What Does an Art Director Do? (With Skills and Career Path)

Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 26 January 2023

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

An art director manages visual elements for a publication, product or film production. They are responsible for designing and overseeing the vision for layouts, imagery, set designs and video. By understanding the work and responsibilities of an art director, you can decide if pursuing a career in this creative field is suitable for you. In this article, we answer, "What does an art director do?" and outline the educational qualifications and skills required for this profession and review the steps for how to enter this career path.

What does an art director do?

An art director oversees creative projects from start to completion. Taking the client's brief as a reference, they envision unique ideas and explore these with sketches and storyboards. Along with creating a project's style guide and colour guide, they plan its visual elements and effects. After getting a project approved, they map out a stage-wise plan for project completion. They set a daily work schedule and delegate tasks to their staff or hire freelance artists, graphic designers, animators, calligraphers, photographers, web designers and copywriters. They arrange model photoshoots and hire set designers and actors.

They lead, direct and motivate the creative teams involved in the project. Additionally, they oversee their work and ensure they meet deadlines. The art director also reviews and critiques the work and asks for revisions and changes. They approve the final versions and put everything together to view the project as a whole. They may even work with editors and musicians if required.

Related: What Is a Bachelor in Fine Arts Degree? Definition and Careers

What educational qualifications are required for an art director?

An art director can benefit from having certain formal educational qualifications, although creativity, talent, skills and experience can matter more than a degree for an art director role. Many employers prefer candidates with a diploma in fine arts or a bachelor of fine arts degree. With a master's degree in fine arts, you may be able to get senior work positions. It may also help to acquire specialised training in specific areas for work purposes. For instance, if you want to work for TV shows or films, you may need to know how to use art and design software to create special effects.

What skills does an art director need?

Art directors can benefit in their careers from having the following skills:

  • Creativity: Art directors require creativity to devise new, unique and eye-catching visual concepts for designs, layouts, advertising campaigns, title sequences and more.

  • Communication skills: Excellent verbal, writing and listening skills are essential for art directors in their project-related interactions with their staff, other department personnel, freelancers, vendors, suppliers and clients.

  • Leadership skills: They need leadership skills to successfully oversee projects from planning to completion, lead and motivate creative teams, delegate tasks, supervise work and manage schedules.

  • Time management skills: Since they often work on multiple projects simultaneously, art directors know how to manage their time well, prioritise tasks and meet deadlines.

  • Attention to detail: Art directors pay attention to colour, composition, font styles, text placement, layouts, special effects and more.

  • Adaptability: Art directors may change the direction of a project mid-way or incorporate new concepts to keep up with changing trends and industry developments. That is why being able to adapt and make seamless changes is essential for them.

Related: Top Jobs in the Arts (With Duties and Earning Potential)

How is the work environment for art directors?

The work environment for art directors can vary according to their mode of employment. Art directors who work for advertising agencies, publishing houses, animation studios, TV stations or film studios may work in fast-paced office settings. They may collaborate with professionals from other company departments and sometimes work overtime or on weekends to complete projects. They may also travel to oversee work at different locations or to attend meetings with clients.

Independent or self-employed art directors may work from home or their studios. They may work on their own, employ artists and designers or hire freelancers. They may be able to set their work hours as long as they can meet client deadlines.

Related: What Is a Graphic Designer? And How You Can Become One

How to become an art director

You can become an art director by following these steps:

1. Complete 10+2

You can clear your 10+2 exam in any stream from a recognised board. Try to secure at least 55% marks in your 10+2 board exam since college admissions can be competitive. It can help if you have appeared for and passed the Elementary and Intermediate Art Exams while still in school and are proficient in using art and design software programs.

2. Pass college entrance exams

Many successful art directors have advanced degrees, so you may want to consider going to college for further studies. It is essential to pass competitive exams to gain admission to art and design colleges. Some of the exams you can take for diploma, graduate and postgraduate courses are:

  • Aligarh Muslim University Entrance Exam for Bachelor of Fine Arts

  • Aligarh Muslim University Entrance Exam for Master of Fine Arts

  • Andhra Pradesh Art and Design Common Entrance Test

  • Banaras Hindu University Undergraduate Entrance Test

  • Banaras Hindu University Entrance Test for Master of Fine Arts

  • All India Entrance Examination for Design (AIEED)

  • NID Design Aptitude Test (NID DAT)

  • Common Entrance Examination for Design (CEED)

  • MIT Institute of Design Aptitude Test (MITID-DAT)

  • University of Petroleum and Energy Studies Design Aptitude Test (UPES DAT)

  • Indian Institute of Crafts and Design (IICD) Entrance Exam

3. Earn a bachelor's degree

After passing a relevant college entrance exam, you can do a one-year foundation art course and then do a four-year diploma or a four-year bachelor of fine arts (B.F.A.) in painting, applied arts or animation. Each programme has a different focus. The painting course covers drawing, painting, sculpting, print-making, anatomy, aesthetics and art history. If you join the applied arts programme, you can study calligraphy, typography, graphic design, colour theory, advertising and visual communication. The topics in the animation course include character design, 2D animation, 3D animation and computer graphics.

4. Obtain a master's degree

A master's degree in fine arts is not essential to find employment as an art director, but it may improve your career chances with some employers. For gaining admission to a master's degree programme, it is necessary to have a relevant bachelor's. degree with at least 50%-60% aggregate marks. You can specialise in painting, drawing and illustration, sculpture, applied arts, graphic design and computer animation.

5. Build a strong portfolio

It is advisable to start building a portfolio while you are still in college. You can view portfolios of successful art directors online and make a list of what to include in your portfolio. If you have already decided to focus on a specific career field such as publishing, advertising, gaming, theatre, film or television, your portfolio can showcase your talents in that area. For instance, if you want to work in publishing, you can benefit from creating a portfolio with book illustrations, book cover designs, typography and page layouts.

6. Gain work experience

If an internship is available in your area of interest and you have the time, it might be an invaluable learning experience. You can get a clear idea about what it is like to do professional work in your chosen field, and it can help you decide if you want to continue with it or switch to another one. An internship can also help you to obtain real-life projects for your portfolio and make important industry contacts.

7. Send job applications

Before you can become an art director, you may need at least five years of professional experience in your selected field. Find relevant work openings on online job sites like Indeed, company websites, professional networking sites and social media. You can sign up for job site newsletters and create alerts and receive job-related information in your email box. Prepare a well-written cover letter and resume and customise them for every job application. Include links to your online portfolio in your applications. It can also help to practise answering frequently-asked interview questions in your field.

Related: How To Become a Graphic Designer: A Complete Guide

What is the average salary for an art director?

The national average salary for an art director is ₹6,05,597 per year. The pay scale can vary according to your employer, location, educational qualifications, skills and experience. Art directors who work for large corporations or organisations can earn very high salaries.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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