Learn About Being an Art Director

Updated November 15, 2023

What does an art director do?

An art director manages visual elements for a publication, product or film production. You may find art directors working on magazines, books, newspapers, advertising campaigns, shows, movies and more. They are responsible for designing and overseeing the vision for layouts, imagery, set designs and video. They often manage and delegate tasks to artists, photographers, graphic designers and other creative staff. Additional duties include:

  • Creating a style guide for a project or publication and implementing it

  • Choosing photographs, videos, charts and graphics for projects

  • Working with freelance photographers and artists to produce content

  • Finishing projects within the deadline and budget

  • Working with other departments, such as editorial or advertising

  • Reviewing, critiquing and approving content

Art directors in advertising or marketing also work closely with clients to communicate their message visually. In the magazine and book publishing industries, art directors help design or choose art for covers and interior layouts. They may also create or manage website visuals. Art directors producing a film will collaborate with the main directors to envision sets. They will then work with set designers to complete the design.

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Average salary

Salaries for art directors vary significantly depending on factors such as their years of experience and the size of the company. Art directors working for large corporate organizations, for instance, can easily earn six figures a year. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $75,957 per year

  • Some salaries range from $19,000 to $150,000 per year.

Art director requirements

While art directors are naturally creative and talented individuals, they do typically need a college degree and specialized skills and training to be successful.


Art directors will usually need to obtain a four-year Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Some art directors may also get a Master of Fine Arts to cultivate creative or leadership skills and increase their professional worth. Most art director jobs, however, do not require applicants to have advanced degrees.


Because they work in a creative field, art directors typically develop their skills through experience rather than training. However, they may take additional courses if their job or industry requires them to have specialized skills such as website development. Art directors might take website design and HTML classes if they work online or with digital media.


Art directors typically do not need a license or certification to get hired. If you do not have an art degree, however, or want to further your skills in a certain area, enroll in a graphic design certificate program through an online or a physical college.


While art directors should have strong creative skills, they should also be strong leaders because they often manage creative staff and freelancers. Some of the most important art director skills include:

  • Creativity: Art directors must have the imagination and creative talent to come up with new and interesting visuals, layout, designs and campaigns.

  • Communication: Art directors must be able to clearly communicate ideas between departments and to their staff and freelancers. They should also be able to speak with and listen to clients to make sure they understand and meet their visual needs.

  • Leadership: Art directors lead a team of artists and designers and must be able to delegate, oversee and inspire them. 

  • Flexibility: Art directors should stay regularly updated on changing trends, mediums and technologies. They must be able to adapt to industry needs and developments.

  • Time management: Art directors often work on multiple projects at the same time and must meet strict deadlines. They should be comfortable multitasking and prioritizing projects.

  • Attention to detail: Art directors should have a sharp eye for detail and consider everything from color to composition to text style and placement and more.

Art director work environment

Many art directors work as independent contractors, meaning they’re self-employed and often get the opportunity to set their own work hours. They might work closely with and produce creative content for a variety of clients, from marketing agencies to web designers. However, an art director may also be an employee with a full-time schedule. Directors employed by publishers, film companies, advertising firms, public relations companies and other design services are likely to work in a fast-paced office environment and collaborate with other departments. Art director hours can vary because they often work within deadlines, so they may need to occasionally work late nights or weekends.

How to become an art director

To become an art director, consider a career path that involves a fine arts degree and the necessary experience to build a strong portfolio of work. To begin their career, many art directors follow these steps:

1. Earn a bachelor’s degree.

While in college, choose a degree in an art form, such as graphic design. This will be the foundation for your career. If possible, take other classes that will benefit you in this industry, such as web design, marketing or business management.

2. Gain relevant experience.

Start with an internship or entry-level position as a photographer, illustrator, graphic designer, editorial or advertising assistant or a similar creative role. The experience you gain and the connections you make can help you move into more advanced positions in this field.

3. Consider earning an advanced degree. 

If you want to take your skills and knowledge to a higher level, you might pursue a master’s degree in fine arts or a similar field. While not usually necessary, doing so might help you get promotions or qualify for more desirable jobs. An advanced degree may also help you more easily negotiate for a higher salary.

4. Build your portfolio.

Develop a portfolio that includes examples of your best work throughout your career. Start building your portfolio in college, and update it as your work improves. Choose projects that show your style, skills and abilities. When hiring an art director, many employers ask for a portfolio of work in addition to a cover letter and resume. A high-quality portfolio will serve as one of your most important assets when searching for a job as an art director.

5. Advance in your career.

aWhen you have gained at least five years of professional creative experience and, ideally, management experience, you might be qualified to apply for art director positions. Build a strong resume, portfolio and references that will help you get an interview and a job offer.

Art director job description example

Our company is looking for an experienced art director to lead a team of talented photographers, artists and graphic designers. The art director will be responsible for conceiving innovative layouts and designs that effectively convey our clients’ messages. This individual should be passionate about design, have a keen eye for detail and be able to work on various media platforms. Qualified candidates must have a Bachelor of Fine Arts or similar and at least five years of experience in a managerial creative position.

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Related careers

  • Creative director

  • Production manager

  • Graphic designer

  • Advertising manager

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