Pursing a Career as an Art Director

working as an art director

Art Directors manage many different types of artistic projects

Creative art directors typically lead teams and manage projects dealing with visual communications media. Product packaging, advertising, marketing, publishing, print, film, television, web design, and video games, are all areas that typically have art directors responsible for helping things run efficiently and assuring quality products. 

Art directors are in charge of managing teams responsible for the creative content of their company. Each industry has different requirements and expectations, but all will require leadership skills and creative insight from their art directors.

Requirements and Qualifications

Art directors typically need to have at least a bachelor’s degree as an art or design major and previous work experience. Usually art directors first start out as graphic designers, photographers, animators, copywriters, illustrators, or another entry-level design job.

Bachelor's Degree
1 to 5 years
Find Related CareersSOURCE: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

When Creative Bloq interviewed James Fenton, designer and art director in the UK, he said, “To begin to understand what is expected of an art director, it’s first worth considering the term as both a role within a team, as well as a creative discipline in itself.” Art directors must be able to work as part of a team before they manage one.

Fenton compares an art director’s job to that of a master chef:

“The role of the art director could be compared to that of a chef, fusing together ingredients to produce a menu of delightful dishes. All designers inject their individual personalities, tastes and style into their work. Even working within the constraints of brand guidelines, there is plenty of room for creativity and originality. It is the art director’s role to identify and understand the different flavours each member brings to the team, an then carefully infuse them to compliment one another and ultimately creating an exciting and balanced sensory experience.”

General Salary

In 2011 the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported 31,570 art directors in the US with an average salary of $94,260.

The BLS notes highest average salaries were reported in the following industries:

  • Apparel, Piece Goods, and Notions Merchant Wholesalers $153,480
  • Furniture and Home Furnishing Merchant Wholesalers $135,650
  • Paper and Paper Product Merchant Wholesalers $127,620
  • Motion Picture and Video Industries $123,260

Employment Rates and Projections

The industry with the highest level of employment for art director was “Advertising, Public Relations, and Related Services” with 11,110 art directors employed in 2011 (BLS).

Art director positions are projected to grow at a slow rate (9 percent) over the next several years. The BLS notes, “Art directors will continue to be needed to oversee the work of graphic designers, illustrators, photographers, and others who design in artwork or layouts.”

5 Steps to Becoming an Art Director

  1. Earn a B.A. degree in the design field you plan to work in, considering a supplemental minor in business, marketing, public relations, English, or a second design field to keep your options open and broaden your expertise.
  2. Gain Work Experience in a design position. Anywhere from one to five years in a similar field may be required to be considered for an art director position.
  3. Develop your portfolio with your best work—quality over quantity—don’t include mediocre work, as it will only take away from the really good stuff.
  4. Consider your resume. From joining local ad groups (like AAF), to working on extra pro-bono projects for nonprofit groups in the community, to entering ad competitions to receive awards, keep yourself busy with activities outside of your work that will land you the job of your dreams.
  5. Get noticed. Put a lot of thought into the resume, business card and other means by which you plan to get your name out to the companies that interest you. Remember, you want to be hired by these companies for your creative intuition—so show it off!

Sources: http://www.creativebloq.com/career/art-director-11121180, http://www.aaf.org/, http://mashable.com/2010/08/15/copywriters-art-directors-job-tips/, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/art-directors.htm, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes271011.htm,

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