How to become an art director

People skills
For me, the main difference between working as a graphic designer and as an art director was that I worked more with people than computers. Did our experts’ experience of working as an art director mesh with your thoughts? My first campaign
My first fully fledged independent art direction was for a British Gas sponsored campaign called ‘Stepping Out’ that intended to educate the older generation about staying active. James Fenton
James Fenton is a designer and art director based in the UK. 03. Words: Tom May
Tom May is associate editor at Creative Bloq. Production. But how relevant is all of this to the job we do? You need to be able to critique people’s work, hit deadlines, stay within the budget, and sadly on occasion have to discipline people for too many fag breaks or simply producing lazy design. Come up with wild ideas and have them fuck each other to spawn mutant idea babies who’ll take over the world. Knowledge
Prior knowledge of what is achievable with equipment photographers and post producers use is a must. But first and foremost you need to inspire, guide and mentor those you lead. Not one shot was of an orchestra in a music hall – no, Joan had set up a pianist in a graveyard, a cellist in a toilet cubicle and a string quartet on a rowing boat.  
What employers are looking for
Here, Ed Robinson lists the four main qualities he would look for when employing a new art director… For more of her work and to buy her prints, head to her website. 90% of the books I see are instantly forgettable – I would much rather see your take on Magritte’s flying penises, than another bloody Guiness ad. All designers inject their individual personalities, tastes and style into their work. Collaboration and mutual respect is key
Always keep an eye on what the end product is and, whilst allowing the photographer to create, keep the shoot on brief. Make it memorable. Career path
From there followed a few years of assisting, listening, learning about composition, direction, preparation, creative thinking and slowly discovered I had a talent for conceiving and art directing shoots, at that time, for corporate stories that had a more advertising aesthetic but intended for media worldwide. In many companies the traditional team structure has evolved into paired creative polymaths. A simple solution that earned the respect of the photographer, client and Honor. Of course, at this stage, I was purely assisting but my eyes were opened to a far more creative world than I expected. It is the art director’s role to identify and understand the different flavours each member brings to the team, an then carefully infuse them to compliment one another and ultimately creating an exciting and balanced sensory experience. Creativity
Ability to create from briefs that, on the surface, don’t appear to be that creative themselves. Be flexible as things rarely go exactly to plan. There is no single formula for what makes a good art director: it’s not a discipline taught in design schools, there are no books or guides that define the steps to success. Please share your views in the comments below! Why? You must be a mediator between writers and designers, understanding both disciplines and working closely with each. It’s an impressive job title that a lot of people yearn for, but can mean different things in different organisations. As an art director you must be a leader, someone who inspires and guides the vision of the design team. Every art director will have forged their own path, have their own definition of what their role is and their own approach to getting the job done and done well. It generally involves managing a team of designers working on a creative project, but the degree of responsibility and autonomy can vary. An art director who sees themselves in a position of hierarchical authority is simply a glorified manager. Copywriters scamp, art directors write, including contributions to blogs, books and magazines. It sounds like a simple question, but having to define somebody’s job role in one or two words is surprisingly difficult. Early shoots
At a very early age I was lucky enough to be invited to photo shoots arranged by my grandmother, Joan Sisley, a prominent visual consultant. Nowadays, I’m also a creative director, photographer and a director/cameraman – all due to the transferable skills accrued and developed art directing shoots. 04. Storyteller
Yet it is vital to understand art direction not simply as a visual experience. Even working within the constraints of brand guidelines, there is plenty of room for creativity and originality. Creative exploration is one of the benefits of this industry, so get out there and do different things differently. Personable character
Art directing the corporate and brand shoots that I have over the years it is always a people based role so character and personality are a big deciding factor when considering an art director. Being surrounded by great people and amazing talent, regardless of the day-to-day ups and downs, difficult clients and/or a stinking brief. An art director must appreciate the written content as much as visual, taking on the role of a storyteller, marrying together words and imagery, creating structure and order through layout and typography, providing weight and emphasis which conveys message and meaning, resulting in the ease of the audience’s understanding. Put together a killer portfolio
A book that is controversial, that scares, intrigues and has balls. One of the main roles of an art director is usually to art-direct photo shoots. Find out what the job title of art director means, what it requires in practice, and what qualities employers look for in an aspiring art director. 03. Because a great idea is one that scares the living pants off of you. The fundamental role of art direction is to direct and guide an audience through the information being presented to them. Read on… Make yourself noticed – in a good way
Get your voice heard and speak up, but not by blowing hot air – you’ll most definitely get caught out. Be diplomatic but direct as necessary to achieve end goals. And since I prefer to see the creative industry as a peoples’ industry, this collaboration and co-working was key to creating exciting new work. Inspire and mentor
Sure, there are aspects of management in the role. Trust me, they want to be challenged. It was then that all my training and early experience paid off as the plans to include a large number of OAP’s making circles of footsteps around the centerpiece, Honor Blackman aka, ‘Pussy Galore’, hit a stumbling block when most of them were not that interested in listening to a young art director but more interested in meeting the film star in the middle. He is the founder of Blimp Creative, a collective of professional creatives specialising in digital design and copywriting across web and mobile. Many love to talk about themselves, so ask to meet them for advice, to pick their brains – and to see their work! However, don’t be surprised if your icons actually turn out to be old, grumpy farts. If you do meet them, make it your priority to provoke them by demonstrating that you could be better than they ever were – within the right environment and with the right people of course. Be selfish, but don’t be an arsehole
You are the new generation, get to grips with what’s been done, evolve it and do it better! But does this make them any less an art director? A Swede based in London, she is also a contributor to the web magazine Typetoken and an avid blogger. 01. 04. Naturally, from that moment I was intrigued and wanted an in on every shoot coming up. Form a good rapport with the team and any subjects. And to add to the confusion, descriptions like ‘Web Ninja’, ‘Pixel Guru’ and ‘Creative Wizard’ infiltrate our world as well. Pointers for shoots
In my experience, different shoots demand different forms and levels of art direction but here are a few pointers. This leads me to identifying the roles of an art director. Sometimes this may be learned from their own mentors and passed down in a master/apprentice way, whilst others may formulate their process utterly independently, through their personal experience, trial and error. During my time at the latter I generated and developed ideas for ads and campaigns, worked alongside the creative director to ensure that creative strategy was innovative, motivating and right for the client; I also inspired, encouraged and mentored junior teams, briefed photographers, Illustrators, Artworkers and Retouchers – and presented to clients. We asked three leading art directors to share their thoughts and experiences on the role.

Updated: 01.12.2014 — 19:53