How to be a Digital Art Director: In Conversation with Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong

How to be a Digital Art Director: In Conversation with Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong

How to be a Digital Art Director: In Conversation with Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong

by The Luupe

The Luupe speaks with Dotdash Meredith (Shape, Health, Parents, Real Simple and BHG Magazine's) Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong about her career, creative process, and why it's important to slow down...

After earning her BFA in Art Direction, Advertising and Art History from Pratt Institute in 2009, Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong was selected to be an artistic brand ambassador for the Ford Fiesta Movement. She won “best short film” and her career quickly took off, designing for Weight Watchers, Victoria’s Secret, Uncommon Goods, Bed Bath & Beyond, and other big brands.
Like many art directors, Ong's projects, which span print design, editorial illustrations, motion graphics and cross-platform brand ideation are driven by a simple yet robust goal of using technology and smart visual thinking to tell a good, clear story. She now leads digital art direction for the DotDash Meredith, the suite of magazines that include Shape, Parents, and Real Simple Magazines.
We spoke with Ong to learn more about her inspirations, vision and what it means to be a digital art director.
The Luupe: Hi Caitlin! Thanks so much for being up for this interview. To start things off, what are you excited to work on this year?
Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong: Thanks for having me! The editorial content space has changed so much in the last year alone, and this year I’m excited to expand my work with video. Traditionally, brands have been rooted in design, illustration, and photography – so it is exciting to be working at a time when new platforms and technology like TikTok and VR are building upon that.
The Luupe: Where do you see the most storytelling potential in TikTok and VR right now?
Ong: I think the great thing about these platforms and technologies is that the storytelling is pretty limitless! The key selling point lies in just how quick and immersive they are. In a matter of seconds you can test drive a new car or learn how to roll sushi. The landscape is pretty even at this point, but that also means it is a bit hectic haha.
The Luupe: Ha! Let's get into your work. To start, how did studying art direction at Pratt influence how you work for brands and magazines?
Ong: My education from Pratt has been huge in my career. So much of art comes down to craft, but Art Direction is about the harmony between those disciplines. Having experience with as many of those disciplines as possible- from copywriting to illustration helps me pull a stronger and more cohesive story together for each brand. It also helps me understand the strength of each creative on the team, so that we can form the most beautiful piece possible.
The Luupe: Did you have any mentors - either in school or early in your career - that shaped how you work today?
Ong: I’ve been lucky enough to have been surrounded by creative role models both in my life and career. I come from a family dotted with artists, and I grew up surrounded by their work and encouragement. As a young professional, I found mentors in my own Art Directors who invested time and patience in honing my skills.
Real Simple Climatartian
Digital Cover and Lead Animation: Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong
Creative Direction: Rebecca Hart
The Luupe: Early on, did you receive any career advice that you hold with you to this day?
Ong: When I was younger, I called a mentor concerned about an issue I was having with a program. I didn’t know how to fix it. My mentor told me I didn’t need to know how, I just had to have confidence in my ability to learn it. So I did. I taught myself the basic coding needed and I worked it out. Having this mindset has allowed me to approach creative problems with a more open mind, knowing that the answers are out there and it is not my job to have them, but to find them.
© Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong for Parents Magazine
The Luupe: That's inspiring! Moving into your work today, based on the brands and magazines you've worked with, you seem to gravitate towards health and body related content. Is this a conscious decision?
Ong: When I was at my first editorial job, as a Jr Designer for Weight Watchers Magazine, I got really into running. My directors noticed and started to give me all of the running related content, which I loved! Since then, my passions for both my athletics and my career have bled together, naturally leading towards working with brands that follow my own interests.
The Luupe: was there a project in 2021 that you enjoyed working on more than others?
Ong: As a Digital Art Director at Dotdash Meredith, one of my favorites projects to come out of 2021 is Better Homes & Gardens 30 Days of Holiday - a cross platform initiative. It was a joy to collaborate with all of the talented illustrators on my team on these visuals. We all grew so much, trying different animation techniques and bringing new concepts to life with edit. The results are beautiful.
Creative Direction: Julia Bohan-Upadhyay
Art Direction and Illustration: Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong
(Additional Illustrations on site: Emma Darvick, Yeji Kim, Kailey Whitman)
Visual Editor: Casey Oto
The Luupe: One topic that's come up lately among a lot of our photographers is the idea that distinguishing between editorial and commercial photography is a thing of the past. Creative work transcends these distinctions and ultimately, vision is vision. Having worked in both the editorial and commercial space, what's your take?
Ong: From a purely creative standpoint, I agree- in both editorial and commercial, you are selling something- whether that’s a lifestyle or a product, and as a creative, your role is to tell that story as artfully as possible. But as a working professional, I see this only as a starting place. I’ve found, in practice, editorial and commercial diverge based on the chain of command.
In editorial, the story is king, so you are often working with editors. In commercial, you are more likely to work with marketing, product, and legal. This difference dictates the creative, but that’s not necessarily limiting. After all, many of the greats – from Michelangelo to Rockwell – have created masterpieces from commercial work.
Noumenal Space
The Luupe: We LOVE your work with Noumenal space. Can you tell us a bit about the story behind it? Does your curatorial work overlap with/ inform, etc your commercial work? If so, how?
Ong: Thank you! I’ve often asked myself, if art has the power to shed light on important issues, then do we, as artists, have an obligation to create that art? Noumenal Space was my answer to that question.
When the 2016 election happened, I wanted to find a way to protect the communities that felt most vulnerable, and my husband and I decided to do that through art. We reached out to a wide variety of creatives- from war veterans to musicians, to create Noumenal Space. Each artist sold work to benefit a different non-profit, and with the help of a few sponsors, we were able to launch our first fundraising gallery.
Hello Giggles 2020 Beauty Crush Awards
Creative Director: Jesse Blanner
Photography: Jenna Brillhart
Styling: Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong
Makeup: Tee Chavez
The Luupe: How does this work engage with your commercial work?
Ong: Artists and designers hold a unique power in today’s world to create art that spreads; across language, cultures, and platforms. These visuals hold power, and that shouldn’t be ignored. This is even more important in commercial work that is viewed on a larger scale. Seeing is believing, and our work can help visualize a better world into existence. Diversifying our illustrations, shoots, and creative voices are a few ways we can do this.
Matisse reimagined by Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong
The Luupe: You also recently started a new project about slowing down...
Ong: With each personal project, I try to learn something new. This year, my goals are to work more with video, but also to slow down, and really sit with a project over time. So, I’m filming a documentary. I figure doing so will help me grow my video skills, but also force me to work slowly. Unlike a studio setting, you can’t script or rush life- you have to let it unfold in it’s own time. It is already driving me nuts haha.
The Luupe: Haha - we can imagine! There's a quote of yours which really resonates with us about the layers of the creative process:

