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Art Director

What does an Art Director do?

Art directors are responsible for the visual style and images in magazines, newspapers, websites, and other printed and digital media. They create the overall design and direct others who develop artwork or layouts. Art directors create artwork to communicate feelings, thoughts or ideas using a variety of methods such as illustration, and a wide range of materials such as computers, watercolours and pencils.

Often working in fields like publishing and advertising, art directors are in charge of the overall visual direction of a project or publication. They decide the best way to present a visual concept, ensuring it is appealing, eye-catching and organised.

The design, layout, production, artwork and photographs are all responsibilities of art directors and, in turn, they may be in charge of others working on copywriting, design, artwork and layout. Many art directors work in offices of publishing companies, design firms and advertising agencies, whereas others prefer to be self-employed.


What qualifications do I need?

A graphic design or fine arts diploma or degree is usually required for art directors. Many degree programmes also include computer requirements, as knowledge of visual display software and computer graphics programmes are essential to many art directors in their careers. A National Senior Certificate that meets the requirements for a diploma or degree course is a prerequisite for many courses. Art directors usually start their careers at entry level as either designers or artists, gaining years of work experience before moving up the ranks towards becoming an art director.

What subjects do I need?

Contact each institution for their specific requirements, but these subjects are recommended: 
• Visual Arts
• Computer Applications Technology
• Information Technology
• Graphic Design


Where can I study?

University of the Witwatersrand
Bachelor of Arts: Fine Arts

University of Johannesburg
Bachelor of Arts: Fine Arts

University of Pretoria
Bachelor of Arts: Fine Arts

University of Stellenbosch
Bachelor of Arts: Fine Arts

Cape Peninsula University of Technology
Diploma: Graphic Design

Tshwane University of Technology
Diploma: Fine Arts

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
Diploma: Fine Arts

Stellenbosch Academy of Design and Photography
Various Courses

Where can I get more info?

National Arts Council of South Africa – www.nac.org.za
The Advertising Standards Authority – https://asasa.org.za
Media Skills for Africa – www.editorial.co.za


Interview with an Art Director




Why did you choose this profession?
From a young age I was primed for a BSC (Behind Shop Counter) but, being surrounded by labels of various products, especially groceries like tinned baked beans, matches, soaps, tobacco, hair products, etc, I was a lot more interested in the pretty colours than in the profit margins. I also thought the ads running on the ‘kassie’ (telly) were boring and dull, and someone had to do something about it. Not too long into my teenage days, I heard a glamorous-sounding phrase, ‘graphic design’. In my research on this intriguing walk of life, I found the visual image starts here and, even though I had no formal art training, I took the plunge. Fortunately for me, I successfully completed the course (cum laude) and haven’t regretted this stimulating career choice.

What training did you undergo?
I graduated from NMMU (previously known as a technikon), specialising in theory and practical tuition. The course is divided into an undergraduate and a postgraduate programme. The first three years is your basic training and, on successful completion, you extend it to a fourth year, graduating with a BTech degree. To qualify for the postgraduate programme, it is vital to have a minimum of two years’ work experience before you can submit a proposal to research a postgraduate thesis.

Describe a ‘good’ designer
They must enjoy problem-solving and making things (tangible objects or experiences) better. They must have the stamina to work hard, and love colour, shapes and numbers. It helps if you’re decisive, organised and a self-starter. It’s a visually stimulating environment, so if you don’t enjoy having fun while working hard, then this isn’t for you.

Experience versus formal training?
Experience is important because you put what you’ve learnt in theory to practice. The more you do something, the faster you think of solutions.

Describe a typical day on the job
Most times I work on project-based jobs; each day is different depending on what stage I’m at. At the beginning it’s researching target audiences; what colour and type of fonts might suit them, what the competitors are doing, and meeting with the printers to discuss the final shape of the artwork. In the middle of a project, I’ll be setting up shoots or sourcing images. If I’m working with a copywriter or editor, I’ll find myself discussing headlines or new names for new products. At the end of the project, it’s putting all these elements together and setting it up to present to the client. Once approved, it’s final tweaking.

What do you enjoy the most?
It’s thought-provoking, visually stimulating, and I like making people happy.

Anything you don’t like?
Deadlines, extended deadlines and unreasonable times set for deadlines.

What’s been a career highlight?
Having worked with great teams on the country’s top magazines and commercial brands, and now being my own boss as a freelancer.

Any advice for young designers?
Bite the bullet. Have fun. Be humble; there’s no place for big egos, they just get in the way of having fun.

Describe your job in three words
100% visual communication.