Looking for the perfect job?
Explore our Career Guides!

Read More

How to Become an Art Director

By Bridget Smith


Introducing the captivating world of an Art Director—a role that seamlessly blends creativity, vision, and strategic thinking. In this article, we explore the thrilling career of an Art Director, delving into their job description, the challenges they face, and how aspiring individuals can embark on the path to becoming one. So, if you’ve ever wondered what it takes to lead artistic endeavors and shape captivating visual experiences, join us as we unravel the secrets of this exciting profession.

Career Summary

How Much Money Do Art Directors Make?

Art Director Salary

According to, as of 2023:

  • Entry-Level Art Directors: Generally, an entry-level art director with less than 1 year of experience can expect to earn an average total compensation (including tips, bonus, and overtime pay) of US$59,000.
  • Median Art Director Salary: A mid-career art director with 5-9 years of experience earns an average total compensation of US$89,000.
  • Executive Art Director Salary: An experienced art director with 10-19 years of experience earns an average total compensation of US$125,000.

In 2020, the average annual wage for those working in the U.S. was close to US$69,000 meaning that an Art Director’s wage is generally higher than the national average.

What does an Art Director do?

Art directors manage and coordinate the work of designers, artists, photographers, and other creatives to produce visually engaging content. The scope of an art director’s work can range from conceptualizing and directing photoshoots, designing layouts for magazines, and developing graphics for television and film, to shaping the visual identity of brands and campaigns.

Art directors often work closely with clients, marketing teams, and other stakeholders to understand the vision and goal of a project. They’re responsible for overseeing the entire creative process, from initial concept to final output, ensuring that the artistic vision is consistently maintained throughout.

Art Director Career Progression

While not exhaustive, here are some steps an art director may take in their career:

  • Junior Art Director: This is an entry-level position where individuals assist senior art directors in the development of designs and visual concepts.
  • Art Director: After gaining enough experience, individuals can become Art Directors, where they’ll lead a team of designers and will be directly involved in the creative strategy and direction of projects.
  • Senior Art Director: In this role, individuals will have increased responsibility and will oversee multiple projects at once. They often guide and mentor junior team members and work closely with clients and executives.
  • Creative Director: After significant experience as an Art Director, one can progress to a Creative Director role. They supervise the entire creative department, including art directors, copywriters, and designers, ensuring that all output aligns with the organization’s creative vision.
  • Executive Creative Director: This is a top-level role where individuals are responsible for the overall creative strategy of an organization. They make final decisions regarding all creative aspects and often represent the creative team in executive meetings.
  • Brand Director: A position primarily found in larger organizations, the Brand Director helps to define a company’s visual identity across all media. They are responsible for aligning the company’s visual representation with its strategic goals.
  • Design Manager: In this role, an art director assumes more of a managerial position, overseeing a design team’s administrative aspects. This includes budgeting, scheduling, and coordinating resources in addition to providing creative leadership.
  • Creative Group Head: This is a leadership role where the art director manages multiple creative teams within a department. They supervise various projects and ensure that the teams are working in unison to meet the creative objectives of the organization.
  • Chief Creative Officer (CCO): The CCO is the highest-ranking creative authority in an organization and makes all the final decisions regarding the creative process and output. They work on a strategic level to ensure their creative vision aligns with the company’s mission and goals.

Remember that the trajectory can vary greatly depending on the industry, the specific company, and the individual’s unique skills and experiences. However, each role offers its own set of challenges and opportunities for growth, making a career as an art director a continually exciting and evolving path.

Art Director Career Progression


  • Creative Freedom: Art directors have the liberty to shape and direct the visual output of a project.
  • Collaborative Work Environment: They often work with a diverse team of creatives, providing opportunities to learn and grow.
  • Influence: Art directors have the power to influence people’s perception of brands and projects through their work.
  • Variety of Work: No two projects are the same, keeping the work fresh and exciting.
  • Recognition: When the projects succeed, art directors often receive recognition for their work.


  • High Pressure and Stress: Meeting deadlines and maintaining creative quality can be challenging.
  • Long Hours: Art directors often have to work overtime to meet project deadlines.
  • Difficult Clients: Dealing with clients who have unclear expectations or constant changes can be frustrating.
  • Creative Block: Like all creatives, art directors can also experience periods of creative stagnation.
  • Job Instability: Depending on the industry, work may be project-based and hence can be unstable.

Useful Skills to Have as an Art Director

  • Artistic Sensibility: Knowledge of design elements, color theory, typography, etc.
  • Communication Skills: Ability to communicate your vision effectively to your team and clients.
  • Leadership Skills: Ability to guide, inspire, and manage a creative team.
  • Project Management: Ability to manage projects, deadlines, and resources efficiently.
  • Digital Proficiency: Familiarity with digital design tools like Adobe Creative Suite.

