How to Become an Art Director

Art Director

Art directors create designs for various projects in the creative industries. They will generally conceptualise the design, and then oversee its creation by the design team. They may be employed by one company or work on a freelance basis.

An art director has a senior role in producing the images and layout of designs for television, adverts, films, video games, and other products. They will be in charge of creating the product, from its concept to execution, and will oversee the work of others in the design team. 

Art directors will generally focus on one specialism: such as advertising, creating the images used in films, graphic design, web design, or creating the packaging for video games. 

The duties of an art director can range greatly depending on their specialism, but they will typically include: 

  • Considering the concept and using their expertise to assess how to represent it visually. 
  • Deciding which artwork to use for the concept.
  • Considering the overall style of the campaign, theatre, television, or film set. 
  • Overseeing the work of design staff. 
  • Making budgets for art projects. 

As art directors work in a variety of industries, the type of work that they provide can vary.

  • In publishing roles, they will oversee the page layout and select the cover art.
  • In advertising and public relations roles, they will consider their desired message and ensure that it is properly represented in visual form.
  • In movie production roles, they will collaborate with directors for any artistic needs. 

Art directors are generally expected to have a degree in art or design subject, as well as extensive work experience in the arts industries. Art directors may have previously worked in illustration, photography, graphic design, or another arts vocation. 

Some candidates only have a foundation degree, but as the industry is becoming increasingly competitive, bachelor degrees are becoming more important. Some candidates even have masters in fields such as fine arts or business-related subjects. 

Typically, graduates will enter the field as a junior creative and will eventually work their way up to the art director role. Excelling in all previous jobs, taking supplementary courses, and having a real passion for the job can strengthen a candidate’s chance of achieving the role of an art director.

Prospective art directors should have a portfolio of their work. If they have not yet done any projects, they should create some mock-ups to demonstrate their skills.

The art director skillset is particular. Candidates must be creative and should be able to both visualise the project and inspire the design team, communicating their ideas effectively throughout the entire project. 

While they should have an artistic flair, the requirement for being able to draw is becoming less critical, as most designs are now computerised. Candidates should be experts with these drawing programmes.

Art directors need to be continually thinking of new ideas – they may find that they are always switched on, even when they are out of the office. They should also take criticism well, as their work will be naturally criticised throughout their career.

Many art directors are self-employed and work on a freelance basis. However, some are employed by businesses in the publishing or advertising sectors. 

Art directors should be able to work in a fast-paced environment, sometimes needing to meet strict deadlines. This can mean working in evenings and at weekends at particularly busy times. 

What degree is most commonly held by an Art Director?

  • Bachelor of Art, Graphic Design
  • Bachelor of Arts, Art History
  • Post Graduate of Architecture
  • Bachelor of Graphic Design
  • Bachelor of Interactive Communications
  • Bachelor of Marketing Communication
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts-BFA

Career Transportability across Countries

Transportability: Medium
Freelance art directors may apply for jobs all over the world; and if they have the relevant skillset, they could end up working in various countries over the course of their career. However, because their work is often on a freelance basis, they may not be able to relocate permanently abroad.

What is the Salary of an Art Director?

Experience Average salary | year
Junior Art Director 1-3 yrs $72,000 £35,000 $38,802
Art Director 3-5 yrs $89,089 £56,000 $52,625
Art Director 5-10 yrs $120,387 £59,200 $67,000

What skills are needed to become an Art Director?

  • Art Direction
  • Graphic Design
  • Adobe Creative Suite
  • Advertising
  • Typography
  • Creative Direction
  • Logo Design
  • Photoshop
  • InDesign
  • Illustrator
  • Illustration
  • Photography
  • Web Design
  • Brand Development
  • Social Media
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Graphics
  • Branding & Identity
  • Concept Development
  • Corporate Identity
  • Creative Strategy
  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Art
  • Layout
  • Visual Communication

Art Director Courses

Becoming an art director takes a lot of experience and knowledge, so it is an excellent idea to take some relevant supplementary courses to strengthen a candidate’s application. At FutureLearn, we have plenty of art and design courses to help candidates take steps to become an art director.

  • Introduction to User Experience Principles and Processes

    Get to grips with the UX design process and kickstart a career in UX with the University of Michigans introductory UX course

  • Introduction to Conversational Interfaces

    Learn how and why conversational interfaces have developed and the ways in which this exciting new technology is evolving

  • Video Game Design and Development: Introduction to Game Programming

    Discover the essentials of video game programming and learn how you can start your own programming career

  • Pop Art

    Discover a new side to the colourful history of Pop Art alongside experts at the world-famous Centre Pompidou

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