How to Become an Art Director

Art director working in at home office

If you are a creative person who loves visual design and leading others, you might consider pursuing a career as an art director. This career path takes passion, motivation and hard work, but it is also rewarding for artistic professionals.

An art director is responsible for managing a team of designers to execute the overall design and vision for advertising campaigns, live performances, streams or broadcast projects. These professionals develop the main design and visual concepts and take ownership of the project from start to finish.

This role is a senior-level position that usually requires a relevant arts degree as well as considerable design experience. If you would like to become an art director someday, here is what you need to know about the field.

What Does an Art Director Do?

Art directors are responsible for the visual elements of a project. These projects can include a range of media and platforms, such as advertising, newspapers and video.

The specific job responsibilities can vary depending on the industry, but in general, art directors may do any of the following:

  • Meet with clients to develop an understanding of their needs and style preferences
  • Understand how to use elements of visual communication—such as visual effects—in design marketing and bring them to production in projects
  • Develop the look and style of the project, and determine which design elements are needed
  • Figure out how to represent concepts through visual images such as digital drawings
  • Coordinate artistic activities and supervise a team of designers, including graphic designers or set designers
  • Work with your team to meet the goals outlined in creative briefs

Art directors may also be responsible for presenting projects to clients and executing revision requests.

Where Do Art Directors Work?

Art directors work in a variety of settings. Some art designers work on TV, movie and documentary productions, and many more are self-employed individuals who run their own design agencies. Others work for design service firms, newspaper and magazine publishing companies, advertising firms and the motion picture industry.

Depending on what your interests are, you may wish to gain experience and pursue a career as an art director in one of these specific fields. In each industry, art directors’ responsibilities may differ somewhat. For example, if you become an art director in the motion picture industry, it is unlikely that you will have to work with magazine layout.

Becoming an Art Director

If a career as an art director appeals to you, it is important for you to understand what it takes to be successful in this executive-level position. To begin with, you will likely need a degree in graphic design or the arts.

For more details about becoming an art director, dive into these important steps and helpful tips:

1. Earn the Right Degree

As with any senior-level position, earning a degree will help you achieve success as an art director. Unlike law or medicine, however, there is no single, specific degree required for those who aspire to be an art director. However, most art directors get their start by earning a Bachelor of Arts in Advertising and Graphic Design, which is an ideal degree for those who want to focus on graphic design for publications and websites. 

Alternatively, if you would like to become an art director in the motion picture industry, you might earn a degree in digital film production.

Whichever path you choose, you should take advantage of all available opportunities to build your skills and develop a professional portfolio while in school. Give your best effort in every assigned project and learn from your professors and peers.

2. Cultivate Qualities of a Good Art Director

As you work toward earning the degree that will help you become an art director, you should actively work on cultivating the key characteristics of successful professionals.

As the job title suggests, leadership skills are essential for any art director. Art directors are responsible for managing teams of designers that are often composed of people with diverse personalities, backgrounds and cultural values. Being able to develop a rapport with everyone on your team is just as important as understanding how to direct, motivate and inspire others. One way to build these skills while in school is to start your own study group with classmates or to assume a leadership position in a campus club.

Other important characteristics for aspiring art directors include the following:

  • Communication skills: Good communication involves more than one’s speaking and writing abilities. It is also essential to understand how to actively listen to others; this includes interpreting body language and other non-verbal cues. Art directors need to be good communicators in order to take their clients’ wishes and transmit them to their team in the form of assignments.
  • Creativity: Creativity is often thought of as a natural talent. However, it can be cultivated just like any other skill. If you often practice creative thinking, you will find that it becomes easier to develop creative design concepts. Art directors may also have to come up with creative solutions to problems that arise within their projects.
  • Time management: Time management is important for all types of students and professionals, but it is particularly critical for those who aspire to leadership positions. You will need to know how to manage not only your own schedule, but also those of your team members. This is especially true when important deadlines are approaching, as an art director must be able to work under pressure and deliver quality work.

3. Gain Art Director Experience: Landing Your First Design Job

Even if you wish to establish your own design agency, you should plan on spending at least a few years working or interning for someone else’s agency, company or organization. The position of art director requires experience. For example, some art directors initially work as graphic designers or in digital media to develop their design skills.

If you prefer to work in entertainment, you might start your career with an entry-level position in the motion picture industry. For example, you might become a producer’s or director’s assistant.

4. Learn the Importance of a Portfolio

A portfolio is extremely important for any professional in the design field. A portfolio showcases your visual style and work in a way that allows employers and clients to see your skills and experience. Throughout your time in college, as well as in entry-level jobs and internships, you should put together a solid sample of your work to present when applying for positions such as art director.

Because many art directors have years of experience under their belt, portfolios help differentiate those who would do well in such a position. Remember to keep updating your portfolio as your work progresses.

Enhance Your Career Qualifications With a Graduate Degree

Not all employers require their art directors to hold a graduate degree. However, after you’ve gained a few years of experience, you may decide to go back to school for your master’s degree. Even if it’s not a mandatory requirement, a master’s degree will enhance your career qualifications, helping you climb the corporate ladder and confidently compete for top jobs. There are two primary options for earning a graduate degree: a Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in areas such as graphic design or visual design.

If you overflow with passion and creativity, you will feel right at home in Grand Canyon University’s College of Arts and Media. Students learn what it takes to succeed in their field and how to push themselves to the highest level. Click on Request Info at the top of your screen to explore the Bachelor of Arts in Advertising and Graphic Design degree program or the Bachelor of Arts in Digital Film with an Emphasis in Production program.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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