How to become an art director: all you need to know

Updated 22 May 2023

The majority of businesses within the creative sector staff art directors. This role requires some subject-specific training in addition to more generalised skills and individuals who have worked as graphic designers, or in other creative positions, who want to further their careers, are also well suited to this position. Effective art directors are good leaders with great communication skills, who are also creatively talented. In this article, we describe what an art director's responsibilities are and explain how to become an art director.

How to become an art director

Use these steps to learn how to become an art director:

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

The vast majority of art director positions require you to have at least a bachelor's degree in a relevant field. There are various acceptable disciplines that you can study to gain the kinds of qualifications you need, such as degrees in marketing, graphic design and fine arts. You can also combine business management with artistic practices through artistic management degrees, which can be very useful for aspiring art directors.

2. Obtain relevant experience

Whether you're in education and working towards your bachelor's degree or following immediately on from it, you could consider working as an apprentice in the art field. If possible, you could seek an apprenticeship in the industry that you want to launch your career in, such as publishing or movie production. An apprenticeship enables you to get experience in the art field and equips you with work to put in your portfolio.

Related: What it takes to be an assistant art director: plus skills

3. Seek a full-time art position

Almost all positions as an art director require you to hold at least three to five years of experience in a lower-level position of a similar nature. These include the following positions; graphic designer, copywriter, photographer or other creative specialisms within your preferred industry. Because these positions allow you to develop your artistic skills and gain some relevant experience, they make for excellent preparatory roles for aspiring art directors.

4. Consider further education

Though not a necessity, most art directors also hold a master's degree in fine arts or a similar discipline. Obtaining a master's degree can further equip you for a position as an art director and ensure you have the required extensive knowledge base. Further education can also provide you with the valuable managerial abilities to help with managing a team of artists.

5. Request or apply for promotion

If you're already working at a company that has an art director role, you can focus on working your way up to this job once you have obtained the required level of expertise in your current position. If the position opens up within your company, make sure you ask for some information or submit an application even if you don't possess enough experience at the moment.

Displaying an interest demonstrates to your managers that you're ambitious and committed to rising through the ranks of the company. Furthermore, you can also apply for an art director role at another business or agency if the opportunity arises.

What does an art director do?

An art director is a person who manages and directs a team of creatives, such as designers and copywriters, within an organisation. Art directors usually oversee the overall design of a project and manage the individuals who work on various creative aspects of the project. Their goal is to inspire and guide their design team to help realise a creative vision, assigning people tasks based on their skills and helping people to fulfil their potential. An art director's primary focus is the style and aesthetic appeal of a project.

While a director's professional duties can vary greatly depending on the company and industry and the project, a few common tasks an art director may be responsible for include:

  • guiding and inspiring a team of creatives to complete a project

  • choosing the style and layout of marketing materials and visual messages

  • deciding on which photos, art and other creative features to use in an assignment

  • checking and signing off on designs, artwork and other elements of a task

  • formulating timelines and required budgets for creative assignments

  • training team members to create artwork for mediums such as email templates, logos and websites

  • working with merchandising and product teams to maintain a coherent, creative approach

  • pitching final designs to clients for approval

An art director may have experience working in several industries. Typical businesses that rely on the skills of art directors include advertising, publishing, motion picture and video production and specialised design service businesses.

Related: What does a creative director do?

Requirements for art directors

Normally, art directors hold at least a bachelor's degree — most of the time, this is an Arts or Fine Arts Degree. Other acceptable degrees that an aspiring art director might want to work towards include digital media, graphic design or visual communications. Some art directors may also choose to further their education by obtaining a Master's Degree in Business Administration or Fine Arts to advance their careers. An impressive portfolio is also essential for art directors to stand out from their competition, as this is the main way they show off their talent.

Skills for art directors

While being an art director requires a number of both soft and hard skills, here are a few of the most important skills that most successful art directors share:

Leadership skills

Being a director of any kind requires strong leadership skills. As an art director, you would be in charge of managing individuals who work on a project and working to complete the project in a timely manner. You would also be responsible for bringing the best out in your team and assigning them tasks based on their skills. Regardless of which industry you work in, it is a good idea to hone your leadership skills if you're considering pursuing a career as an art director.

Read More: Top 9 leadership skills to develop

Project management skills

Art directors oversee every aspect of various creative projects, including the production of movies, media and advertising. They are also tasked with getting the most out of staff and drawing out their potential. Being organised and able to handle multiple components of a project, including the timeline and budget, is key to being a successful art director.

Communication skills

A good art director is able to communicate with both their teams and their clients to successfully complete a project. This involves efficiently communicating timelines and expectations to team members so that they work efficiently. It is also important for them to understand and to interpret the desires of clients so you can bring their vision to life successfully.

Read More: How to improve your communication skills

Aesthetic judgment

As an art director, you would be in charge of creating and producing the overall aesthetics of a project. Whether you're implementing a new design for a client website or designing a video game, having strong aesthetic judgment is a primary skill needed by effective art directors. A background in fine arts or graphic design can help in this regard.

What does an art director's CV look like?

To make sure you're presenting yourself professionally and standing out from the crowd when you submit your CV and portfolio, here are some tips on what to include:

  • Contact information: Ensure that contact information is up-to-date and clearly visible, providing at least a phone number and email address.

  • Qualifications: Summarise your proudest achievements and tell the employer why you're qualified to fill the position, showcasing your most relevant experience.

  • Work experience: List a minimum of five years of previous work experience, giving the names of the companies, the duration of your employment, your duties while employed and your key achievements.

  • Education: Include your qualifications and the grades you achieved, the awarding organisations, the location of the organisations and the dates you received your certificates.

  • Key skills: Bullet point your key skills so that employers can see if you're suitable for the position even if they only glance over your CV. You can include both interpersonal skills and proficiencies, such as coding or team management.

  • Certifications: List any relevant certifications such as a Professional Certified Marketer (PCM) qualification.

  • Portfolio: Include either a link to your digital portfolio if you're submitting your CV electronically or include some hard copies of your work if you're submitting it by hand. Be sure to include your best work to complement your CV effectively.

Art director salary range

The average annual salary of an art director varies depending on your experience, location and how much work you do. Experienced, full-time art directors, particularly in the London area, can command the highest rates. Art directors in Leeds can expect to earn an average salary of £36,030 per year. London-based art directors earn an average salary of around £49,940 per year.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organisation‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌ ‌and‌ ‌location.‌


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