Today, many people have been struggling hard to get a well-paid job while also experiencing the joys of job satisfaction. However, if you are looking for one and are interested in the creative fields in particular, you should definitely consider becoming an art director.
Sincerely speaking, the steps towards becoming an art director is not without ease. In fact, it is highly challenging because this career is one that is incredibly competitive. Nonetheless, once you have successfully found yourself to be in that position, it is known to be one of the highest quality jobs to have.
While the position leads to a well-paid status and is well-respected by many professionals in general, being an art director also involves a lot of fun. For these reasons, many creatives desire to become an art director.
What is an art director?
The art director of a company is someone who serves as a link between the client or a team of executives and creative talents. Often times, they work for creative industries such as a digital, media, or advertising agencies. Their main job is to consult with clients and strategize with other designers to visually execute the most important brand messages through media and art.
The tasks of an art director is one that is exciting, fast-paced, and diverse. This is because it involves a variety of responsibilities such as creative strategy, graphic design, project and people management. Art directors foresee and manage all the creative phases of a project. For example, they may have to review and approve designs, photographs or any other artwork developed by the team.
Therefore, to reach success in art direction, you should be the type of person who is skillful in design, highly creative, while also being forward-thinking. As you will be working along with many other creatives to deliver the best outcomes for your clients, you should also be someone who is able to work collaboratively with others.
In order to come up with unique and ground-breaking concepts for your project, you are going to need the right experiences and visual skills that are vital for the creative. Some useful educational or job experiences may include those related to the areas of graphic design, fine arts, or photography.
To get a better picture of what it means to be an art director, feel free to explore the works of some big names like Stormy Daniels, Mette Lindberg, and Karl Lagerfeld. These are some of the best art directors there are in the industry.
What does an art director do?
Essentially, becoming an art director involves the responsibilities of content creation, marketing, and digital advertising. These are the factors that make the job so lucrative at both the intermediate and expert level.
An art director is expected to be in charge of all the creative and management aspects of a project. They work closely with the product and marketing teams to best execute visual concepts for advertising firms, magazines, films, or any other specialized creative agencies.
Experts in the industry have emphasized on the importance of being able to manage the styles and creative direction of a project. This includes making sure that all of the designs meet the standard requirements but also that they are successfully received by end users. Some of these projects include, for example, creating the best designs and campaigns for films and advertisements.
Art directors in different fields have specific tasks that they are responsible for. In the publishing industry, art directors are expected to be fully involved with graphic design whereas in the advertising industry, they are expected to work alongside copywriters and editors.
Yet, typically, art directors who work at agencies spend long hours in studios and are always scouting and visiting shooting locations. They meet up with their prospective clients to present the ideas and get feedback. They’re constantly searching for inspiration and are finding ways to do things differently so that their work stands out and are positively received by audiences.
What makes a good art director?
A good art director should have obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Arts. This includes graphic design, fine arts, fashion, or photography. Although it may not always be mandatory, having a degree will definitely increase the potential of landing a job. It will come to your advantage when it comes to career development.
In case you are not really interested in having a specific degree in the fields mentioned, then you should at least make efforts to possess the necessary design skills. This can be through personal experience or extra courses that you can take outside of university.
Graphic design skills are fundamental to becoming an art director in any industry. Therefore, it would be best to have mastered technical skills in programs like Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop as you will have to be able to create graphics and edit images. Knowledge and understanding of these softwares will also help you review and manage other creatives’ work as well.
Due to the competitiveness of today’s design industry, these technical skills will become extremely handy. All these software will enable art directors to deliver work that are best-suited for modern businesses. As many are turning towards digital design, having excelled in these skills will allow art directors to better meet the current needs of their clients.
Many art directors know how to draw, but not just digitally. In fact, it’s often encouraged for digital artists to start on paper, as it helps them learn important techniques that translate to a digital landscape. They can also use these skills to sell paintings on sites like Singulart.
Enroll in an Undergraduate Art Program
It is very easy to get a good job in this industry once you possess a Bachelor’s degree in either fashion, graphic design, photography, or fine arts. During the program, it is essential that you register for courses that teach the skills necessary to become a creative art director. For example, you may need to enroll in classes dedicated to technical drawing, color theory, digitalization, graphic design, or even media studies.
You can further your education and learn more about specific skills in case there is a particular field you want to get into. This will all be different for those who want to get into film, advertising, or industrial design for instance.
Advanced learning would serve as a great addition to your degree as an art director. This can increase your chances of getting a high paying job as it will help you stand out from other candidates who don’t have specialized skills.
Learn from Other Art Directors
To become the best at what you do, sometimes it is also a good idea to learn from the successes and mistakes of past art directors. You should take the time to watch and closely analyze recent works of famous art directors while also taking good notes on the pros and cons of such projects.
Once you have noted the ones you like, you can then do more research to find out more about the art director and his or her work. This act will allow you to know more about the skills and ideas behind their projects which can serve as great inspiration.
Another great way to do is to do your research on the audience reception of recent branding campaigns. For those that have been positively received, you should definitely find out the techniques that worked well for them. For those that haven’t been well-received, you can always use it as a learning lesson for your future projects.
