11 tips to become an Art Director

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Becoming an art director is for lots of artist and visual designers the main goal in their careers. If you wanna follow this professional path and try to climb the ladder of your the company, studio or agency you are working in and reach this position, you will find this article very interesting. I will introduce you to tips and steps you need to follow in order to become an Art Director.

But before we start with the tips, let’s talk about the nature and functions of an Art Director’s job.

What is the job of an Art Director?

An Art Director is that person who uses creativity to express ideas visually. He works closely with the creative director, producers, marketing and product department. Of course, he will work even closer with the artist and designers under his direction, that will look for his guidance, expertise, and vision in their daily work.

Of course, not all the Art Directors are equal. I’m saying this because the daily routine of an Art Director working in a Marketing agency will be different than the one of an Art Director working in a Gaming Studio. The structure of the company, the work pipelines and of course the very same nature of the products each company and studio are producing will determine the day by day work of an Art Director. Taking this into account, I’m going to be as general as I can in order to give you a good understanding on how you can become an Art Director, in all industries across the board.

The art director is responsible for converting the ideas into visual assets that will enter through the eyes, because, even the best spectacular concept, without a good art direction, can lose its effectiveness. Between its capacities, it must emphasize the versatility, the capacity to design, the conceptualization and the creative thinking as well as the communicative capacity. It can be confused with an artist or a designer, but in reality, it is a communicator with creative and aesthetic skills.

An art director is ideally lover of details, must have a good taste to demand visual perfection, knows how to manage the supports and harmonize the elements that count. He or She knows many techniques, is an observer, knows how to use references and knows the importance of prior research in any work that he or she has to do. Also is able to manage projects and coordinate people. If you wanna pursue a career as an Art Director you will find that you need not only artistic skills. Also many other like time management, presentation skills, ownership, and leadership, etc… I know this very well because one of my goals is to become an Art Director myself. 

As you can see, being creative is not the only skill an Art Director needs. In fact, skills like the ability to communicate to his team and other departments will be crucial. Another skills the Art Director needs to become successful is accountability and be able to handle the pressure. The Art Director is the tip of the spear of the art department in a company, studio or any type of production company. He has the final saying on how a product should look. This is why sometimes can be a difficult position to be because like in any industry results are expected and expectations need to be fulfilled.

Which are the functions of an Art Director?

Now that you have a general idea of what is the job of an Art Director, let me go into details on which are the functions of the job:

  •  The Art Director must generate the main idea based on the concept. From his or her initial idea or creation, depends on the development of the project. This is why an Art Director needs to be a receptive person since he or she must be able to internalize the concept offered by the creative director or the production department and be able to translate this idea into a visual format. Of course, most of the time it will not be him/her, the one creating the visual asset, but it will be done under his or her guidance and supervision.
  •  In any case, the Art Director needs to have the skills for being able to capture that motor idea graphically. There are discussions about the skills needed to carry out this part of the task of an art director. Some people argue that drawing is essential. Others would force the art director to handle all kinds of graphic design or illustration programs. Remember in any case that the purpose is to communicate the idea effectively. The method should not be the most important.    
  •  The Art Director will be responsible for the approval of the final art. The final art is what will be presented to the client and must respond to the initial briefing and the concept of the creative director. The art director will make his product vision available to the production technicians. The art director will be who decides colors, typography, proportions, etc.

11 Tips to become an Art Director

Here you have a list of skills you need to have or develop that will grant you a job as an Art Director:

1- Leadership and good communication. The art director marks the visuals of the campaign, product, asset, etc…This visual representation needs to embody the spirit and keys of the project. In order to ensure that all the team follow the same objectives and unify forces, it is necessary to know how to clearly convey the ideology, to know each member of the team (its advantages and weaknesses), to coordinate and motivate them. Technically a good briefing will help to achieve it without deviating from the objective of the campaign. The briefing is a document that will mark: the objectives, target, main slogan, texts, and necessary images, communication platforms and their technical characteristics, as well as delivery timing.

If you are not a natural leader, don’t worry, you can become one. Train yourself to become a better communicator. Improve your organization skills and learn how to analyze people and know how to use their skills in your advantage and the well being of the art team and the project. Like I told you before, I´m educating myself to become an Art Director and recently I decided to take action and enroll in a course to help me to develop some of this skills I was speaking about. So far, the course it´s been very useful and I´m even applying some of the principles and techniques regarding leadership and people´s management in my current job as Senior Artist.

2- Real knowledge of programs and production processes. Art directors have already had some years of experience in the world of design or creativity with technology (concept art, photography, video editing, multimedia, etc.) so they are prepared because they have knowledge of the characteristics and possibilities of each sector. There are a time factor and experience that contributes to the process of learning many software and work pipelines. But of course, the more you push yourself to be up to date with the latest technologies and work processes, the faster you will achieve your goal.

3Always meet the deadline. If you are not used to delivering on time your work, you need to start working on that, right now!. A good delivery schedule is essential for any creative, but much more for an art director, because the calendar guarantees the proper functioning of the project: the incubation of the idea, selection of creatives, design deliveries, customer exposure, possible changes and final deliveries in all media, which is usually at least one month before launch. The control of timing will be one of the fundamental keys to the success of the project. 

