Art Directors

Career, Salary and Education Information

What They Do: Art directors are responsible for the visual style and images in magazines, newspapers, product packaging, and movie and television productions.

Work Environment: Most art directors are self-employed. Others work for advertising and public relations firms, newspaper and magazine publishers, motion picture and video industries, and specialized design services firms.

How to Become One: Art directors need at least a bachelor’s degree in an art or design subject and previous work experience. Depending on the industry, art directors may have previously worked as graphic designers, illustrators, copy editors, or photographers, or in another art or design occupation.

Salary: The median annual wage for art directors is $94,220.

Job Outlook: Employment of art directors is projected to decline 2 percent over the next ten years. As traditional print publications lose ground to other media forms, employment of art directors is projected to decrease in the newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers industry.

Related Careers: Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of art directors with similar occupations.

Following is everything you need to know about a career as an art director with lots of details. As a first step, take a look at some of the following jobs, which are real jobs with real employers. You will be able to see the very real job career requirements for employers who are actively hiring. The link will open in a new tab so that you can come back to this page to continue reading about the career:

Top 3 Art Director Jobs

  • Art Director - Robert Half - Aliso Viejo, CA

    If you're a talented Art Director with proposal experience who enjoys creative problem-solving and taking on new challenges, there's a terrific opportunity for you to check out at The Creative Group

  • Art Director - Digital Media Management - Los Angeles, CA

    We are currently seeking an Art Director to join our Los Angeles office. You are responsible for all facets of the creative pitch process. You will lead a creative team dedicated to working on ...

  • Art Director, FRL - Facebook - Menlo Park, CA

    ... Art Director or Character Lead * Bachelor's degree or equivalent experience in art production * 3D modeling portfolio demonstrating an understanding of anatomy and the human form * Animation and ...

See all Art Director jobs

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
  • Manage 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 99,100 jobs jobs. The largest employers of art directors are as follows:

Self-employed workers 56%
Advertising, public relations, and related services 13%
Motion picture and video industries 4%
Newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers 3%
Specialized design services 3%

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.

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.

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Education for Art Directors

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 for Art Directors

Most art directors have 5 or more years of work experience in another occupation before becoming art directors. Depending upon the industry, they may have previously worked as graphic designers, fine artists, editors, photographers, or in another art or design occupation.

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 $94,220. 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 $53,240, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $188,750.

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

Motion picture and video industries $121,830
Advertising, public relations, and related services $97,470
Specialized design services $93,780
Newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers $82,270

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

Employment of art directors is projected to decline 2 percent over the next ten years.

As traditional print publications lose ground to other media forms, employment of art directors is projected to decrease in the newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers industry. Rather than focusing on the print layout of images and text, art directors for newspapers and magazines will increasingly design for websites and mobile platforms.

Job Prospects for Art Directors

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 how to create intuitive, user-friendly designs 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, 2019-29
Occupational Title Employment, 2019 Projected Employment, 2029 Change, 2019-29
Percent Numeric
Art directors 99,100 97,300 -2 -1,800


A portion of the information on this page is used by permission of the U.S. Department of Labor.


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