How to Become an Art Director


There is no set path for becoming an art director; every great art director has found his or her own individual path for getting into the role.


In most cases however, you’ll launch your career from a hands-on creative position, or marketing position, such as copywriter, designer, or marketing coordinator, and work your way up from there.


It certainly helps if you have a degree that has taught you competencies in areas such as marketing management, consumer behaviour, graphic design, and visual communications.


Whichever path you end up taking to start your career, you’ll need, among other skills and abilities, the ability to make connections with consumers, strong creative vision and the ability to lead and inspire others in order to succeed.


If you’re interested in this profession, read on below. This career guide can help you get started. We've included helpful information for this career, such as salary expectations, an outline of the skills you’ll need, educational requirements, a list of possible employer types, and much more.



Education You Might Need

In order to be considered for a job as an art director, a candidate typically requires at least an undergraduate degree in one of the following areas:


• Sales management

• Consumer behavior

• Communications

• Advertising and promotion

• Marketing management

• Internet marketing





Art Director Job Description

The primary task of the art director is to formulate design concepts, presentation approaches, layout design and copy writing for communications media such as books, newspapers, websites, video games, magazines, packaging and brochures; typically specializing in just one of these fields.


Art directors are responsible for overseeing the overall artistic style that’s created for each project. They must also oversee a staff of designers, artists, photographers, writers, editors and other staff who’s individual efforts collectively make up the final product.



Typical Job Duties

• Meet with clients to outline their needs, obtain background information and determine their budget and timelines

• Source printers and negotiate pricing in order to determine range and costs of services

• Hire and train staff members as needed

• Review and approve drafts of printed copies, art and copy materials developed by staff

• Present final layouts to client for approval prior to publication

• Work with creative director to develop design concepts and solutions to design problems

• Review all illustrative material to determine if it conforms to standards and specifications

• Attend photo shoots and all printing sessions to ensure that needed products are obtained 



How Much Do Art Directors Earn?

The salary level of art directors can vary widely, typically depending on the following factors:


• Their level of education

• Their level of experience

• The size and type of their employer

• The region in which they work


Art Director Salary Canada (Alberta figures only): According to the 2019 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working in the Professional Occupations in Business Services to Management occupational group earn an average salary of $90,800 per year. Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available from reliable sources for other Canadian provinces or territories. 


Art Director Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary of American workers in the Art Directors occupational group is $80,880 per year.





Skills Needed to Be Competent

Having the following skills will help to ensure that you'll be competent as an art director:


Art and Design Skills: Art directors must be able to come up with design concepts and briefs. They must also be able to design and work with software such as Illustrator, Photoshop, Flash, Dreamweaver and other software.


Marketing, Communication and Advertising Skills: A good art director must be able to make emotional connections with the consumer. They do so by paying attention to social and cultural trends, and absorbing subtle shifts in these trends, ultimately building on these influences to create work that feels both new and relevant.


Management and Leaderships Skills: A competent art director can look objectively at their work and throw away bad ideas, putting the project first and ego second. They must be able to direct the workflow of team members and third party contractors, such as design studios. In addition to leading these individuals, a good art director can inspire them.



Characteristics Needed

In order to enjoy your career as an art director, you will need certain personality traits. Taking enjoyment from your duties, and ultimately your job, is important, as it allows you to maintain a positive attitude towards your work, which can help you achieve longevity in your career.


• A passion for new ideas, and the relentless drive to make them real

• Willing to take ownership of projects, and accountability for their success

• A sense of what it takes to connect with people, from a marketing perspective

• Tremendous self-confidence

• The ability to commit to a direction, defend it, and then sell it to your clients

• The ability to excite clients and make them believe in new ideas

• The ability to handle large amounts of stress, such as when facing tight deadlines



Who Creates Jobs for Art Directors?

Art Directors may work for a variety of commercial and non-commercial publications, typically as a permanent employee. They may be employed within the public or private sector, although positions in the private sector are more common. Well-established art directors may also work as freelancers.


Typical employers of art directors include, but are not limited to:


• Advertising and public relations firms

• Newspaper and magazine publishers

• Specialized design service firms

• Motion picture and video production companies

• Multi-media companies, such as video game producers

• Online publications



Career Path for Getting Into This Profession

Arranging an internship with a publisher while you’re still a student is a great way to get a head start on your career as an art director, as this will help you gain valuable industry experience and make important contacts. Speak with your instructors and your school’s career services office, as they may be able to help you identify and apply for such opportunities.


Most art directors begin their careers as junior level employees in the design department, so it is unlikely that you will find employment as a magazine art director right out of school.


Earning an entry-level position with a publisher that you would love to work for can be a great way to get your foot in the door. Once you are in you will have a great opportunity to showcase your work ethic and other skills. If a higher-level position comes up you will have a much greater chance of being landing it than an outside applicant.



Is This Field a Good Fit?

• Being an art director can be very rewarding on both a personal and a professional level, although attaining this position often takes years of experience in junior roles.

• The earning potential for this career is well above average in both Canada and the United States.

• A career as an art director allows an individual to oversee, inspire and lead individuals who are responsible for a collective design goal.

• Art directors are required to thoroughly understand the design elements of various projects.

• Developing project budgets and timelines, and operating within those guidelines can be very demanding, which makes succeeding at this task all the more rewarding.



Current Job Opportunities in This Field

Our job board below has "Art Director" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.



Working Conditions

The working conditions of an art director can vary depending on the industry they work within. A film art director may spend some time on a film set, outdoors and in studio, while a newspaper art director primarily works in an office. Depending on where the art director is employer, there may be extensive travel involved, or the travel may be relegated to meeting with clients a few blocks away.


Some conditions are universal among art directors however; tight deadlines and budgetary restrictions will quite often cause these professionals to work early mornings, well into the evenings and on the weekends. 



Similar Career Profiles in Our Database

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to art director, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


• Creative Director

• Graphic Designer

• Magazine Designer

• Marketing Director

• Public Relations Specialist



References for This Career Guide

To find out more about what an art director does, how much they earn, and other details of this career, please consult the following resources:



Preston, Ward (1994). What an Art Director Does. Sillman-James Press. pp. 150. ISBN 1-879505-18-5.



Occupations in Alberta:Graphic Designer.” (March 31, 2019). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved October 23, 2019.

Occupational Outlook Handbook - Arts & Design:Art Directors.” (September 4, 2019). United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved October 23, 2019.

Art Careers:Being an Art Director: All You Need to Know.” Creative Bloq Staff (May 30, 2019). Creative Bloq website. Retrieved October 23, 2019.




Scholarships for Becoming an Art Director

Looking for Canadian or American scholarships to help you on your way to becoming an art director? We’ve got you covered! Here's how to find the best-suited scholarships:


• On, our scholarship listings are sorted by major

• The “Relevant Fields of Study” section below shows what majors apply to this career

• Search scholarships by major on our Fine Arts Scholarships, Graphic Design Scholarships and Human Ecology Scholarships pages


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Relevant Fields of Study

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point for working in this profession. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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