What Does an Art Director Do? (With Steps to Become One)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated June 16, 2022

Published January 3, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you're creative and enjoy working with and motivating a team, becoming an art director may be a good career choice for you. Art directors lead creative teams and are responsible for making the final decisions on many projects. Learning more about this role can help you determine if it's the best option for you. In this article, we answer the question, "What does an art director do?", explain how to become an art director, discuss their average salary and working conditions, and answer any frequently asked questions you may have about the position.

Related: 11 Jobs in the Arts (With Salary Information)

What does an art director do?

If you're interested in an art career, you may wonder "What does an art director do?" An art director is a professional who handles the images and visual style of a project. Here are some of their most notable roles and responsibilities:

Role

They supervise the creation of promotional videos, the publication of magazine cover pages, and other tasks requiring visual input. The role is flexible and there are opportunities in a variety of industries and companies. For example, an art director might determine which picture is perfect for a magazine cover, or which items to include in a video shoot. The art director works closely with individuals from the following departments:

  • Video

  • Photography

  • Illustration

  • Animation

  • Design

Responsibilities

An art director's job is to coordinate the roles of the videographer, photographers, animators, and design directors. Depending on the company they work for, they may also work with producers and editors to see the project through the different phases of production and editing. Some of their primary responsibilities include:

  • Determining which art, photos, or other visual elements are best for a project

  • Developing the overall style and look for an advertising campaign, publication or film set

  • Managing the design staff

  • Liaising with clients about what they're looking for and developing an artistic style for every project

  • Developing timelines and budgets for each project

  • Coordinating activities within the different creative departments

  • Presenting the completed design to the clients for final approval

How to become an art director

If you're interested in becoming an art director, here are the steps you can take to do so:

1. Pursue a degree

Employers often hire art directors with a bachelor's degree in related areas, such as graphic design, web design, art, or animation. They may also consider candidates with degrees in journalism and communication degrees, especially if you have a strong portfolio to exhibit your skills. While you're in school, set aside projects you're proud of to showcase in your portfolio. It typically takes three to four years to obtain a bachelor's degree. Some employers may prefer candidates with a master's degree, which takes another one to two years, but it's typically not a requirement.

Related: 7 Art Degree Jobs and Their Salaries and Skills

2. Gain experience

Apply for an internship at an advertising agency or studio. You can also seek apprenticeship opportunities with established photographers or artists. Working alongside an experienced professional can help you gain hands-on experience in the field and provide greater insight into what the position actually entails. If you have completed your degree, look for entry-level opportunities in the industry in which you want to work to gain further experience.

3. Consider freelancing

Pursue freelance photography or graphic design jobs to build your portfolio. By having a strong portfolio that highlights your strengths and range of skills, you may be able to qualify for more advanced, higher-paying positions. Look for clients on freelancing websites or through your personal network. Some freelance work may be a one-time project, but you may be able to find long-term clients that can help you build your portfolio and earn a fair income.

4. Develop your skills

Take online courses, pursue certifications, attend conferences, and stay up to date on the latest developments in your industry. Look for opportunities to strengthen your skills, highlight them in your portfolio, and add them to your resume so you can show potential employers that you are familiar with the latest trends and technology that professionals are using in the industry.

5. Network professionally

Networking with other professionals in your industry can help you find out about new opportunities when they become available. Visit animation studios to interact with those who work there and perform research to find local networking events in your industry. Make sure you dress professionally and prepare a short pitch for the event.

6. Update your resume

As an art director is a managerial position, employers typically want candidates that have prior experience and an excellent portfolio. Once you have both, you can update your resume and start applying for positions. Look at job postings you're interested in for specific keywords employers mention. For example, if a job posting states the employer wants three years of experience, highlight your relevant experience.

Your portfolio highlights your creative skills and projects, so use your resume to focus on your experience and education. Highlight your degree by including it at the top of your resume. This shows prospective employers you have the credentials they're looking for in a candidate. Then, include your work experience with the most recent position at the top. Include any volunteer work, internships, or entry-level positions you had.

7. Prepare for your interviews

If your resume is successful, you may receive some invitations to interview. To improve your chances of getting the job, prepare for your interview beforehand. One of the best ways to do this is to research potential questions the interviewer may ask you and prepare your answers. For example, an interviewer may ask you who your design inspiration is to assess your industry knowledge. Preparing potential answers beforehand can help you feel more confident and assured during the interview.

It's also important to make a good first impression. To do this, arrive early for the interview and greet everyone you come across. This shows that you're polite and have good communication skills, two attributes art directors develop. During the interview, maintain eye contact and ensure your body language is welcoming to show the interviewer you're interested in the conversation. Thank them for their time when the interview is complete and consider sending a thank-you email or note as well afterwards. This shows the interviewer you're really interested in the position and can take initiative.

Average salary and working conditions

The national average salary of an art director is $75,059 per year. This salary varies depending on your credentials, experience, the company you work for, and your location. For example, here are the top three highest paying cities in Canada:

  • Toronto, Ontario: $88,246 per year

  • Montreal, Quebec: $80,658 per year

  • Vancouver, British Columbia: $60,317 per year

Art directors typically work in ad agencies, movie studios, art centres, theatres, publishing companies, animation studios, or television networks. When they aren't onsite, they may work in an office where they can meet with their team and other managers to discuss ongoing and upcoming projects. Art directors may work more than 40 hours a week with a flexible schedule, and sometimes work on weekends to meet deadlines.

Related: How to Negotiate Salary (With Examples)

FAQs about art directors

To better understand what an art director is and how to become one, consider the following answers to frequently asked questions you may have:

What skills and attributes do art directors have?

Successful art directors often possess the following skills and attributes:

  • Leadership skills: As art directors are responsible for overseeing and motivating their teams, they can benefit from strong leadership skills. This capability helps them collaborate with people to ensure they meet deadlines.

  • Communication skills: Another skill necessary for successful collaboration is communication. An art director's verbal and written skills help them give clear instructions and actively listen to their team, limiting miscommunications.

  • Creativity: The most important attribute for an art director to have is creativity. This helps them create unique material, setting their content apart from others.

  • Project management skills: Art directors oversee every aspect of a creative project, from beginning to end. To ensure their team completes all their tasks and adheres to deadlines, strong project management skills are an asset.

How is an art director different from a creative director?

As art directors and creative directors have similar roles, some people may confuse these two titles. One of the most notable differences is that a creative director is a leader in a marketing or advertising agency. They focus on the creative side of promotional campaigns. For example, they may work with a client to create the visuals for a commercial advertising their new product. Art directors may sometimes create promotional material as well, but it's not their main focus.

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

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