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Design Director Vs Art Director

Design directors supervise the creation and execution of digital design elements, while art directors manage design directors and other artistic team leaders to ensure overall artistic production that lines up to client and company expectations.

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Comparing Design Directors to Art Directors

In the context of advertising and multimedia, design directors and art directors may work on the same floor or in the same department. The duties of these career titles may overlap, however, depending on the company and industry.

Design directors manage and guide the design elements of particular projects. Art directors ensure that the design director and other artists and team leaders are working in harmony to produce media that conveys a company's vision, increases marketability, and reaches a target audience. You will find a comparison below of these two artistic leadership professions and some important career details.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary Job Growth (2014-2024)*
Design Director Bachelor's degree $107,349 (2017)** 1% (graphic designers)
Art Director Bachelor's degree $89,820 (2016)* 2%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Payscale.com

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  • Advertising and Commercial Design
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Responsibilities of Design Directors vs. Art Directors

The main function of design directors is to ensure the timely creation and publication of design elements, usually digital. These might include logos, online publications, and social media content. They may manage teams of graphic designers and present multiple conceptual prototypes to an art director for input. Art directors manage the execution of all artistic projects, including design; they make sure that projects meet the budget, match the company's vision, and satisfy shareholders and clients. They guide a concept from idea to full-blown campaign, measure the subsequent outcomes, and re-direct accordingly. Thus, an art director analyzes data, tracks marketing trends, and manages the overall artistic production of a company, while a design director is a resident expert in graphic design and understands how to use design to evoke an emotional response in a consumer or audience.

Design Director

Design directors answer to upper management, which may include an art director. They are typically digital design experts who oversee the creation of a product or company's design assets. Their work may involve coordinating the tasks of photographers, illustrators, and designers to meet a deadline for a particular project, such as a web design, magazine layout, or product packaging. Strong technical and artistic abilities with graphic arts software like Adobe Photoshop are requisite.

Job responsibilities of a design director include:

  • Collaborate with all team leaders to conceptualize problems and brainstorm design solutions
  • Take complex concepts and translate them to visual designs across mediums
  • Create designs that target mobile and digital users
  • Possibly required to step in during the art director's absence
  • Supervises all digital operations which might include multimedia, blog posts and websites

Art Director

Art directors are hands-on creative leaders for an organization or company. They oversee diverse teams of artists and designers and supervise the execution of printed, digital, and physical materials utilized by companies for advertising campaigns and major artistic/commercial projects (like feature films). They research marketing trends, develop budgets, and translate a company's business goals to the realm of art and design. They are artistic liaisons between client and company, and they oversee all the individual teams of artists who will actualize the brand, product and/or campaign. They also keep everyone on schedule.

Job responsibilities of an art director include:

  • Meet with top executives to determine and develop conceptual needs
  • Research products and listen to client's needs
  • Determine and analyze target audience
  • Lead artists, illustrators, filmmakers and designers to reach visual goals
  • Approve creative work or provide feedback and require revision

Related Careers

Prospective design directors might decide to put their visual design skills to work as industrial designers. Industrial designers design and create new products ranging from children's toys to automobiles. Art directors might be more interested in the business and marketing aspects of the field, in which case they could become advertising directors and plan the campaigns that art directors help execute.

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