Art Director

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What Is an Art Director? How to Become One, Salary, Skills.

Art directors are in charge of developing a creative vision for the visual elements of a project and guiding a team of designers and artists to deliver on this vision. Art directors help produce work for websites and apps, magazines and newspapers, video games and films, product packaging and marketing materials. Here’s what to know about art director’s salary, needed skills and how to become one.

 

What Is an Art Director?

An art director develops a creative vision and design for a visual project, making decisions on elements like images, typography, layout and written content. They articulate this vision to a team of artists and designers, approving graphs, illustrations, artwork and other submissions made by team members. Art directors shape the visual style of a project to meet the needs of target audiences while ensuring a project stays on time and within budget.

 

What Do Art Directors Do?

Art directors oversee teams of designers and artists, establishing budgets, deadlines and creative visions for team members to follow. These leaders establish the style of a visual project and approve illustrations, graphs, charts, images and other artistic products.

Art Director Responsibilities

  • Oversee teams of designers and artists. 
  • Develop and articulate creative visions for visual projects. 
  • Establish the style or feel of publications, ad campaigns and other projects.
  • Approve artwork submissions like images, charts and illustrations.
  • Collaborate with clients to inform the direction of a project.
  • Work with the creative director and other artistic personnel when needed.
  • Set budgets and deadlines for projects.

Day-to-Day Responsibilities of an Art Director

  • Create stylistic instructions or guidelines for teams to follow.
  • Specify project design details and any physical materials needed. 
  • Approve pieces submitted by designers and artists.
  • Meet with creative department leaders and other stakeholders to discuss client requirements and project progress.

Types of Art Directors

The responsibilities of art directors depend on the industries they work in. 

  • Art directors who work for magazines or newspapers dictate the style of the publication by selecting relevant images and organizing the layout of each issue. Although they perform similar tasks in the advertising industry, art directors may also produce media for TV and collaborate with copywriters to fine-tune written content for projects.  
  • Art directors at companies and businesses produce a range of media, including newsletters, webpages, emails and other digital and physical materials. As a result, they collaborate with graphic designers, writers, illustrators and other creatives. 
  • Film and television sets require art directors to oversee all details regarding stage design and layout.

Art Directors Within a Company

The art director is a leadership position that takes responsibility for the work that designers and artists produce. Art directors often have the final say on artwork submitted for visual projects and are tasked with ensuring projects are completed on time and within budget. This role also collaborates with the creative director and other art department leaders to inform the overall style and approach to a project. As a result, the art director is one of the highest creative leadership positions one can occupy within a company.

Importance of Art Directors

Art directors collaborate with other department leaders when needed, making sure that all parties follow consistent style and design guidelines. Organizations depend on art directors to develop a creative vision and make sure this vision is articulated to team members and target audiences.

A day in the life of a creative director in Los Angeles. | Video: Matthew Encina

 

What Skills Are Needed to Be an Art Director?

Qualifications to Be an Art Director

  • Strong art and design background.  
  • Familiarity with UX and user-centered design.
  • Creative and critical thinking skills.
  • Digital literacy skills.
  • Problem-solving skills.
  • People management skills. 
  • Excellent communication skills.

Art Director Prerequisites

  • Bachelor of arts or bachelor of fine arts degree in a related discipline like graphic design or photography. 
  • Internship experience in an art-related field, preferably in the industry one plans to enter.
  • At least five years of professional experience working in relevant roles like digital marketer, photographer or graphic designer.
  • Master of fine arts (not required, but helpful for standing out from other candidates).

Art Director Hard Skills

  • Understanding of elements like color, layout and typography.
  • Creative eye for how to combine text, images and other elements.
  • User-centered design approach. 
  • Mastery of design and illustration tools. 
  • Experience with graphic design, photography and other visual areas.
  • Writing skills.  
  • Budgeting and financial knowledge.

Art Director Soft Skills

  • Collaboration and communication skills.
  • Leadership experience and skills.
  • Project management skills.
  • Time-management skills.
  • Creative and critical thinking skills. 
  • Flexible mindset.

Tools and Programs Art Directors Use

  • Adobe products like Photoshop, Illustrator, Animate and InDesign.
  • Canva for quick and easy visual designs.
  • Online whiteboards like MURAL for planning.
  • SketchBook Pro for digital painting and drawing.
  • Mari for detailed 3D painting. 
  • Unity Pro for advanced VR, AR and gaming experiences.
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How to Become an Art Director 

Art Director Education and Experience 

Art directors often start by completing either a bachelor of arts or bachelor of fine arts degree. Relevant majors include graphic design, advertising, communications and photography. Aspiring art directors should also expect to work at least five years in related positions before being promoted to an art director role. Professionals can build attractive portfolios through positions like digital marketer, copywriter, photographer and graphic designer.

Art Director Certificates and Courses

Art Director Career Path

After completing a four-year degree, professionals usually work at least five years before rising to the level of art director. Relevant roles vary based on the industry, but examples of entry-level positions include graphic designer, photographer and digital marketer. During their early careers, professionals may want to pursue leadership opportunities as well. For example, one could start out as a graphic designer before taking on more responsibilities as a senior graphic designer. Art, design and leadership experiences all contribute to an art director’s portfolio.

 

Art Director Salary and Job Outlook

Positioned at the intersection of art and technology, art directors will be major contributors for the next decade. The profession is expected to grow 4 percent from 2021 to 2031, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. An increase in jobs means higher demand and salaries for these skilled creatives.

The full compensation package for an art director depends on a variety of factors, including but not limited to the candidate’s experience and geographic location. See below for detailed information on the average art director salary.