Art Directors

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Art Directors Do[About this section] [To Top]

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 of Art Directors

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
  • Lead graphic designers, set and exhibit designers, or other 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 in which a message is communicated visually to its audience. For each project, they 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.

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 are 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.

Work Environment for Art Directors[About this section] [To Top]

Art directors hold about 74,600 jobs. The industries that employ the most art directors are 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
Retail trade, except motor vehicle and parts dealers, food and beverage stores, and general merchandise stores 2

About half of art directors are self-employed. 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.

Art Director Work Schedules

Most art directors work full time.

How to Become an Art Director[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Art Directors near you!

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.

Art Director Education

Many art directors start out in another art-related occupation, such as fine artists or photographers. Work experience in art or design occupations develops an art director’s ability to visually communicate to a specific audience creatively and effectively. 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 becoming 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.

Important Qualities for Art Directors

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 the work as it progresses.

Resourcefulness. Art directors must be able to adapt their latest designs to the changing technology used in their industry.

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

Art Director Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for art directors is $85,610. 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 $45,060, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $168,040.

The median annual wages for art directors in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Motion picture and video industries $101,080
Specialized design services 93,590
Advertising, public relations, and related services 89,060
Newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers 69,340
Retail trade, except motor vehicle and parts dealers, food and beverage stores, and general merchandise stores 65,320

Most art directors work full time.

Job Outlook for Art Directors[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of art directors is projected to grow 2 percent through 2024, 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 through 2024. Growth may decline as traditional print publications lose ground to other media forms, although some growth may occur as the number of electronic magazines and Internet-based publications increases. Rather than focusing on the print layout of images and text, art directors for newspapers and magazines will increasingly design for web and mobile platforms.

Art Directors Job Prospects

Strong competition for jobs is expected as many talented designers and artists seek to move into art director positions. Prospective art directors with a strong understanding of creating designs that are intuitive to the user will have better prospects working with interactive digital platforms. Workers with a good portfolio, which demonstrates strong visual design and conceptual work across all multimedia platforms, will have the best prospects.

Employment projections data for Art Directors, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Art directors 74,600 76,400 2 1,800


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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