How to become an art director


An art director supervises the art, photographs, graphics, and drawing images that appear in newspapers, magazines, ad campaigns, and cover books. The art director is generally the person who supervises the entire design department, working with photo editors and editors to coordinate how images match the copy.

More than simply assigning a photographer or illustrator to create an image, the visual concept is actually created by an art director. For example, an art director would work at a magazine to create the specific look and feel of the magazine as a whole—ensuring the visuals have a unified look throughout. If you’ve ever noticed that some magazines are using certain layouts and image types, you’re looking at the art director’s work.

What art directors do?

“The art director’s role could be compared to a chef’s, fusing ingredients together to create a menu of delicious dishes,” he explains. “All designers inject into their work their individual personalities, tastes and style. Identifying and understanding the different flavors each member brings to the team is the role of the art director, and then carefully infuse them to complement each other.”

An art director’s role is not limited to considering the visual side of things – they must be able to guide an audience through the information presented to them, using words and images, and through the layout and typography, creating structure and emphasis. “An art director must appreciate both written and visual content, taking on a storyteller’s role,” Fenton comments. “You have to be a mediator between writers and designers who understand and work closely with both disciplines.”

“Art director, at least for us at Robot Food, is less of a role and more of a skillset that we foster throughout our creative team,” Brears says. “We believe in great ideas and bold opinions, and from all over the studio we encourage them.”

He could design with the team on a day-to-day basis, provide feedback on various jobs, attend meetings to define the direction of a wider creative strategy for a client. Or with a tricky bit of Photoshopping or teaching an Illustrator shortcut, he might be helping the team. But, Brears points out, for a typical art director, this does not necessarily correspond to a job description.

“Because of a title, how much of it is because it just ‘ feels ‘ like the right thing to do? Would this title mean a damn thing with a different philosophy in another agency?” he says.

As we mentioned earlier, studios are increasingly developing in such a way that the distinction between what different creatives are doing is less clear. “The traditional team structure has evolved in many companies into paired creative polymaths,” Theolin comments. “Ask any creative team working today, and you’ll see they share a lot of their work tasks. Scamp copywriters, art directors write, including contributions to blogs, books, and magazines, but does that make them an art director any less?”

Art Director’s education and training

Most of them require at least a bachelor’s degree in design or graphic arts due to the competition for art director positions. A concentration or minor in that subject is recommended for those planning to go into advertising.

There is a need for a variety of work samples with versatility, and most art directors spend some time in junior positions (such as designer or assistant art director) to gain related experience. Usually ad agencies ask for at least three years of experience.

How much an art director make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the art director will make $ 92,500 a year as of May 2017, and the job outlook is expected to increase by 5 percent between 2016 and 2026. In India, The average pay for an Art Director is Rs 609,555 per year.

Tips to be an art director:

1) It’s all about working together

A large part of an art director’s job is to know how and when to use the talents of different team members.

“No person is an island; design and studio life are rarely a solitary endeavour. We’re all products and producers of our environments,” says Brears. It’s a wonderful skill set to have to be able to create a beautiful illustration or piece of typography yourself, but likewise to have the foresight to recognize when it’s not the strength of you or your team and then commission the right person for the job. The journey is as important as the destination and it is crucial to be able to communicate what is going on along the way, the why s and the pit stops.

That means you need to be clear about the role you played in each project when you put together your portfolio or application for the role. It’s not everything about you.

2) Set up an effective portfolio

As with any creative role, making sure your portfolio is up to scratch is your first stop. “Show a good design portfolio of work that represents the style of art direction you employ and want to strive for,” says Ed Robinson, founder of OneRedEye.

3) Do not concentrate on hierarchy

While you’re managing people, it’s not about throwing your weight around the job of art director. “Someone who sees themselves as the design top dog will inevitably be heading for a embarrassing fall,” explains Fenton. In those around you, you must be able to recognize the talent … An art director who sees himself in a position of hierarchical authority is simply a glorified manager.

4) Be sure to receive feedback

You will need to be confident in giving feedback, both internally and outside of your studio, to be the best art director you can be. “Internally, a piece of cake is feedback and criticism. At Robot Food, there are no egos here. We don’t care if feedback comes from an intern or an account manager – it’s valid if it helps make the job better,” Brears says.

5) Gain work knowledge

You’ll have a role to play in shaping project direction and pushing the creative in new directions, so you’ll need to be aware of industry developments and trends and work hard to keep things fresh. Maintain the momentum and don’t get stuck in a bubble. One of the benefits of this industry is creative exploration, so get out there and do different things differently.

Also read: Complete Guide – How to become a painter

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