Become a Magazine Art Director: Education and Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become a magazine art director. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in magazine art direction.

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  • 0:02 Magazine Art Directors
  • 0:44 Career Requirements
  • 1:18 Steps to be a Magazine…

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Magazine Art Directors

Magazine art directors develop visual concepts for publications. They oversee the creation of layouts that accompany magazine stories, supervise design efforts, and determine the overall look and feel of the finished product prior to publication.

Working as a magazine art director is a high-pressure, fast-paced career. The majority of art directors work on a full-time basis in an office setting, although as deadlines approach, overtime hours are likely. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in 2014 that about half of art directors were self-employed.

Career Requirements

A bachelor's degree in a related field is a minimum, though a master's degree is preferred. Aspiring art directors should have several years of experience in the field. Additionally, creativity as well as strong verbal and written communication, leadership and time management skills are needed for this position. These professionals should also be skilled with computer design and editing software. According to 2015 data from the BLS, art directors earned a median salary of $89,760.

Steps to Be a Magazine Art Director

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Most art director positions require a bachelor's degree. The BLS recommends that aspiring directors pursue studies in an art-related field, such as fine art, photography, graphic design or illustration. Art directors interested in working for magazines might even consider pursuing a degree in journalism or photojournalism to learn more about how the magazine industry works and to learn skills specific to the field.

Alternatively, students can pursue bachelor's degrees specifically in art direction or art management. Art direction programs combine art and design coursework with classes in advertising and communication. Similarly, art management programs combine artistic concepts with business, management and marketing principles.

Students who are not pursuing a degree specifically in graphic design can benefit from taking elective classes in design and editing programs such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. Programs such as these are commonly used in production by art directors, and the more proficient a student is in using them the better.

Also, internships through a magazine can help provide aspiring art directors with industry experience and the opportunity to see firsthand how magazine companies work. Internships enable students to form networking connections that could potentially lead to job opportunities after graduation.

Step 2: Develop a Portfolio

A portfolio is a collection of an artist's best work compiled in a binder, file folder or digital method of display. The BLS stated that employers often assess portfolios when making hiring decisions. Prospective art directors can develop a portfolio while attending an undergraduate degree program and can continue to add to it throughout their careers.

Step 3: Obtain Entry-Level Employment

Art director positions usually require at least 3-5 years of industry experience, according to the BLS. An aspiring art director can gain the experience he or she needs by working as an artist, graphic designer, photographer or similar creative position within a magazine company. Individuals should practice collaborating with other professionals, since collaboration plays a huge role in the daily work of an art director.

Step 4: Become an Art Director

Once a candidate has gained the necessary experience needed, he or she can pursue promotion to the level of art director for a magazine. Art directors can be promoted from within, or by seeking job opportunities at other agencies.

Step 5: Continue Education

Although continuing education is not typically required for this career, magazine art directors can learn new skills and stay current with technological advances by voluntarily taking advanced courses in computer design or business. Business courses can benefit an art director too, because it is essential to know how to stay within budget. Learning new skills may also prepare art directors for new career opportunities.

Aspiring art directors should develop a portfolio and earn at least a bachelor's degree in a field like fine arts, graphic design, illustration, art direction or photojournalism, though a master's degree might be preferred.

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