From the time Ricci Williams was just a child, growing up in Leicester, England, he was interested in design. He liked exploring why people were drawn to certain things, asking himself “What makes something desirable? Why do we treasure some things and throw others away?” Like many designers, initially, it was a fascination with album art. He would draw the covers of his favorite albums and create new versions based on the songs. As he grew, this transitioned from a passion to a fruitful career, and now he is an internationally sought-after art director.
“Creative autonomy is massive. As an art director, you are free to seek out and experiment with new ideas, techniques and styles. I wanted to orchestrate projects, rather than only design them. Art direction brings with it the opportunity to collaborate with retouchers, stylists, photographers, designers and other creative talents. Working as an art director seemed like a natural evolution as a designer. The role of an art director is far broader than say that of a designer, and there is more freedom to work with clients from different industries,” said Williams.
Throughout his career, Williams has worked on a series of widely successful projects, leading him to winning the celebrated A' Design Award for Best in Graphics and Communication just last year. Beyond awards and recognition, Williams uses his gift to better the world, exemplified with his work on the 2010 book “We are Congo”, bringing awareness to the conflict that had been plaguing the Democratic Republic of the Congo for decades, with millions facing hunger, being displaced from their homes and with over seven million in need of humanitarian assistance. Proceeds from the book went to funding change in the region.
Williams works in a multitude of mediums, and one of his most recognized is fashion. He is currently working on launching a highly-anticipated jewelry line, TWELVE, which will be released next year. He sees fashion as more than just clothes, but the ability to tell a story.
“It’s the imagery, the packaging, the story, the branding–this is what interested me. How through visual storytelling you could grow the identity and reputation of a product. In fashion, you have access to some of the best image-makers out there, and so many of the people involved are passionate and driven to create something both distinctive and remarkable,” he said.
Williams has worked alongside some of the fashion industry’s most celebrated individuals. In 2010, he helped to create the book “Ten Times Rosie”, collaborating with model, actress, businesswoman and designer Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, as well as the iconic photographer Rankin and Paula Thomas, an in-demand creative director. The project was published and printed internationally. The book was launched with an accompanying exhibition at the Annroy Gallery in London. It helped catapult the career of Huntington-Whiteley, receiving acclaim in the fashion press in publications such as Vogue.
“We had clear project goals before starting the project. We wanted to create a book that would do justice to the collaborative work of some of the leading creative minds and to help establish the legacy of an iconic model. A great measure of the success of this project was the team satisfaction. Every person was in it for the long run, working crazy hours and I think we did create something for them to be proud of too. The project was well received and garnered write-ups in all the major fashion publications who aren't always the easiest to impress. It was something on which I was proud to have worked. Rosie said in an interview with Vogue; ‘Ten Times Rosie was the most incredible experience of my career’. I'd have to agree,” said Williams.
Williams knew the book would be something far beyond showcasing a beautiful model. It was a chance to inspire and be inspired by those around him and to make something truly unique. He knew the project would require an approach that ensured a clear and well-informed rationale underpinned every decision. As the images were being shot, he knew the book would be something special.
“'Ten Times Rosie' was a big undertaking. I was involved in the project from conception to production. The goal of this project was to create a beautiful piece of artwork to keep forever, and it was my responsibility to push the boundaries and create the best, most effective work possible. The book is comprised of 10 concepts, in 10 locations, all shot with Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as the model. The art direction was influenced by work of Fabien Baron, with large swathes of white space contrasted against bold black typefaces. Because the creative direction was so strong and clearly defined, I could put my energy into creating a specific visual style and pace for the book,” he said.
Williams’ job was to create a distinct aesthetic for the book. The theme of “the number 10” ran throughout. He incorporated this into the visual language by creating a signature numeral based on the Didot typeface. His experience and understanding of print techniques were utilized in this project particularly as they made a limited version of the book—housed inside a cloth-covered clamshell case and containing a signed print. The book also featured a double page pullout, so these were all fun design considerations. The photographs were captivating on their own, but Williams made them work as part of the narrative of a book. His role was vital for the project, and his talent is evident in the finished product.
“It was an exciting and busy project, and it was great to work on a project where everyone was equally passionate about the outcome. Having not just one client on this project, but three forced me to manage multiple workloads that stretched far beyond the creative team. My job here was to build a collaborative visual language with the client, instill confidence in them and our creative teams and lead them on the journey towards creating brave and challenging work. It was both demanding and fulfilling. The goal was to create something iconic. Working with a beautiful collection, beautiful model and team, plus seeing my concept come to life was fun. Everyone had their ideas of how the books’ personality should be represented visually, and in the end, I think we were all happy with the finished product,” he said.
Williams has undoubtedly had a distinguished career as an Art Director, and he has no plans on slowing down. He has recently finished designing a book for San Francisco interior design firm Bamo, Inc to celebrate 25 Years of design. Their clients include luxury hotels like The Four Seasons and The Peninsula and residences like Sun City Palace Tsukaguchi. The book will be released next year. For those looking to follow in his footsteps, he offers some thoughtful words of wisdom.
“Spend as much time as possible away from the computer. It’s an excellent tool for editing, but it's limited when it comes to exploring and developing ideas. I find the more time I spend in the sketching and researching phase of a project the better the outcome. I would also say to know your role. The role of an art director isto envision what doesn’t exist yet. A client will lose faith in you if you don’t trust and act on your intuition, so it’s essential to be a leader, be willing to drive ideas and follow them through,” he concluded.