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So, What Does An Art Director *Actually* Do?

When it comes to career paths and the jobs we aspire to, it’s easy to feel like there are only a few options on the table. But actually, there’s a whole world of different types of jobs and roles out there, and we’re on a mission to bring them to light and explain what they actually involve. Ahead, a look at art directors—and over here, we’ve also got pharmacists, marketing managers, and architects.

If you’re a creative type, there are certain jobs that might just be a dream come true—and the role of an art director is likely one of them.

An art director is responsible for creating the visual identity of a product, but that product will vary depending on the industry you work in. For instance, art directors who work in the advertising or public relations industry might be responsible for the visual identity of an ad campaign or product packaging. An art director who works in publishing would be responsible for the visual style and images in a magazine or a newspaper.

While you’ll largely work in a creative environment, there may also be a managerial element. In some cases, you’ll oversee a team of people, depending on the scope of your work and your industry.

Here’s what you need to know about the job description for an art director.

While the aim of an art director is largely consistent, the exact role you’ll fulfill will vary depending on the industry you work in. Let’s explore.

So, what does an art director typically do?

As mentioned, the job duties of an art director will vary from industry to industry. But your overall mission will be to create a visual concept and then determine which design elements—think photographs, illustrations, and so on—will help you execute that concept. In some cases, you and your team might actually create the design elements from scratch.

In the early stages of a project, you’ll most likely brainstorm a concept and then present your designs. If you’re working in the advertising industry, you might present to a client. In the publishing industry, you might work with the editor-in-chief of a magazine to ensure the look and feel is right.

As part of your presentation, you may be required to present a detailed budget and a timeline. This is where the project management side of the role comes in. You’ll need to balance the creative aspects of the role with organizational elements, covering things such as budgets, deadlines, and people management.

Who is this job ideally for?

It probably goes without saying that to be successful in your role as an art director, you’ll need a keen artistic eye and a great imagination. A sense of what is happening in the art and design world is also key.

But according to Steven Whitright, a senior art director at 99designs, you are best suited to the role of an art director if you’re “exceptionally well organized and the kind of person that always has a backup plan. It’s also helpful to be a pro at budgeting both hours and resources.”

What are the usual job requirements?

First things first, most companies will require you to have a bachelor’s degree—usually in graphic design, but art or marketing may also work. In addition, you’ll need proven experience in creative roles and possibly some management experience.

Generally, you won’t be stepping into an art director role upon graduating from college. You might start out as a graphic designer or illustrator to gain that creative experience. On the management side of things, you might consider completing an MFA or MBA degree for a leg up, but it’s not necessary.

When it comes to practical skills, you’ll need to be able to work in print and digital media. Expertise in design software such as Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign is a must.

What’s the average salary like?

The average salary for an art director is $70K per year, according to data from Glassdoor. With that said, more than 8,000 individuals reported their salaries (anonymously) to the site, and most of the salaries reported fell well below the average. At the low end of the spectrum, there were salaries of $47K per year and at the high end, salaries of 104K per year.


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