4- You need a good strategy and organization skills. Each project or advertising campaign is unique and the choice of the best professional specialists in each area will help the art director to make the campaign effective. You need to know the strengths and weaknesses of each member of your team. The better you know them, the better you can locate them in any project.

5- Be up to date with trends. Although the visual world changes and there is a lot of competition, it is good to be aware of international trends in graphics, visual, artistic and other designs such as architecture, advertising, fashion, music, etc. because everything affects and can be the key to connect with the target and differentiate from the competition.

6- Social awareness and responsibility.  When connecting with the target audience, you need to be aware of the social reality of this audience. Learn to use an inclusive language and rules to help you to avoid differences, discrimination or offensive words that may harm your product perception by the public. In the same way, it happens with the images or photographs, depending on the country it can be a taboo or offense, even lawsuits. Knowing the country where the product or campaign will be screened, its culture and limits can help the success of the project.

7- Become a Salesman. I’m telling you this because you need to learn how to create convincing presentations in order to “sale” your vision to others. Every campaign has to be presented to a client, Head of Product, CEO etc… before the launch, and the art director is key in this presentation because he will transmit all the work done and will need to convince that this proposal is the best possible to carry out. To achieve this you will have to convince the client, Head of Product, etc… with images and power of persuasion. Knowing the customer will be essential to reach him.

Becoming a spokesperson and a “salesman” was for me a real challenge. I´ve never been a shy person, but speaking in public and try to sell them an idea, a vision or a product was something quite difficult for me. Again, forced by the nature of my work, where you have to expose your ideas in meetings and convince others, I was forced to become a public speaker. There are some actions you can take, to overcome the fear or anxiety to speak in public, like breathing exercises, relaxation techniques etc… but I really learn some great public speaking techniques from a course I took a couple of years ago. Once I learned the basics on how to create a presentation and how to deliver information in a calm way, my fears started to fade away.

8- Self-criticism and search for the best result. Being a director of art naturally implies a firm and disciplined character that carries out his ideas, this why it is necessary to make the exercise of analysis and self-criticism in the creation process. Having a general planning of the creative process where the opinions of the departments are respected can help to have active listening. Include representatives of other departments in the creation process, by having regular meetings with them where you can update them with the current development and listen to their opinions an input on the matter. You don’t need to follow each comment or idea they give you but is good to have external opinions. Discerning the good criticism from the bad criticism is key for an Art Director.

9- Understand the budgets constraints. Every art director wants the best for his campaign, but not always the best is the most expensive. A good Art Director is differentiated by their creativity, timings compliance and real cost control. Each project is unique and has its budget limit. In large projects, you can make 2 or 3 versions of the product so the client can value several different costs, but this is not always realistic and you will need to come out with a good design in a short time or with a limited budget.

10- Updating and continuous training. Visual communication is constantly changing, expanding communication platforms and new languages. The person responsible for art direction must know them, not be afraid of changes and be trained in different editing programs, communication languages, and interaction platforms. Surrounding the specialists in each project, ask and seek opinions in surveys to the target to which the campaign is directed, to assess and learn how to get closer to the target audience. The training of an art director is constant, so he must have the concern to be open to new forms of communication and ensure the formation of his team so that the communication company progresses. I totally recommend sites like Udemy and Skilllshare for improving your education. These sites have countless courses in all sorts of areas and disciplines.

11- Have an ego. I know this can sound contradictory because in tip number 9 I was speaking about self-criticism. What I mean but having an ego, is to use your power of will and you believe in yourself in order to achieve your dream of becoming an Art Director. I’m not saying to not listen to others, what I’m saying is use the belief you have in you deserving to be an Art Director, as a reaffirmation. Dismiss the opinion of those who doubt you and feed your ego with the support that others will provide you.

Do you need a degree to become an Art Director?

I will never deny the advantages of a formal education. Having a degree is always helpful. Not only because it gives you more credit as a professional when being recruited. Also, attending university and high degree studies train your mind to absorb and assimilate information.

With that being said, in reality, I found many times, in my professional life, art directors supervising my work, who never went to any university or have any degree in fine arts or design. Are they mediocre art directors? Most of them NO, and some of them were even BETTER than the ones who had some formal education or university degree. This art directors started their careers as a regular artist and became art directors because they grew as professionals. They became better and better artist, but most importantly, they became the “go to person” in their respective teams. They became so indispensable to their teams, that people started to gravitate naturally towards them.

More important than a degree, is the level of professionalism you achieve in your career, how good you are managing people, how to refine your artistic senses are, etc…

Conclusion

I hope you found the article useful. I tried to present you with the reality and the skills needed to become an Art Director. I know some of the tips of skills you need to become an Art Director, can sound a little bit overwhelming, the reality is that any Art Director is a human being with his flows and his limitations. The most important thing is to analyze yourself and highlight which are your weaknesses and work on them.

Becoming an Art Director is totally doable. It will take you time and effort, but if you are wiling to put the work and be smart about optimizing your efforts, you can totally achieve your goal of becoming an Art Director.

 

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