Advertising Art Director: Degree Options and Requirements

Aspiring advertising art directors need a strong understanding of graphic design and the advertising field, as well as artistic design talent. Students may earn an associate's or bachelor's degree in advertising, fine arts, and graphic design.

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Essential Information

An associate's degree program in art and design allows students to develop their artistic abilities and gain hands-on experience. The program teaches students entry-level skills in illustration and visual art design. Photography, drawing and digital media are areas of focus. You can finish an associate's degree in two years.

A four-year bachelor's degree program in advertising features several majors, including communications design and creative advertising. Students learn about the history of advertising and explore market research methods. Students in a bachelor's degree program in graphic design can further develop their technical expertise. In addition to studying web design, letterform design and two and three-dimensional design, students may have to create a work portfolio.


Associate Degree in Art/Design

Learning visual art design and illustration techniques can be beneficial for pursuing a career as an art director. At the associate's degree level, students learn artistic concepts and skills through programs in fine arts, graphic design or digital design. The resulting degrees could be an Associate of Arts, which readily transfers into a bachelor's degree program, or an Associate in Applied Science, which is more narrowly focused for entering the workforce. A high school diploma or GED is typically required for entry.

An associate's degree program coursework aims to educate students in various visual art skills, resulting in a solid foundation in different media. Students can expect to take plenty of hands-on studio courses to build a professional portfolio. Common art skills studied include:

  • Photography
  • Drawing
  • Graphic and digital design
  • Digital media skills
  • Printmaking

Bachelor's Degree in Advertising

In the process of becoming an art director, advertising and communication study is paramount in addition to developing artistic design skills. Possible majors associated with art direction include advertising, art direction, creative advertising, graphic design and communications design. Most degree programs result in a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree. Students may be required to submit a portfolio as a prerequisite.

Courses consist of advertising history and methods, plus several multimedia design concepts. Students often choose a concentration in a particular visual communication. Like most BFA programs, students work toward building a professional portfolio. Topics of study may include:

  • Advertising copywriting
  • Marketing communication
  • Advertising and communication ethics
  • Market research methods
  • Communication theory

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  • Advertising and Commercial Design
  • Commercial Photography
  • Fashion Design
  • General Visual Communications Design
  • Graphic Design
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Bachelor's Degree in Graphic Design

Bachelor's degree programs in graphic design are beneficial for aspiring art directors because many advertising firms use digital platforms for advertising. Such degree programs critically explore and exercise various graphic design technical skills. Program applicants are usually required to submit a portfolio demonstrating their creative talent and skill. Graphic design programs offer studio courses in various media disciplines. Students are taught to communicate their creative ideas through digital media, which is essential for art direction. Courses may include:

  • Design foundations
  • Typography, drawing and photography
  • Web design
  • Letterform design
  • Two and three-dimensional design

Popular Career Options

After completing an associate degree program, students may be qualified for entry-level positions in advertising, publishing and design fields. Associate degree holders typically find employment in small design firms and studios, where they can gain experience that leads toward the art director profession.

Because a strong portfolio is a large consideration for employment, some jobs may favor skill and experience over education; however, a bachelor's degree is likely to train a student with the necessary skills for the professional market. Earning a bachelor's degree may open up entry-level job opportunities in large advertising agencies located in major cities.

An art director can expect project work though a variety of media, including television and online advertising. An entry-level art director may start out as an assistant artist on a creative advertising team and produce various advertising projects with copywriters. Through experience, an art director may advance to management positions such as head art director or chief creative director. Jobs in creative advertising include:

  • Art director
  • Illustrator
  • Graphic Designer

Job Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for art directors increasingly emphasize digital technology; therefore, opportunities in print publishing are expected to decline. The BLS predicts a 2% rise in employment for art directors between 2014 and 2024. In May 2015, the annual median wage for art directors was $89,760, as reported by the BLS.

Continuing Education

A bachelor's or master's degree is typically required for higher paying jobs in a large advertising agency. To develop a well-rounded skill set for art direction, more education in creative advertising and graphic design may be sought. Certificate programs and continuing education courses offered by community colleges may also serve to strengthen resumes and portfolios.

Coursework for advertising, graphic design and fine arts programs help students develop their technical, communication and artistic skills for future careers as art directors. Further education is available at the master's degree level.

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