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Whether it’s the packaging for a shiny new product that you’ve just bought, the cover of the book you’re currently reading, or the incredible background in your favorite film, you’ve likely seen the work of art directors thousands of times before. But what does it take to be an art director? In this post, we’ll give you a quick overview of what the art director job requirements are in different creative industries, along with details on how you can become an art director yourself.
Whether they’re working in TV or film, magazine or newspaper production, or product design, the art director is responsible for putting together the overall visual style and design. While there may be a large group of people working on a project—from graphic designers or set builders to photographers and writers—the art director oversees all of these team members to ensure that every individual piece created works together for the final product.
The art director must translate moods, messages, and concepts into imagery that appeals to the project’s target audience, no matter what medium this is in. They’ll work with the creative team to brainstorm various ways that they can do this, step in to unify inconsistent approaches or ideas when necessary, and ultimately find the best path to translate the client’s wants and needs onto the paper, screen, or stage.
Rather than diving into the day-to-day creative work themselves, the art director’s job is to coordinate the efforts of each separate creative team to complete the final project. They make sure that everything is running smoothly and is abiding by the creative brief—including the budget and timeline. Like an executive chef in a top kitchen, the art director is typically the final set of eyes before designs are presented to a client or sent for publication.
When you’re looking at art director job descriptions, you’ll probably see many of the following tasks:
- Work with clients directly to understand their goals and needs
- Determine the overall feel and style of the project
- Develop budgets and timelines with clients
- Decide which photographs, art, or visual elements to use
- Supervise other creative staff
- Review and approve designs, graphics, or other visuals
- Present clients with ideas for approval or revision
You might be wondering how the role of the creative director is different from the art director’s job. In the creative team hierarchy, the creative director is usually at the very top and has the final say on the work that goes to the client. The creative director will usually be more involved in the early stages of a project before handing it over to the art director.
From there, the art director is the detail-oriented supervisor. Once the creative director has laid out the overall concept, the art director will then break this down into an aesthetic or style and work with the creative team to make it happen.
Where the creative director is often the big picture thinker on the team, the art director takes more of a hands-on role in supervising the individual elements of the project through the production and edit stages so that everything comes together for the client.
There are several different paths that you can take when you’re thinking about how to be an art director. You might earn a degree in art. Or, you could work your way up the professional creative ladder without formal training and use a standout portfolio to build your career.
For most art director jobs, a degree in art is often a minimum requirement, especially if you have limited experience working in a creative field. Art degrees come in all shapes and sizes, though, so you can find something that fits with your interest and skills.
Advertising, fine arts, and graphic design are all excellent focus areas for budding art directors and will give you a good foundation to continue building the much-needed skills for this kind of work. Art management degrees can also be helpful if you’re interested in the business side of the creative industry. This type of degree can serve you well later in your art directing career when you’re tasked with managing budgets and schedules.
Although you may see a heavy focus on formal art director education requirements in many job descriptions, a degree in art isn’t the only way to find an art director job. For most creatives, actually doing the job and working in the field is the best way to gain valuable professional experience that can’t be found in an art degree program.
Internships or entry-level jobs in your chosen area of artistic industry (like movie production or book publishing) will give you plenty of real-life projects to start building your portfolio. They’ll help you to find the unique style that you want to be known for and give you hands-on work experience that you can use to work toward promotions and, eventually, the art director job of your dreams.
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The average art director salary in the US is $79,416, but can reach over $150,000 depending on your location and the type of creative industry that you work in.
For freelance art directors, the earning potential is limitless and can reach well into the six figures if you have an impressive resume and portfolio to back you up. This is especially true in industries that typically work with a staff of freelancers and independent contractors, like advertising and entertainment.
Art directing is a creative field, which means there is no shortage of directions you could take this career. Let’s take a look at a few of the industries that art directors commonly work in.
For some art directors, online jobs are ideal. Even before COVID-19 took many creative roles out of the office and onto the web, companies all over the world were hiring remote art directors to help with their advertising campaigns, magazine layouts, and product packaging designs.
These days, remote creative positions are just as lucrative career moves as in-person roles and are the perfect choice for those who don’t want to live in big cities, have lengthy commutes, or simply love to work from the comfort of their own home.
Print Media and Magazines
Print media is still an incredibly important part of our world, and for art directors, magazines and newspapers are an excellent choice when it comes to creative industries to work in. In a print setting, the art director will be responsible for the overall layout of the newspaper or magazine.
The art director will decide how photographs and graphics will fit around the text, collaborating with both the design and copywriting teams. They’ll often be in charge of deciding the cover art or photograph, in collaboration with the creative director.
For studio TV shows, the art director works closely with the production designer to take the creative vision from concept to reality. They will typically make models or sketches of set plans and oversee the set construction from beginning to end. For on-location shoots, they’ll work together with the producer and director to style what they can.
Even once the set is ready for shooting, the art director will ensure that the set is dressed correctly with the appropriate props. They’ll stay in the studio throughout the shoot for any edits needed to the sets or props, either from their knowledge working with the production design team or from any changes that the director makes.
Art Directors in Movies and Production Design
Like in TV, film and movie art directors work with a production designer to bring sets to life. During pre-production, the art director is the go-between for the production team and the construction crew, making sure that the overall concepts are completed correctly. Once principal photography begins, they work as the coordinator between all the visual departments, from costumes to locations.
The AD will often work closely with a production designer on special effects that are impacted by the set or will need to be accounted for in shooting, like fake weather or pyrotechnics.
A product packaging art director plays a crucial role in ensuring that a brand’s visual identity is present in every product that hits the shelves. They’ll usually work closely with a company’s marketing and branding team to ensure that every visual element, from fonts to colors, are consistent on all new and existing product packaging designs.
Not only does the packaging need to be recognizable as belonging to that brand, it also needs to appeal to customers so that they pick it up off the shelves and buy the product. These days, art directors in this industry must also be experts in safe and cost-effective packaging, as well as environmentally-friendly or sustainable options that work for both the company and the consumer.
Start Your Journey to Becoming an Art Director
Now that you have a good idea of what the job looks like, you can make better decisions about whether this is the career path for you.
Still not sure? Take a look at a few Skillshare classes all about art direction to learn more about working in this creative field.
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