Art Directors

Quick Facts: Art Directors
2017 Median Pay $92,500 per year 
$44.47 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation 5 years or more
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2016 90,300
Job Outlook, 2016-26 5% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 4,900

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Art Directors Career, Salary, and Education Information

What Art Directors Do

Art directors are responsible for the visual style and images in magazines, newspapers, product packaging, and movie and television productions. They create the overall design and direct others who develop artwork or layouts.


Art directors

Duties of art directors

Art directors typically do the following:

  • Determine how best to represent a concept visually

  • Determine which photographs, art, or other design elements to use

  • Develop the overall look or style of a publication, an advertising campaign, or a theater, television, or film set

  • Manage graphic designers, set and exhibit designers, or other design staff

  • Review and approve designs, artwork, photography, and graphics developed by other staff members

  • Talk to clients to develop an artistic approach and style

  • Coordinate activities with other artistic and creative departments

  • Develop detailed budgets and timelines

  • Present designs to clients for approval

Art directors typically oversee the work of other designers and artists who produce images for television, film, live performances, advertisements, or video games. They determine the overall style in which a message is communicated visually to its audience. For each project, they articulate their vision to artists. The artists then create images, such as illustrations, graphics, photographs, or charts and graphs, or design stage and movie sets, according to the art director’s vision.

Art directors work with art and design staffs in advertising agencies, public relations firms, and book, magazine, or newspaper publishers to create designs and layouts. They also work with producers and directors of theater, television, or movie productions to oversee set designs. Their work requires them to understand the design elements of projects, inspire other creative workers, and keep projects on budget and on time. Sometimes they are responsible for developing budgets and timelines.

The following are some specifics of what art directors do in different industries:

In publishing, art directors typically oversee the page layout of catalogs, newspapers, or magazines. They also choose the cover art for books and periodicals. Often, this work includes publications for the Internet, so art directors oversee production of the websites used for publication.

In advertising and public relations, art directors ensure that their clients’ desired message and image are conveyed to consumers. Art directors are responsible for the overall visual aspects of an advertising or media campaign and coordinate the work of other artistic or design staff, such as graphic designers.

In movie production, art directors collaborate with directors to determine what sets will be needed for the film and what style or look the sets should have. They hire and supervise a staff of assistant art directors or set designers to complete designs.

Work Environment for Art Directors

Art directors held about 90,300 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of art directors were as follows:

Self-employed workers: 59%

Advertising, public relations, and related services: 13% 

Newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers: 4%

Motion picture and video industries: 3%

Specialized design services: 3%

Even though the majority of art directors are self-employed, they must still collaborate with designers or other staff on visual effects or marketing teams. Art directors usually work in a fast-paced office environment, and they often work under pressure to meet strict deadlines.

How to Become an Art Directors

Art directors need at least a bachelor’s degree in an art or design subject and previous work experience. Depending on the industry, they may have worked as graphic designersfine artistseditors, or photographers, or in another art or design occupation before becoming art directors.


Many art directors start out in another art-related occupation, such as fine artists or photographers. Work experience in art or design occupations develops an art director’s ability to visually communicate to a specific audience creatively and effectively. They gain the appropriate education for that occupation, usually by earning a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.

To supplement their work experience in those occupations and show their ability to take on a more creative or a more managerial role, some complete a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Most art directors have 5 or more years of work experience in another occupation before becoming art directors. Depending upon the industry, they may have previously worked as graphic designers, fine artists, editors, photographers, or in another art or design occupation.

For many artists, including art directors, developing a portfolio—a collection of an artist’s work that demonstrates his or her styles and abilities—is essential. Managers, clients, and others look at artists’ portfolios when they are deciding whether to hire an employee or contract for an art project.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Art directors must be able to listen to and speak with staff and clients to ensure that they understand employees’ ideas and clients’ desires for advertisements, publications, or movie sets.

Creativity. Art directors must be able to come up with interesting and innovative ideas to develop advertising campaigns, set designs, or layout options.

Leadership skills. Art directors must be able to organize, direct, and motivate other artists. They need to articulate their visions to artists and oversee the work as it progresses.

Resourcefulness. Art directors must be able to adapt their latest designs to the changing technology used in their industry.

Time-management skills. Balancing competing priorities and multiple projects while meeting strict deadlines is critical for art directors.

salaries for Art Directors

The median annual wage for art directors was $92,500 in May 2017. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $51,130, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $170,230.

In May 2017, the median annual wages for art directors in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Motion picture and video industries: $112,800

Advertising, public relations, and related services: $95,200

Specialized design services: $93,830

Newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers: $81,650

Job Outlook for art directors

Employment of art directors is projected to grow 5 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Art directors will continue to be needed to oversee the work of graphic designers, illustrators, photographers, and others engaged in artwork or layout design.

Employment of art directors is projected to decline in the publishing industry from 2016 to 2026 as traditional print publications lose ground to other media forms. Rather than focusing on the print layout of images and text, art directors for newspapers a

Job Prospects

Strong competition for jobs is expected as many talented designers and artists seek to move into art director positions. Prospective art directors with a strong understanding of how to create intuitive, user-friendly designs will have better prospects working with interactive digital platforms. Workers with a good portfolio, which demonstrates strong visual design and conceptual work across all multimedia platforms, will have the best prospects.

Employment projections data for Art Directors, 2016-26

Employment, 2016: 90,300

Projected Employment, 2026: 95,200

Change, 2016-2026: +5%, +4,900

Careers RElated to art directors

Craft and Fine Artists

Craft and fine artists use a variety of materials and techniques to create art for sale and exhibition. Craft artists create handmade objects, such as pottery, glassware, textiles, and other objects that are designed to be functional. Fine artists, including painters, sculptors, and illustrators, create original works of art for their aesthetic value, rather than for a functional one.

Fashion Designers

Fashion designers create original clothing, accessories, and footwear. They sketch designs, select fabrics and patterns, and give instructions on how to make the products they design.

Graphic Designers

Graphic designers create visual concepts, using computer software or by hand, to communicate ideas that inspire, inform, and captivate consumers. They develop the overall layout and production design for various applications such as advertisements, brochures, magazines, and corporate reports.

Industrial Designers

Industrial designers develop the concepts for manufactured products, such as cars, home appliances, and toys. They combine art, business, and engineering to make products that people use every day. Industrial designers consider the function, aesthetics, production costs, and usability of products when developing new product concepts.

Multimedia Artists and Animators

Multimedia artists and animators create animation and visual effects for television, movies, video games, and other forms of media.


Photographers use their technical expertise, creativity, and composition skills to produce and preserve images that tell a story or record an event.

Writers and Authors

Writers and authors develop written content for various types of media, including advertisements; books; magazines; movie, play, and television scripts; and blogs.

Craft and Fine Artists$49,160
Fashion DesignersBachelor's degree$67,420
Graphic DesignersBachelor's degree$48,700
Industrial DesignersBachelor's degree$65,970
Multimedia Artists and AnimatorsBachelor's degree$70,530
PhotographersHigh school diploma or equivalent$32,490
Writers and AuthorsBachelor's degree$61,820


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Art Directors,
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