Art director

Art director

The term art director is a blanket title for a variety of similar job functions in advertising, publishing, film and television, the Internet, and video games.


Despite the title, an advertising art director isn't necessarily the head of an art department. In modern advertising practices, an art director typically works in tandem with a copywriter. The team usually works together to devise an overall concept (also known as the "big idea," etc.) for the ad, commercial, mailer, brochure, or other advertisement. The copywriter is responsible for the textual content, the art director for the visual aspects. But the A.D. may come up with the headline or other copy, and the copywriter may suggest a visual or the aesthetic approach. Each person usually welcomes suggestions and constructive criticism from the other. Ideally, the words and visual should not parrot each other; each should enhance or enlarge the other's meaning and effect.

Any art director/copywriter team's working methods may vary, but generally the copywriter is more involved in the process of gathering information from the client or account executive, while the art director remains more involved through production. At the extreme, a writer might simply submit hand-written text (copy) and strategic instructions to the art director, who then contributes the visual aspects. (Copywriter Bill Bernbach is apocryphally said to have "slid his copy under the door" to Helmut Krone. If this irony is true, the immortal success of this non-synergistic approach may be due in part to Krone having been widely considered "the greatest advertising print art director who ever lived.")

This is not to say that marketing sense is not important. The ability to formulate and communicate the message, rather than simply stylize it, is one of the qualities that distinguishes an "art director" from a "graphic designer." Most often, the two professions overlap in what is known as communication design, with individuals fulfilling both roles at the same time or alternating between roles. Although a good art director is expected to have a sense of graphic design judgment and technical knowledge of production, it may not even be necessary for an art director to be able to hand-render comprehensive layouts, especially now that virtually all but the most preliminary work is done on computer.

In all but the smallest organizations, the art director/copywriter team is overseen by a creative director. In a larger organization, an art director may oversee other art directors and a team of junior designers, image developers and/or production artists, and coordinate with a separate production department. In a smaller organization the art director may fill all these roles, including oversight of printing and other production.


An art director, in the hierarchical structure of a film art department, works directly below the production designer, in collaboration with the set decorator, and above the set designer. A large part of their duties include the administrative aspects of the art department. They are responsible for assigning tasks to personnel, keeping track of the art department budget and scheduling, as well as overall quality control. They are often also a liaison to other departments; especially the construction department. In the past, the art director title was used to denote the head of the art department (hence the Academy Award for Best Art Direction). On the movie Gone with the Wind, David O. Selznick felt that William Cameron Menzies had such a significant role in the look of the film, that the title Art Director was not sufficient, and so he gave Menzies the title of Production Designer. The title has become more common, and now Production Designer is commonly used as the title for the head of the Art Department, although the title actually implies control over every visual aspect of a film, including costumes.


Art directors in publishing typically work with the publications editors. Together they work on a concept for sections and pages of a publication. Individually, the art director is mostly responsible for the visual look and feel of the publication, and the editor has ultimate responsibility for the publications verbal and textual content.


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