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Art Director

How to Become an Art Director

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Art director showing portfolio, portrait, in office
Ken Wramton/The Image Bank/Getty Images

What Does an Art Director Do?

An art director oversees the art, i.e. the photographs and drawn images, that appear in newspapers, magazines, ad campaigns and on book covers. An art director is usually the person who oversees the entire design department, working with photo editors and editors to coordinate what images will match up with what words.

More than simply assigning a photographer or illustrator to create an image, an art director works on creating visual concepts. At a magazine an art director would work to create the specific look and feel of the entire magazine, ensuring there’s a unified visual look throughout. If you notice that certain magazines maintain different types of “looks” -- with certain layouts and certain types of images -- you’re picking up on the work of the art director.

Where Do Art Directors Work?

Art directors work throughout media in advertising, in book publishing and at magazines. Art directors usually specialize in one sector -- focusing on, say, advertising or book publishing -- and the type of work they do varies on their subset of the industry. At magazines art directors conceive of layouts and the art that will match up with the various stories in the magazine. At book publishing houses art directors often focus solely on book covers, hiring designers to create those covers and overseeing their work. (An art director at some book publishing houses may also do some of the designing.) At ad agencies art directors, usually working with a copywriter, create the images that go with an ad campaign. At ad agencies art directors may specialize in a specific area, such as print (creating ads for magazines), TV or Web.

How Do You Become an Art Director?

Most art directors have degrees from art schools, where they’ve studied graphic design, photography and drawing. (A background in graphic design is usually essential for most art director jobs today.) In today’s job market art directors also need to know various computer programs (most run on Macs) that allow them to work with everything from photographs to font sizes. While photoshop is a standard program all art directors should know, this is just one of many. For more on specific programs art directors should know, you can check out this video.

Art directors who’ve gone to art school are usually trained in the computer programs needed to get jobs in the field. Art schools will also provide candidates with a portfolio, which is necessary to land most jobs in this field. Art directors, who often work up to that title (from assistant positions), need to show examples of their work. Someone looking to work as an art director in an ad agency, for example, need to show a potential employer sample ad campaigns he’s created. To get these samples, you need to have experience from an internship or from your art school experience.

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