Art directors are responsible for the visual style and images in magazines, newspapers, product packaging, and movie and television productions. They create the overall design and direct others who develop artwork or layouts.

Duties

Art directors typically do the following: 

  • Determine how best to represent a concept visually
  • Determine which photographs, art, or other design elements to use
  • Develop the overall look or style of a publication, an advertising campaign, or a theater, television, or film set
  • Supervise design staff
  • Review and approve designs, artwork, photography, and graphics developed by other staff members 
  • Talk to clients to develop an artistic approach and style
  • Coordinate activities with other artistic and creative departments
  • Develop detailed budgets and timelines
  • Present designs to clients for approval

Art directors typically oversee the work of other designers and artists who produce images for television, film, live performances, advertisements, or video games. They determine the overall style or tone, desired for each project and articulate their vision to artists. The artists then create images, such as illustrations, graphics, photographs, or charts and graphs, or design stage and movie sets, according to the art director’s vision.

Art directors work with art and design staffs in advertising agencies, public relations firms, and book, magazine, or newspaper publishers to create designs and layouts. They also work with producers and directors of theater, television, or movie productions to oversee set designs. Their work requires them to understand the design elements of projects, inspire other creative workers, and keep projects on budget and on time. Sometimes they are responsible for developing budgets and timelines. 

Art directors work in a variety of industries, and the type of work they do varies by industry. However, almost all art directors set the overall artistic style and visual image to be created for each project, and oversee a staff of designers, artists, photographers, writers, or editors who are responsible for creating the individual works that collectively make up a completed product.

The following are some specifics of what art directors do in different industries:

In publishing, art directors typically oversee the page layout of catalogs, newspapers, or magazines. They also choose the cover art for books and periodicals. Often, this work includes publications for the Internet, so art directors oversee production of the websites used for publication.

In advertising and public relations, art directors ensure that their clients’ desired message and image is conveyed to consumers. Art directors are responsible for the overall visual aspects of an advertising or media campaign and coordinate the work of other artistic or design staff, such as graphic designers.

In movie production, art directors collaborate with directors to determine what sets will be needed for the film and what style or look the sets should have. They hire and supervise a staff of assistant art directors or set designers to complete designs.

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Work Environment

Art directors held about 74,800 jobs in 2012. About 15 percent of art directors worked for advertising and public relations firms. Others worked for newspaper and magazine publishers, specialized design services firms, and motion picture and video industries.

The industries that employed the most art directors in 2012 were as follows:

Advertising, public relations, and related services 15%
Newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers 5
Specialized design services 4
Motion picture and video industries 3
Manufacturing 2

About 57 percent of art directors were self-employed in 2012. Even though the majority of art directors are self-employed, they must still collaborate with designers or other staff on visual effects or marketing teams. Art directors usually work in a fast-paced office environment, and they often work under pressure to meet strict deadlines.

Work Schedules

Most art directors worked full time in 2012.

Education and Training

Art directors need at least a bachelor’s degree in an art or design subject and previous work experience. Depending on the industry, they may have worked as graphic designers, fine artists, editors, or photographers, or in another art or design occupation before becoming art directors. 

Education

Many art directors start out as graphic, industrial, or set designers in another art-related occupation, such as fine artists or photographers. They gain the appropriate education for that occupation, usually by earning a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.

To supplement their work experience in those occupations and show their ability to take on a more creative or a more managerial role, some complete a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Most art directors work 5 years or more in another occupation before being selected for positions as art directors. Depending upon the industry, they may work as graphic designers, fine artists, editors, photographers, or in another art or design occupation before becoming art directors.

For many artists, including art directors, developing a portfolio—a collection of an artist’s work that demonstrates his or her styles and abilities—is essential. Managers, clients, and others look at artists’ portfolios when they are deciding whether to hire an employee or contract for an art project.

Personality and Interests

Art directors typically have an interest in the Creating and Persuading interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Creating interest area indicates a focus on being original and imaginative, and working with artistic media. The Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people.

If you are not sure whether you have a Creating or Persuading interest which might fit with a career as an art director, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Art directors should also possess the following specific qualities:

Communication skills. Art directors must be able to listen to and speak with staff and clients to ensure that they understand employees’ ideas and clients’ desires for advertisements, publications, or movie sets.

Creativity. Art directors must be able to come up with interesting and innovative ideas to develop advertising campaigns, set designs, or layout options.

Leadership skills. Art directors must be able to organize, direct, and motivate other artists. They need to articulate their visions to artists and oversee production.

Time-management skills. Balancing competing priorities and multiple projects while meeting strict deadlines is critical for art directors.

Pay

The median annual wage for art directors was $80,880 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $43,870, and the top 10 percent earned more than $162,800.

In May 2012, the median annual wages for art directors in the top five industries in which these art directors worked were as follows:

Motion picture and video industries $104,630
Specialized design services 90,210
Advertising, public relations, and related services 85,390
Manufacturing 68,210
Newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers 67,170

Most art directors worked full time in 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of art directors is projected to grow 3 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Art directors will continue to be needed to oversee the work of graphic designers, illustrators, photographers, and others engaged in artwork or layout design.

Employment of art directors is projected to decline in the publishing industry from 2012 to 2022. Although job opportunities may decline as traditional print publications lose ground to other media forms, new opportunities are expected to arise, as the number of electronic magazines and Internet-based publications grows. Rather than focusing on the print layout of images and text, art directors for newspapers and magazines will design Web pages that incorporate a variety of photographs, illustrations, infographics, graphic designs, and text images.

Job Prospects

Strong competition for jobs is expected as many talented designers and artists seek to move into art director positions. Workers with a good portfolio, which demonstrates strong visual design and conceptual work across all multimedia platforms, will have the best prospects.

For More Information

For more information about art directors in advertising, public relations, or publishing, visit

Art Directors Club

For more information about art directors in film and television, visit

Art Directors Guild

FAQ

Where does this information come from?

The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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This information is taken directly from the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Truity does not editorialize the information, including changing information that our readers believe is inaccurate, because we consider the BLS to be the authority on occupational information. However, if you would like to correct a typo or other technical error, you can reach us at help@truity.com.

I am not sure if this career is right for me. How can I decide?

There are many excellent tools available that will allow you to measure your interests, profile your personality, and match these traits with appropriate careers. We recommend the Career Personality Profiler assessment ($29), the Holland Code assessment ($19), or the Photo Career Quiz (free).