"The great thing about being a professional creative is that there's all of these small ways to explore every angle of your craft. You can work fast, slow, in illustration, in video. It is never ending but pretty simple; if you want to grow, try something new."

Can you expand on this a bit?
Ong: I like to think of my career as this chunk of marble. Each skillset I master helps me chip away to reveal the Director I wish to be. If I only focused on a single aspect of my work, like photography, I’d be missing out on a much rounder, fuller view of my career. Viewing my work this way doesn’t just free me up to try new things, but it is practical as well.
If you want to direct a set, you should know what it means to be in the shoes of the lighting director or stylist. In short, it allows me to collaborate with my team from an informed place. It’s also way more fun!
via Caitline-Marie Milner Ong on Instagram
The Luupe: In closing - we're likely going to title this interview "How to be a (digital) Art Director." It's part of an ongoing series getting close insights from inspiring creators like like you. So with that, what's one piece of advice you have for aspiring art directors or commercial illustrators?
Ong: Never be afraid to try new things with your work. Yes, you will be bad at it. That’s ok- you just started! Keep going, you’ll get better, and soon, you’ll have another tool at your disposal.
The Luupe
The Luupe is a one-stop production company that is raising the bar for professional brand imagery on a global scale. With a highly curated and diverse network of professional women and non-binary photo and video creators across 80+ countries around the world, we are reinventing how brands produce original, local, and authentic visual stories that connect with a global audience. Our mission is to champion and amplify diverse perspectives from around the world — in front of and behind the lens.
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