What Is a Design Director? How to Become One, Salary, Skills.
Design directors lead strategies for product designs and ensure creative teams execute their ideas. Here’s what to know about a design director’s salary, needed skills and how to become one.
What Is a Design Director?
Design directors oversee all the design details of physical and digital products. They lead the design process and articulate their visions to creative teams.
What Do Design Directors Do?
Design directors translate creative briefs or ideas into pleasing and accessible designs for physical and digital products, ensuring creative teams follow design guidelines.
Design Director Responsibilities
- Understand client needs and artistic concepts developed by creative directors.
- Develop design strategies for physical and digital products.
- Align clients, creative teams and other stakeholders behind product design vision.
- Lead teams of graphic designers, copywriters and other creative personnel.
- Ensure high-quality products are crafted on time and within budget.
Day-to-Day Responsibilities of a Design Director
- Meet with clients to determine their goals and ideas for certain projects.
- Share ideas with clients and creative teams, employing storyboards, mockups and other elements for visualizing concepts.
- Meet with creative director, art director and other upper-level creative personnel to align on visions for projects.
- Approve artwork and design decisions by graphic designers, copywriters and other creative team members.
- Reassess timelines and budget limits, making adjustments when needed.
Design Directors Within a Company
Design directors are one of the highest-ranking members of the creative department within a company. They often assemble and lead teams that can consist of an art director, product designers, graphic designers, copywriters and other personnel. Design directors may report to the creative director or the chief creative officer.
Importance of Design Directors
Design directors transform creative visions into engaging, easy-to-use physical and digital products. Without their leadership and technical expertise, creative teams would fail to organize artistic ideas into tangible products designed to cater to target audiences. Teams would also lack the accountability needed to finish product designs on time and within budget.
What Skills Are Needed to Be a Design Director?
Qualifications to Be a Design Director
- Background in graphic design, UX design, marketing or a related field.
- Experienced in leading a product from concept to final release.
- Familiar with guidelines for accessible and ethical design.
- Understanding of typography, color and other visual elements.
- Ability to multitask and manage many projects at once.
Design Director Prerequisites
- Bachelor’s degree in graphic design, fine arts, marketing, fashion or a related field.
- At least five years of professional experience.
- Previous success in a managerial position.
Design Director Hard Skills
- In-depth knowledge of graphic design and product development.
- Skilled in designing storyboards, mockups and other visualizations.
- Understanding of accessible UI and UX design principles.
- Familiarity with common design tools and software.
- Project management skills, such as budgeting and developing timelines.
Design Director Soft Skills
- Collaborative mentality for interacting with clients and creative personnel.
- Strong leadership for guiding the direction of creative teams.
- Creativing thinking skills for translating abstract concepts into usable products.
- Thoughtful mindset for creating user-centered designs.
- Excellent listening skills for prioritizing the preferences of clients and higher-level creative leaders.
Tools and Programs Design Directors Use
- Graphic design tools like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.
- UX design tools like Sketch, Figma and Trello.
- Design collaboration tools like InVision, Webflow and Miro.
- Prototyping tools like Adobe XD, Mockplus and Origami Studio.
How to Become a Design Director
Design Director Education and Experience
Many design directors first complete their bachelor’s in fine arts, graphic design, marketing or a related field before starting in an entry-level role, such as graphic designer. They can then work their way up to a senior designer position before moving on to an art director role or directly into a design director role. It typically takes at least five years for professionals to navigate this journey to the design director position.
Design Director Certificates and Courses
- UI design courses to increase knowledge of user-product interactions.
- UX design courses to further enhance design background.
- Design thinking courses to strengthen user-centric design mentality.
- Creative certificates from groups like the Professional Association for Design.
- Graphic design courses to build foundational design skills.
Design Director Career Path
Design directors generally perform well in their positions for at least two years before being promoted to a creative director role. After serving in this position for several years, professionals can then set their sights on the c-suite and pursue a chief creative officer role.
Design Director Salary and Job Outlook
The future for design directors is trending in the right direction since the similar role of art director is expected to see a 4 percent increase in the number of jobs between 2021 and 2031.
The full compensation package for a design 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 design director salary.