Education and Training: Varies—see profile
Salary: Median—$63,750 per year
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Art directors oversee the artistic design of advertisements and print materials, as well as the filming of television commercials. They are the decision makers who are responsible for the quality of the finished product. The art director chooses a photographer, an illustrator, models, and any props necessary for an ad. If a print ad comes back from the printer with an imperfection, the art director is responsible for retouching it.
In advertising, the art director is not only responsible for the "look" of an ad but is also part of a creative team responsible for developing the very concept. An art director and a copywriter (who writes the ads) may decide on an advertising concept together. Then they determine how the ad will look and what it will say.
To create a "print" ad—one that appears in a magazine or a newspaper or on a billboard—the art director creates a rough layout using a computer. The layout shows where the copy will go, which fonts and colors will be used, and what the picture will look like. At this stage, the layout must be approved by the client. Once a rough layout for an ad is approved, the art director uses all the resources of the agency to produce the finished ad.
Work begins in a large, open work area known as the bull pen, where the art director supervises a team of artists who work up the rough layout of an ad, refine it, and put it together on the computer. Assistants scale photographs and illustrations to the proper size and decide on the typeface. They run the copy and the photographs through the computer programs to create the pages as they will appear in print.
The client's first look at a television ad is in the form of a storyboard—a kind of comic-strip version of the action and dialogue of the ad. The art director draws the storyboard as a model for the filmed ad. Many people help prepare an ad for television. The art director and the copywriter then join forces with a producer, who handles the budget and the technical details. All three choose a director to film or tape the ad. The art director also helps to cast the actors for a television advertisement—they must have the "look" the art director wants.
Education and Training Requirements
Prospective art directors should begin by putting together a portfolio, which is a collection of their best work. There are a number of ways to get the training necessary to be an art director. In high school, students should take courses in art, mechanical drawing or drafting, and photography. Post-secondary education may include a program at a two-year college, a four-year college, or a special art school. Some two-year colleges offer basic courses in layout and paste-up. Four-year colleges offer bachelor's degrees in fine arts. A number of art schools across the country offer thorough training in graphic design, including courses in typography, design, layout, and photography. To be accepted at an art school, applicants typically need to present a portfolio.
Getting the Job
Individuals who attend an art school usually get help from the school in finding a job. Advertising agencies and magazine and book publishers can be contacted directly regarding their employment opportunities. Job openings are also listed in classified newspaper ads and on Internet job banks. Before applying for a position, prospective candidates must prepare a portfolio. Employers decide whom to hire on the basis of the talent and skills shown in an applicant's portfolio.
Beginners in the field usually start learning in the bull pen. By helping in this early stage of ad preparation, they learn how advertisements are actually handled. Artists do lettering and illustrations and learn to cut and paste and use drafting tools.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
In advertising a successful art director may become an art supervisor who manages other art directors on an account or a group head who supervises the artwork for a group of accounts. An art director may also become a creative director, a vice president, or the president of an advertising agency.
A talented art director can prosper in the book, newspaper, and magazine fields as well. Magazine publishers generally publish more than one magazine, and a successful art director on one title may oversee the artwork for a group of magazines. This person is sometimes called the corporate art director. In book publishing, an art director is generally responsible for designing book covers and pages. Some art directors earn prestige by having their work shown in museums, and some earn extra income by designing posters and calendars.
Both the advertising industry and the publishing industry reflect the ups and downs of the economy. Competition in the field is intense, but employment is expected to grow at an average rate through the year 2014. The best job opportunities will be for those with a great deal of talent and experience.
Art directors employed by publishers and advertising agencies work under constant pressure. There are always deadlines to meet, layouts to deliver to the printer, or commercials that must be taped as soon as possible. To get a magazine out on time, art directors must put pressure on the artists who work for them to finish their work on schedule. Delays in the production of a television commercial can be very expensive, and the art director is ultimately responsible for having everything ready on time and staying until the shooting is finished. There is very little job security in the advertising business, and frequent job changes are not unusual among art directors.
Where to Go for More Information
The Art Directors Club
106 W. 29th St.
New York, NY 10001
Society for News Design
1130 Ten Rod Rd., Ste. D-202
North Kingstown, RI 02852-4180
Earnings and Benefits
Salaries for art directors vary widely depending on an individual's experience and skills, the employer, and the company's geographic location. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for salaried art directors was $63,750 per year in 2004. Pay is slightly higher in the advertising field than in publishing. Senior art directors may earn up to $125,000 per year depending on their talent, experience, and the size of the agency that employs them.