How to become an Art Director (with a difference)

You want to learn how to become an art director.

In my experience, an art director is the highest level that you can reach from a graphic perspective.

A lot of art directors start as graphic designers and what they do is they control the visuals, they oversee the visuals and they produce the visuals for label and trim any kind of hang tags, any kind of printable items like flyers or pamphlets, booklets.

Obviously, they’re in charge of all the visuals for the catalog and the lookbook, all the graphic language for the t-shirts.

As we’re expanding now, a lot of graphic designers are in charge of web assets anything that has to do with online web space or social media platform that needs to be a produced graphic from the company.

Now, let me qualify that I’ve been working professionally in fashion since 2000, since that time I’ve done everything you can think of in fashion.

I was a fashion editor of a magazine imprint back when used to print magazines.

I’ve done styling wardrobe art direction for music, videos, I’ve done men’s apparel in every single category, I’ve flown to Asia way too many times that I have to for thirteen hour flight and I’ve been a creative director in which I control the visual aspect of every part of a multi-million dollar men’s brand.

Advice on how to become an art director

Advice #1: Master your Graphic design programs

Let’s talk about you and your journey to become an art director, the first piece of advice that I have is:

You need to have a mastery of your graphic design programs, so adobe illustrator and photoshop are just the beginning of the programs that you need to have on your resume.

You should probably have like five or six programs everything that adobe suite has to offer is something you should know about or have almost a mastery of some video editing programs and you should know how to operate programs that are right around the fringe of what you have to do.

Also a page layout program, whichever one is most popular as you click on this is one you should have mastered as well, because I’m a designer that tends to work on Adobe Illustrator, if I could run my life through that program very easy; I mean keyboard commands and shortcuts are just like breathing for me.

It’s very second nature, very efficient, very quick for me to get to the finished product when I’m working graphically.

Now an artistic director is to be able to use multiple tools and learn how to come up with the best version of their graphics from time to time in a very quick manner, because typically most clothing lines are way behind or need to catch up, so any minute that you can spare is a minute saved and a minute put towards the future.

So have a mastery of all the graphic design programs that are necessary to run your job and know them in and out, know them efficiently.

Advice #2: Be A Great Communicator

My second piece of advice that I have is to be a great communicator.

It’s very important as the artistic director to be able to transfer, showcase and communicate your ideas and your energy, graphic wise or creatively into thoughts and notions.

Lots of graphic designers tend to be introverted and very artistic, sometimes this is left to the wayside.

So I think a true art director really learns to hone in their communication skills, one way to do this is to take on a lot of freelance jobs that you wouldn’t normally take on.

That might be more challenging for you, try to accomplish a project in a style that you typically wouldn’t use to finish a job quickly, this way you’re exercising a lot of different muscles that you wouldn’t versus in an in-house job.

if you’re working full-time and you clock in, you clock out, there’s no challenge, I mean there’s challenge within the projects you have to do only, and many times may be no project, but when you have a client that’s solely paying you for the end result, it’s kind of a different challenge for you both professionally and graphically and it forces you to be a very good communicator.

Be Vocal

Another tip I would say is be very vocal at meetings.

You know if you are able to really hone in the group or speak intelligently for your ideas and concept and themes, which to some people can be very abstract, for example trying to sell a theme or concept to a sales guy when they don’t see the fabric.

They can’t see the finished woven or the finished jacket or the finished collection, it’s very important to be able to communicate it with words versus my tip number one you know everyone needs to know how to operate the machinery but I believe to really step up in leadership and go into art director you really have to have a really honed in or maybe even a mastery of your communication skills.

Advice #3: Stay on Trend

The third tip that I want to extend is you should really be on trend.

Any serious artistic director should have a really good breadth of knowledge when it comes to their industry, their niche, their brand.

Of course and then moving outwards from there, it’s very refreshing to hear when you might have an interesting tick that doesn’t quite have to do with the very central core of what your particular industry is.

Keeping an eye on stylings and fashion graphic notions so that you can really talk intelligently about what is in at this moment and what is about to go trendy in the next season and what last season was about.

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For execution of doing good graphic design, putting out really good t-shirt program that has great visual language and putting out good clean label and trim and anything that accompanies the visual packaging of your clothing line.

You want to bear in mind that what you designed for that brand isn’t always going to be cutting-edge and this is why you need to have a good knowledge, a good base of everything surrounding it, because let’s just say you’re selling a lot of product in the Midwest where there might be a few seasons behind, because that’s just simply the buying pattern out there, because not everybody lives in Los Angeles, California or in New York City.

And so just knowing how you need to adjust and where you need to place things and I think being on trend on an intellectual level will really set you apart from other people and get you that candidacy to become an art director.

Simply because people will see that you have a vision outside of just the scope of the project you’re dealing with and just the season you’re dealing with, but really having a good grasp of the brand and speaking intelligently about its place and its position in the industry and where you would like it to be or envision it to be.

Advice 4. Show Consistency

My fourth tip for becoming an art director kind of feeds in from number three, but you’ve got to show consistency in good selling product.

I’m not talking about just logistical sales, being able to speak above the true art direction of the company and of the brand season after season is very important and the art directors that are on top each time will always have consistent sellers.

It will be a sign that you do know what’s going on and there’s a proven result in the financial movement of your company, you’ve got to remember everyone who is like an artist or a graphic designer.

You have to remember that fashion is also a business, so business must be made and sold and it’s done in units of the clothing company.

The creative director or the apparel designer or whoever else is involved in the actual process of moving product are all very important parts of the team but graphic design is one very sharp voice for the company, think of it this way.

There might be people who have a lot of money to spend on full outfits when they’re buying clothing and they’re going shopping but you always have that kid that’s kind of broke, maybe a broke college student, some of you might understand this, I know I definitely understand been broke before, sometimes you need a low price point item just to make you feel like you’re getting some new fresh things to kind of wear and put into your wardrobe.

So a lot of kids are going to be buying t-shirts and for your t-shirt to be the one that they choose, that they feel is really cool, to feel like it’s the one they want to leave the store with, then you need to design with every group in mind.

So it will say something in your numbers and as you track the numbers some of the best art director that I know have a killer instinct for this and before the line even begins for the new season they know what must-haves they need to put into work.

They have a reference point from their mood board or their concept board where it’s like, hey ! I want do kind of a flip on this idea and we must do it and they will fight for that idea and sales directors and sales managers will give you a little bit more leeway if they see that you have a proven result.

But one thing is for sure when I’m choosing art directors for our project I want to know that they have an eye for things that sell because they produced it before.

My last tip that I have for those who are aspiring to become an art director is be flexible and open.

I run into a lot of professionals who have an opposing viewpoint of this, so this is a little bit of John phenol mixed into this group set.

What I find is when you come into an operation there’s multiple people working for one goal in one focus, it’s very difficult for people to find traction when you’re a dead set on your concepts and you’re not willing to hear what others have to say, as a matter of fact it sends many brands to the graveyard and it can easily be the death of a brand to have an art director saying no to a concept and not really fully utilize it for what it could be or see its potential.

You make enough mistakes like that and it’s death by a thousand cuts as you’re trying to make your way up the ladder and really earn that spot of art director.

You know all of it has to do with your concept and and you know what it means to be a veteran and know your stylings very well, but I think part of retaining being a great leader in a creative context is keeping your mind open to new ideas.

So I hope this gave you some value if you did let me know in the comment section below.

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