Popular Art Director Specialties

  • Advertising Art Director: Specializes in creating visually appealing advertising campaigns.
  • Film Art Director: Works on movie sets, creating the film’s visual atmosphere.
  • Fashion Art Director: Directs photoshoots, designs layouts for fashion magazines, or develops the overall visual style for fashion brands.
  • Graphic Design Art Director: Focuses on visual communication and problem-solving using typography, photography, and illustration.
  • Digital Art Director: Specializes in creating engaging visuals for digital platforms like websites, apps, and social media.

How to become an Art Director

Art Director 5 Steps to Career

This exciting career path calls for creative innovation, strategic thinking, and a deep understanding of aesthetics. But what does it take to become an art director? Let’s delve deeper into the educational route toward this exciting career.


Do I need a degree to become an art director?

Yes, typically, a degree is required to become an art director. While innate talent and creativity are critical, formal education in an art or design-related field provides a strong foundational knowledge base and is often a key requirement in job descriptions for this role.

Why is it important to get a degree in art direction?

Acquiring a degree in art directing or a related field brings numerous advantages. It offers structured learning, providing a comprehensive understanding of the principles of design, color theory, typography, and composition. Formal education also exposes students to various art styles and periods, fostering a broad perspective on artistic expression.

How long does it take to get a degree in art directing?

The duration to obtain a degree in art directing can vary depending on the program and educational institution. Typically, a bachelor’s degree in art direction or a related field takes about four years to complete.

Should you decide to further enhance your knowledge and skills with a master’s degree, anticipate an additional two to three years of study. However, it’s essential to research specific programs and their curriculum requirements to determine the exact duration.

How much does it cost to study art directing at a university?

The cost of studying art directing can vary significantly based on factors like the institution, location, and whether you choose an online or on-campus program. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost for a bachelor’s degree ranged from $20,000 to $45,000 per year. Keep in mind that scholarships, grants, and work-study opportunities can help offset these costs.

Can I become an art director through online education?

Absolutely! With the rise of technology, many reputable institutions offer online programs in art directing and related fields. These programs provide flexibility for those who might be juggling other commitments. They offer the same rigorous coursework as traditional programs, and they can also be more affordable.

What are some web resources to learn skills to become an art director?

Numerous web resources can help you develop the skills necessary for an art director role. Websites like Academy of art University offers courses in graphic design, visual arts, and art directing. Similarly, websites like Behance and Dribbble can provide inspiration and insight into current design trends and styles.

Practical Experience

Acquiring practical experience is a vital step in the journey of becoming an art director. Not only does it allow you to apply the theoretical knowledge you’ve gained during your education, but it also helps you build a strong portfolio that showcases your skills, creativity, and versatility.

Internship Opportunities for an Art Director

Internships provide invaluable real-world experience and are an excellent way to start your career as an art director. Many companies across diverse industries offer internships to ambitious, creative individuals who are eager to learn. These internships often involve working under the guidance of experienced art directors or other creative professionals, providing you with a unique opportunity to observe and learn from those already established in the field.

Some potential internship opportunities include:

  • Creative agencies: Many advertising, marketing, and design agencies offer internships for aspiring Art Directors, providing hands-on experience in creating campaigns, visual concepts, and collaborating with clients.
  • Media and entertainment companies: Internships in media and entertainment companies, such as film production houses, television networks, or digital media companies, can offer exposure to art direction for various visual mediums.
  • Non-profit organizations: Non-profit organizations often seek interns to assist with their creative projects, including graphic design, branding, and visual storytelling.
  • Event management companies: Interning with event management companies allows aspiring Art Directors to participate in designing and executing visual experiences for events, exhibitions, and conferences.

It’s important to research and reach out to specific companies, agencies, or organizations in your area to explore internship opportunities tailored to your career goals as an Art Director.

Skills Learned as an Art Director

As an art director, you’ll develop a broad range of skills.

These include but are not limited to:

  • Creative Skills: Conceptualizing and executing visually striking designs and campaigns is at the heart of the art director role. You’ll hone your skills in various design tools and software, and learn how to translate ideas into impactful visual narratives.
  • Analytical Skills: As an art director, you’ll often have to make sense of creative briefs, marketing strategies, or audience research data. Analytical skills are important in interpreting these inputs correctly, drawing meaningful insights, and incorporating them into your design process.
  • Technological Proficiency: Staying up-to-date with the latest design software and digital tools is essential in this ever-evolving field. Whether it’s mastering new features in Adobe Creative Suite or understanding the potential of emerging tech like augmented reality in design, a successful art director is always on the cutting edge.
  • Time Management Skills: Art directors juggle multiple projects simultaneously, each with its own deadline. You’ll need to prioritize tasks effectively, delegate where necessary, and ensure that high-quality work is delivered on time.
  • Problem-Solving Skills: Every project comes with its challenges. You’ll develop the ability to think critically and solve problems creatively and efficiently.

