What does a design director do?
Design directors are responsible for developing visual and design strategies for new brands, product marketing campaigns, web design and graphics and other projects, often while working as part of an agency. Design directors report to the chief creative officer and work in tandem with creative directors, focusing on creating the design foundation at the beginning of projects and assigning responsibilities to team members. To deliver successful projects, design directors combine design thinking with technical knowledge and client needs to craft visuals that fulfill the scope of the project while remaining on time and within budget.
Due to the seniority of the position, design directors must possess a strong educational background with at least 10 years of relevant work experience.
Reaching the upper echelons of the creative and design department first requires a four-year bachelor’s degree in fine arts, graphic design, marketing, communications or another related field. Some design director roles may require a master’s degree in fine arts or a similar field as well. A strong educational background will allow students to cultivate an in-depth understanding of web design principles, advanced software, visual techniques and other skills needed throughout the design career path.
Amongst the first jobs design directors typically land after graduation include junior designer, graphic designer, UX designer or similar roles. Gaining entry-level experience will allow a designer to become an art director, either through promotion or by switching companies, which is a necessary experience for becoming a design director. After a number of years in this position and by developing a broad portfolio, one may feel qualified enough to begin applying for design director roles.
As a senior leader in the creative department, design directors earn an average base salary of $147,733.
A design director role is demanding and requires professionals to manage both their own responsibilities and those of their entire team. Accordingly, design directors in the U.S. earn an average base salary of $147,733, per Built In. However, the total compensation expands to $170,015 after factoring in an average additional cash compensation of $22,282. Design directors can also make as much as $275K, depending on their experience, performance level and the companies they work for. Built In collects salary data from responses submitted by anonymous design directors in the United States, with salary figures updated in real time.
The ideal design director will have a mastery of design elements and the ability to manage the responsibilities of an entire design department.
It’s crucial that design directors have a comprehensive grasp of all design elements and principles, such as emotion-focused design and product-driven design. Those who thrive in this role have knowledge of visual elements, digital design best practices, design tools and photography. Because this role is immersed in technology, design directors should also keep up with the latest design trends and software used to craft cutting-edge products.
The design director position emphasizes independence and creativity at times, but design directors must be able to promote a collaborative mentality to keep projects on schedule and encourage their teams to produce exceptional work. Being in charge of deadlines, budgets and project results, design directors must work cross-departmentally with sales and marketing teams to set clear project expectations. Design directors must also work alongside creative directors to keep projects aligned and report results to higher creative executives, such as the CCO. Relationship building is a major part of a design director’s day, so qualified applicants must develop a broad skill set with exceptional communication skills.