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How to Become an Art Director

art director

Are you certain you want to work in an artistic field but not sure of all the options? If you love business as much as you love art, consider becoming an art director in an advertising agency.

What do art directors do?

Art directors come up with and produce an advertising campaign’s visual imagery. Tasks may include:

  • Meeting with clients and/or your agency’s sales representatives to learn about a campaign and identify the client’s goals.
  • Asking detailed questions to learn more about the client’s intended audience, the mood/message the client wants to project, etc.
  • Brainstorming ideas with a copywriter.
  • Working alongside a copywriter to form the words and images into a cohesive unit that communicates the desired message.
  • Creating a storyboard to serve as the basis for a photo shoot or video session.
  • Creating customized images using graphics software like Illustrator, Inkscape, and Paint.
  • Monitoring and working within the approved budget.
  • Presenting ideas/mockups to the client and/or senior agency staff.

Where and when do artistic directors work?

  • Most art directors work in their agency’s office, but it may sometimes be necessary to visit a client or to be on location for a photo shoot/video session.
  • Most art directors work around 40 hours a week. However, overtime may occasionally be needed to finish a campaign by the deadline.
  • You may work on several campaigns at once or dedicate yourself to a particular campaign or client.

What do art directors earn? 


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What skills do art directors need?

  • Creativity
  • Artistic and design skills
  • Ability to work as part of a team
  • Excellent people skills
  • Excellent presentation skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Ability to envision the client’s campaign
  • Knowledge of photography and printing
  • Knowledge of web page design
  • Knowledge of video creation
  • Ability to work under pressure and meet strict deadlines

What education and training are required?

In addition to a natural ability in art, most art directors study art and/or design and have BTEC HND or degree in graphic design, advertising, or art. Coursework may include:

  • Modern Advertising Practices
  • Theories in Persuasion
  • Futurising
  • Theoretical Studies
  • Content Creation and Future Shaping
  • Creating a Digital Portfolio
  • Contextual Theoretical Studies
  • Pitch
  • Launch

While a degree in art or advertising is not required (although it certainly makes you more competitive), knowledge of the most popular design software is essential. Tuts+ offers tutorials for everyone from novices just getting their feet wet to experts who want to learn advanced techniques.

Work experience is also important.

  • Start keeping a portfolio of your work while you’re still in school.
  • If possible, get volunteer experience creating advertising campaigns for non-profit organizations.
  • Get an entry-level job with an advertising agency – even a clerical position – and work your way up.
  • Connect with other art directors through professional organizations like the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) and social networks.

What is the career path for art directors?

  • In most cases, you would start as a junior “creative” and work your way up while you learn on the job. Some agencies, however, offer structured graduate schemes.
  • Some employers may want you to get an IPA Foundation Certificate, which includes online training plus at least six months of on-the-job experience.
  • You could progress from working on your own campaigns to directing the work of an entire creative department.
  • Many art directors decide to freelance or start their own agencies.

What are the job prospects?

The field is popular and highly competitive, but there are always opportunities for talented, hard-working individuals. Statistics from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) predict that an additional 165,000 art directors will join the UK workforce between now and 2020.

Working as an art director in an advertising agency gives you the opportunity to combine your passion for art with your love of business. If you want to use your creative abilities to help your clients achieve their business goals, a career as an art director could be just what you’re looking for.

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