Work-Life Balance of an Art Director

The work-life balance of an art director can vary greatly depending on the industry, the specific role, and the ongoing projects. Art directors often work full-time, and extra hours can be required when deadlines are approaching.

However, the role can also be highly rewarding. You’ll have the opportunity to work on diverse projects, collaborate with talented professionals, and see your creative visions come to life. For those passionate about design and creative leadership, the benefits often outweigh the demands.

What’s the Career Outlook for Art Director?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides valuable insights into the job outlook for art directors. Based on their data, the employment of art directors is projected to grow 4% by 2031,about as fast as the average for all occupations. However, job growth varies by industry.

For instance, opportunities for art directors in the advertising, public relations, and related services industry are expected to increase significantly. The growing demand for digital media advertising is driving this growth, with more brands looking to establish a strong online presence.

Art directors in the publishing industry, on the other hand, may face stiffer competition due to the decline in print media. However, with the rise of digital platforms, there’s a growing need for art directors skilled in creating content for electronic publications, websites, and platforms like e-books.

Art Director Popular Career Specialties

What are the Job Opportunities for Art Directors

The role of an art director is versatile and expansive, presenting a multitude of job opportunities in various sectors. Their skills and experience can be applied to many creative and visually driven industries.

Here are ten job opportunities for art directors:

  • Advertising Agencies: Advertising agencies are one of the most common workplaces for art directors. Here, they shape the visual strategy for advertising campaigns, working closely with copywriters and marketing strategists to develop impactful advertisements that resonate with targeted audiences.
  • Film and Television Industry: In the entertainment industry, art directors can work on TV shows, movies, and commercials. They oversee the design of sets, costumes, and props, collaborating with directors to ensure the visual elements align with the narrative of the script.
  • Magazine and Newspaper Publishing: Art directors in this field oversee the visual presentation of print and digital publications. They coordinate with photographers, illustrators, and designers to create engaging layouts and covers that draw readers in.
  • Book Publishing: In the book industry, art directors design and oversee the production of book covers and interiors. They work closely with authors and editors to ensure that the visual presentation complements the content of the book.
  • Marketing and PR Firms: Art directors play a key role in creating visually compelling marketing materials. They help develop the visual identity of brands, products, and campaigns, creating designs that effectively convey marketing messages.
  • Fashion Industry: In the world of fashion, art directors design fashion shows, photo shoots, and advertising campaigns. They work with designers, stylists, and photographers to create visuals that encapsulate a brand’s style and identity.
  • Music Industry: Art directors in the music industry design album covers, music videos, promotional materials, and stage sets. Their work helps establish an artist’s or band’s image and visual narrative.
  • Web and Digital Design: With the rise of digital media, art directors can find opportunities in designing websites, mobile apps, and social media campaigns. They oversee the visual aspect of these platforms, ensuring a consistent and engaging user experience.
  • Gaming Industry: Video game art directors lead teams to create the visual elements of video games, from characters and environments to user interface design. They work with game designers to create immersive and visually stunning gaming experiences.
  • Museums and Cultural Institutions: Art directors in this field oversee the design of exhibits and promotional materials. They collaborate with curators and museum directors to visually interpret and present artworks or historical artifacts to the public.

Each of these opportunities requires a slightly different skill set and focus, but all allow art directors to apply their understanding of visual communication and their leadership abilities.

Should I become an Art Director?

The role of an art director can be exciting and creatively satisfying, but it also requires a unique blend of skills, dedication, and passion.

When considering this career path, it’s essential to reflect on your interests and natural abilities. Art directors are visual thinkers with a strong aesthetic sense, but they also need strong communication and leadership skills to guide teams toward a shared vision. If you have a passion for art and design, enjoy collaborating with others, and can handle the pressures of managing projects, a career as an art director could be a great fit for you.

Becoming an art director is a decision that should be based on a thorough understanding of the role, a sincere interest in the field, and a readiness to commit to the demands of the profession. It’s a challenging and exciting career, but one that offers immense creative satisfaction and the opportunity to shape visual narratives in impactful ways.

Careers Related to Art Director

Frequently Asked Questions

Art Director vs Creative Director: What’s the difference?

It’s possible to transition into a Business Operations Manager role from different fields, especially those related to business administration, finance, or project management. Your transferable skills, such as leadership, problem-solving, and strategic planning, can be valuable in a business operations role.

How much money do Art Directors make?

With the advent of digital technologies and the shift towards remote work in many industries, working remotely as a Business Operations Manager is possible. However, this can depend on the company’s policies and the nature of the work.

Do Art Directors have good job prospects?

With the advent of digital technologies and the shift towards remote work in many industries, working remotely as a Business Operations Manager is possible. However, this can depend on the company’s policies and the nature of the work.

Is an Art Director a good career?

With the advent of digital technologies and the shift towards remote work in many industries, working remotely as a Business Operations Manager is possible. However, this can depend on the company’s policies and the nature of the work.

Bridget Smith

About the Author

Read more articles by Bridget Smith