makers creating work for YouTube and across Social. When you are recruiting for new designers have you felt this change and has it affected the showreels you see?
Yes motion design used to be a niche discipline and most entry-level candidates didn’t have showreels. I’d imagine the change is down to the tools being more accessible and easier to use. And you’re right, it’s more in demand too. But in the same way affordable digital cameras haven’t made all great photographers redundant, there will always be a place for designers who want to specialise in motion. If anything it’s raised the bar, which is pretty exciting.
Being a Creative Director takes a lot more than just being an amazing creative. For all those aspiring creatives looking at the title “Creative Director” as the end goal, what have been the most important “ways of working” that have helped you in your journey?
The best advice I’ve ever been given is ‘what got you here won’t get you there’. It’s a neat way of hinting that every step needs something very different from you. I still love coming up with ideas and getting dirty with Adobe like I did 10 years ago – but if I do it any more than 10% of my time I’m doing a disservice to my team. Luckily I enjoy the leadership stuff too so the role suits me well. Of course every CD out there is different, but I’d imagine if that sort of ratio doesn’t appeal, then the end goal of the CD might not be a good fit for you.