Art Directors


Education and Training Requirements

High School

A college degree is usually a requirement for art directors; however, in some instances, it is not absolutely necessary. A variety of high school courses will give you both a taste of college-level offerings and an idea of the skills necessary for art directors on the job. These courses include art, drawing, art history, graphic design, illustration, photography, advertising, and desktop publishing.

Other useful courses that you should take in high school include business, computing, English, mathematics, technical drawing, cultural studies, psychology, and social science.

Postsecondary Training

Most art directors have a college degree. Many have majored in graphic design or fine arts. In addition, many art directors have a master's degree in fine arts, business administration, or other fields. Along with general two- and four-year colleges and universities, a number of professional art schools offer two-, three-, or four-year programs with such classes as figure drawing, painting, graphic design, and other art courses, as well as classes in art history, writing, business administration, communications, and foreign languages.

Courses in advertising, marketing, photography, filmmaking, set direction, layout, desktop publishing, and fashion are also important for those interested in becoming art directors. Specialized courses, sometimes offered only at professional art schools, may be particularly helpful for students who want to go into art direction. These include typography, animation, storyboard, Web site design, and portfolio development.

Because of the rapidly increasing use of computers in design work, it is essential to have a thorough understanding of how computer art and layout programs work. In smaller companies, the art director may be responsible for using this software; in larger companies, a staff person, under the direction of the art director, may use these programs. In either case, the director must know what can be done with the available software.

In addition to course work at the college level, many universities and professional art schools offer graduates or students in their final year a variety of workshop projects, desktop publishing training opportunities, and internships. These programs provide students with opportunities to develop their personal design styles as well as their portfolios.

Other Education or Training

Keeping up with industry developments is key to success as an art director. Professional associations often provide continuing education (CE) opportunities. For example, MPA–The Association of Magazine Media provides a variety of webinars, custom events, and dinner sessions. The Society for News Design offers continuing education opportunities at its annual workshop. The Graphic Artists Guild provides teleclasses that focus on topics such as optimizing one’s portfolio, copyright trends, and utilizing social media for marketing and self promotion. United Scenic Artists Local 829 periodically offers classes to help its members develop their business skills. One recent class was titled “Personal Negotiation for Live Performance.” Other organizations that offer CE opportunities include the News Media Alliance and the AIGA, the professional association for design. Contact these organizations for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

There are no certification or licensing requirements for art directors.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Aspiring art directors need to obtain three to five years’ experience working in a design department in a supervisory capacity or as a designer. Serving as an intern or working part-time in an art department are other good ways to get experience.

The work of an art director requires creativity, imagination, curiosity, leadership skills, and a sense of adventure. Art directors must be able to work with all sorts of specialized equipment and computer software, such as graphic design programs, as well as make presentations on the ideas behind their work.

The ability to work well with different people and organizations is a must for art directors. They must always be up to date on new techniques, trends, and attitudes. And because deadlines are a constant part of the work, an ability to handle stress and pressure well is key.

Accuracy and attention to detail are important parts of the job. When art is done neatly and correctly, the public usually pays no notice. But when a project is done poorly or sloppily, people will notice, even if they have had no design training. Other requirements for art directors include time management skills and an interest in media and people's motivations and lifestyles.