How to become an Art Director / Creative Bloq

Here is an article I wrote for Creative Bloq a little while back.

What is an art director? 

It sounds like a simple question, but having to define somebody’s job role in one or two words is surprisingly difficult.

Designer, art director, creative director – all these titles are necessary to create a structure within agency departments, for the client’s benefit, and for the recruitment process. And to add to the confusion, descriptions like ‘Web Ninja’, ‘Pixel Guru’ and ‘Creative Wizard’ infiltrate our world as well. But how relevant is all of this to the job we do?

In many companies the traditional team structure has evolved into paired creative polymaths. Ask any creative team working today, and you will see that they share a lot of their work tasks. Copywriters scamp, art directors write. I write contributions to blogs, books and magazines, so does this make me any less an art director?

Creative concoctions

Working across branding, design and advertising, I’ve experienced most types of agencies, from huge conglomerates like Interbrand, to the smaller and friendlier creative agencies, like muirhoward, where I am currently spending my days cooking up all sorts of creative concoctions.

Here I generate and develop ideas for ads and campaigns, work alongside the creative director to ensure that creative strategy is innovative, motivating and right for the client; I also inspire, encourage and mentor junior teams, brief Photographers, Illustrators, Artworkers and Retouchers – and present to clients.

People skills

For me, the main difference between working as a graphic designer and as an art director is that I work more with people than computers. And since I prefer to see the creative industry as a peoples’ industry, this collaboration and co-working is key to creating exciting new work.

What are the worst things about being an AD? I would say the worst bit is to not have the ability to execute my ideas myself and to trust others to meet my ridiculously sky-high standards. However, if you are working in the right place and collaborating with the right people, this should be the least of your worries.

The best things? Being surrounded by great people and amazing talent, regardless of the day-to-day ups and downs, difficult clients and/or a stinking brief.

5 tips for becoming an art director

01. Put together a killer portfolio

A book that is controversial, that scares, intrigues and has balls. As a graduate and/or junior, you will probably not have as much ‘real work’, so fill it with whatever is inside your head. Make it memorable. 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.

02. 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! Come up with wild ideas and have them fuck each other to spawn mutant idea babies who’ll take over the world. Why? Because a great idea is one that scares the living pants off of you.

03. Make friends – show interest in people and their work

Hound your heroes and ask to meet them. 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. Trust me, they want to be challenged.

04. Stay on top of blogs and trend-reports

Keep the momentum up and don’t get stuck in a bubble. Creative exploration is one of the benefits of this industry, so get out there and do different things differently.

05. 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.