There are many creative people out there who struggle to find a career path that fulfills them while earning a good salary. One such path is working in art direction for an advertising agency. While it is becoming more lucrative with the importance of digital advertising, marketing, and content creation, art direction is a demanding job with much responsibility. In full transparency, it is not easy to become an art director. In fact, this position is highly competitive and sought after by many creative professionals because it is well-paid, well-respected, and involves fun, creative challenges. Here is some advice on how to pursue and thrive in this challenging field.
What is An Art Director?
An art director is a bridge between design talent and the executive team or the client. They take project objectives and brand priorities and strategize with designers how to creatively execute thrm through art and media. Art Direction is a diverse, fast-paced and exciting role that combines deadline management, design know-how, creative strategy, people and resource management while acting as a liaison between designers and executives in order to manage expectations and provide clearness.
Similar roles to that of an ‘art director’ also go by ‘producer’, ‘head or lead designer’, and ‘project manager’ with an ultimate progression to Creative Director. The most distinguishing aspect of this senior role is that you have a team that you lead to fulfilling the requirements of a creative brief.
3 Steps to Becoming an Art Director
1. Start Out as a Team Player
Graphic designers handle less of the managerial and directing responsibilities and instead spend most of their time coming up with the designs to bring the art director’s concepts to life. The next logical step is to conceive the concepts themselves.
Copywriters use persuasive language to give creative copy to the design. With enough experience working together with Art Directors, they understand design elements and project/client management to complement great design. Some copywriters also have or develop design skills, and vice versa. Managers and others who start out at small companies where they have a lot of responsibility with design know-how, can find themselves as an art director as a result of having a wide variety of the skills needed.
2. Develop the Necessary Skills
Design Savvy – You may not need to know how to build a website, but you definitely need to know how to make it look appealing and functional at the same time. This applies to ad campaigns, photo shoots, video production, etc.
Time Management – being able to get a sense for the scope of a project and put together a realistic timeline is a vastly underrated skill that not everyone possesses which is why it is crucial for an Art Director.
Budgeting – No, you are not a financial planner or an outsourced CFO, but given a budget, you must be able to use resources to your best advantage and stay within budget
People Management – It goes without saying that an Art Director is the team leader. Being able to motivate your team members, speak to clients, and communicate your feedback in a constructive way is essential to being able to finish projects on time.
3. Experience, Experience, Experience
When it comes to cultivating these skills, you learn best by doing. Do not be afraid to start on your own by working collaboratively with designers on personal projects or for a side hustle and bring a creative vision to life. But remember, the key is to be more hands-off with the design and instead manage the design process and work within budgets and timelines.
If you are already on step one, then start bringing strategy into conversations with or about your clients. Understand what they want to accomplish and make recommendations accordingly. A true Art Director can hear the need and come up with a better solution, even if the client already presents one. For example, clients may request to design a brochure for an event, but with experience, you may recommend a social media campaign and branded merchandise for the event instead.
Study and Master an Artistic Skill to the Best of Your Abilities
You do not have to be Michelangelo or Van Gogh to become skilled. The simple fact of the matter is that we live in a world that has made it easier than ever for anyone to produce a professional-grade piece of graphics or visual art. If you can master cutting-edge graphic design tools such as InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop, you will have a sought-after and valuable skill set that could help you get a good entry-level job at an agency.
Get an Entry-Level Ad Agency Job and Work Towards a Promotion
To set a realistic expectation, without solid experience but good educational training and degree, you can expect an entry-level junior art director position. Other entry-level opportunities with these skills are videographer, photographer or content creator. From any of these positions, you get an opportunity to prove yourself as someone who can be trusted with more responsibility. If you can combine that discipline with a little bit of outside-the-box thinking, you can start stepping towards your goal of becoming an advertising art director and ultimately a creative director.
Learn from the Masters
Art direction is one of the most visual careers in the industry. You can create work endlessly for your blog, social media, or your portfolio. While showcasing your work, do not forget to surround yourself with the kinds of art and media that push you to do your best work. Some art directors are more famous for their work than others, but that by no mean puts them on a scale of worthiness for your attention. Find those who do the work you aspire to do whether it is in film, print, or real-life. Here is a short list to get inspired by of famous art directors from right now and all time, from every background and industry. If you have not heard of them, consider this your first lesson in the history of advertising as these are true powerhouses in their respective disciplines.
- George Lois – Art director, designer, and author. Lois is perhaps best known for over 92 covers he designed for Esquire magazine from 1962 to 1972.
- Mark Wheeler – Art Director and Designer at Microsoft who focuses on experience, interaction, and interface.
- Akira Toriyama – Character designer for several popular video games such as the Dragon Quest series and Chrono Trigger. Toriyama is regarded as one of the artists that changed the history of manga.
- Karl Lagerfeld – Head designer and creative director of the fashion house Chanel and Fendi.
- Molly M. Grubbs – Ranked as one of the 33 most creative women in advertising by Business Insider, Grubbs is a master of developing large, integrated campaigns.
- Jen Lu – With a passion for street style, interior and furniture design, art hacking, pop culture, and animation, she’s dubbed herself a creative mutant over at Droga5 agency.
- Jessica Walsh – Blending photography with handcraft and digital design, Walsh is a creative powerhouse at Sagmeister & Walsh.
Never Stop Learning: Earn A Master’s Degree in Advertising in a Major City
It is important to be a lifelong learner if you want to thrive in the ever-changing and competitive field of advertising. A master’s degree can accomplish a number of important things for you in your career. First of all, you get to stand out from the many applicants who only have a bachelor’s degree. It shows you were more dedicated to mastering the craft than many of your peers. It also creates an opportunity for networking. Networking is one of the most important things you need to do if you dream of becoming an art director. Choosing an urban environment can let you meet more people, not just in your field of study, but beyond it as well.
FlU-MAS: An Educational Partnership To Help You Become An Art Director
Florida International University has partnered with the award-winning, world-famous Miami Ad School. When you study in this program, you get to combine academic learning with hands-on experience. MAS’ faculty has a substantial amount of experience in the field of advertising combined with top-ranked academic faculty at Florida International University. They know how to help you build a portfolio that will impress employers after you graduate. Located in Miami, South Florida, you will be in one of the global hotbeds for art and international business. To learn more about FIU-MAS, contact Grizelle De Los Reyes, Director of the FIU-MAS Creative Track Program by contacting her online for additional information.