Develop the Skills Needed in Art Direction
As art directors are known to be in charge of various management tasks, you should get yourself used to working with diverse groups of people. So one needs to be well-organized and open to varying opinions when managing people. In regards to resources, it would also be helpful to be great at budgeting. Therefore, taking courses that are related to the financial aspects of creative industries could be valuable.
To become a creative art director, you also need the first-hand experience in the industry after acquiring basic training and skills. This experience can be achieved by applying for internships or entry-level jobs. For example, you can apply or a junior role in the creative department or if possible, become an assistant to an art director of an agency.
This position will give you the opportunity to gain practical experience and know exactly how your career will play out as an art director. You need to take the right steps to one but at the same time, you also need to remember to take them one at a time.
Do not try to rush or jump into anything. You need to gain many experiences in the industry and this will take time. With that being, be patient and try to gather as much experience as you can get whether at an agency or within your own personal projects.
While working at entry-level positions, try to use the skills acquired from your degree. This way, right from the start, you would be able to prove yourself as a potential art director in the industry.
Development of Other Essential Skills
Becoming an art director involves obtaining other skills outside of the artistic fields that will help you create the highest quality of work. This is a major goal that many experts in the field of art direction try to aim for.
A crucial professional skill that an art director should have is good time-management skills. In a demanding job like this, you need to be able to deliver what the clients want within the given time frame set. Your job is to be able to meet the deadlines of several projects that you’re working on without sacrificing their quality. Time management skills are needed in any given career and will help boost your way to becoming one of the most credible art directors.
As an art director, you also need to know how to be resourceful. You have to be able to source out all the material you need for your project while also making you that you do not exceed the budget given to you by your clients. Your clients needs will always be a priority and you should follow their requirements as closely as possible.
Lastly, an art director should be able to communicate effectively with his team members, which can include graphic designers, photographers, and copywriters. They also need to be able to deal with constructive criticism or any other types of negative feedback from clients. The ability to communicate clearly will definitely result in creative and excellent designs that meets and fulfills the clients’ needs.
Experience in the Industry
It is not enough to acquire graphic design skills or get a degree in art direction to become an art director. But one must also develop the competence by engaging oneself within the creative industry. This will help you gain the experiences that will eventually become valuable in your career.
A great tip would be to work on personal projects during or after your degree as you may present this as part of your resume when applying for a job. It will show that you have taken the initiative to create your own artwork, while also allowing other experts in the industry to get a glimpse of the kind of artist you are. Another idea is to start an internship by assisting art directors with their projects.
Becoming a Team Player in the Industry
The concepts of an art director are brought to life by teams of other creatives. Without the support of graphic designers, editors, photographers, and copywriters, a project will not be complete.
For this reason, an art director should see him or herself as a player in a team working towards a common goal rather than a leader. While they should definitely possess some leadership skills in them, they also need to be able to work cooperatively with others. They need to take their team members’ ideas into consideration.
After all, the execution of a project is never a one man show. It involves the hard work and diligence of many others, and all these efforts need to be recognized and appreciated by art directors.
Have an attractive Portfolio
Fill your portfolio with the experiences you have acquired so far in the industry. It should include images of previous work that you have created to attract prospective recruiters. It is also a must that you list down all graphic design and software skills that you are competent in. This can help you land a highly competitive job.
This portfolio can be an online portfolio or a physical one. Just present it in an attractive form that showcases your level of creativity but also the artistic skills you have gained so far from your years as a college student or any other extra courses you’ve taken.
Once you have done this, you should be making efforts to network with experts in the industry. Show them the skills and experience you have so far, and don’t forget to reveal who you really are. Who are you, what makes you great, and what do you have to offer them that they can’t find in any other candidate? Prove yourself as a potential or competent art director. Even without the best of skills, you can always mention your proactiveness and willingness to learn and take on challenges.
One of the best ways to create your portfolio is to create visual work on personal social media accounts, blogs, or websites. Upload the photographs you’ve taken, artworks you’ve created, and document the projects you have had a role in. Rather than only speaking of skills, you should also be able to show your recruiters what you have created so far.
Be Involved in the Local or National Union of Art Directors
It is common for executive members of the industry to recruit art directors based on their participation in union activities. Therefore, if this is something for you, you should consider getting yourself involved with one of the unions. This might be a local union or national union. It is all up to you.
Participation in union activities will help get you one of the best jobs in the industry. It will also speed up the time it takes to become a high-ranking art director, which will therefore result in a successful career. Before applying to job positions that seek union members, always remember to update your portfolio so that you are well-prepared to present them.
Although the steps how to become an art director may already seem clear to many who have been looking into the job, most people may wonder how long does it take to become one? There is no definite answer to the question as it can vary depending on the specific fields you aim to get into.
However, it is always worth to start early rather than later as you will need to acquire the necessary skills before you can kickstart your career journey. This includes being highly competent in design, creativity, and management. One should study, understand, and follow the tips mentioned in order to pave the way for a successful career in art direction.
Besides having grown up in the design Industry, Christiaan has advised some of the world’s largest companies on their branding & packaging designs. Has been the resident judge for design awards, and has spoken at numerous global design & marketing events. Christiaan founded the London office of the award-winning Cartils agency, and has founded the DesignBro.com platform.