How to Become an Art Director

Art director showing portfolio, portrait, in office
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An art director oversees the art, the photographs, the graphics and the drawn images that appear in newspapers, magazines, ad campaigns, and on book covers. Generally, the art director is the person who oversees the entire design department, working with photo editors and editors to coordinate how images will match up with the copy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2017, art director's make $92.500 a year and the job outlook between 2016 and 2026 is expected to grow by 5 percent.

More than simply assigning a photographer or illustrator to create an image, an art director actually works on creating the visual concept. For example, at a magazine, an art director would work to create the specific look and feel of the entire magazine—ensuring that the visuals have a unified look throughout. If you've ever noticed that certain magazines use certain layouts and certain types of images, you’re looking at the work of the art director.

Where Art Directors Work

Art directors work in various fields of the media and communications industry such as advertising, book publishing, and at magazines. They usually specialize in one sector of the industry. For example, they may focus on magazine publishing and then specialize in a subset of that industry such as fashion magazines or home design magazines.

If working at a magazine, the art director will conceive the layouts and decide how the art should match up with the various stories in the magazine. Book publishing art directors, on the other hand, often focus solely on book covers and hire designers to create the covers while overseeing their work. At some publishing houses, however, the art director may also do some of the designing.

An art director at an ad agency will work with an editor, or a copywriter, to create the images that go with an ad campaign. Most art directors specialize in a specific area, such as print (e.g., magazines), television, or digital ads for the web. 

How to Become an Art Director

Most art directors have degrees from art schools where they’ve studied graphic design, photography, and drawing. A background in graphic design is essential for most art director jobs today.

Those who want to get into the field will need to be adept at such programs as Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, and other similar design software. These programs allow art directors to edit photos and create graphics. Most art directors and designers favor Apple computers, which were originally designed and marketed to graphic designers. A good art school will train students in all of the relevant programs they'll need to succeed and provide them with a portfolio—which is crucial for landing a job in the industry. 

Someone looking to work as an art director in an ad agency, for example, needs to show a potential employer sample ad campaigns that she or he has created. These will come from your art school as well as any internships you completed.

Education and Training for Art Directors

Given the competition for art director positions, most require at least a bachelor's degree in design or graphic arts. For those planning to go into advertising, a concentration or minor in that subject is recommended.

A variety of work samples showing versatility is required, and most art directors spend some time in junior positions (such as designer or assistant art director) to acquire related experience. Ad agencies usually ask for at least three years' experience.