Starting a Career in Advertising or Art Direction
January 10, 2024

Starting a Career in Advertising or Art Direction

Five steps to get your career in advertising art direction started.

Sarah Latz

Have you always loved doodling in your notebook? Do you love picking out paint colors (or take way too long to do so!) Do you appreciate album covers or TikTok design aesthetics? You might be a perfect fit for a career in advertising art direction. 

The job of an art director is to help concept and then create the look of an advertising campaign. They work with their copywriting partner at an advertising agency, and usually work as a team for most assignments. Art directors and copywriters concept campaign ideas for brands together, then they break off to do a bit of solo work: the copywriters start playing around with the exact messaging, and art directors will start crafting a look and feel. The team then presents their shared ideas to their Creative Director. 

Art direction is a really fun job. You get to work with different artists, you get to travel to go on commercial productions. You get to solve problems in the world, and every day is different. 

Here’s how you can work towards becoming an Art Director. 

1. Decide to Become an Art Director:

One thing that surprises a lot of aspiring art directors is that you do not need a bachelor's degree in graphic design or advertising. In fact—you don’t need a bachelor's degree at all! Having some background in graphic design or marketing will help you, but there are so many people who pivot to art direction from a completely different career! 

The one thing you WILL need is a portfolio. Let’s jump into that next:  

2. Build a Portfolio of Work:

Think of portfolios as Insta feeds for art directors. It's gotta be on point, showcasing your most innovative advertising campaigns, typography, design choices, and problem solving. A portfolio lives on a website and shows the world your style and your ability to tell a visual story. It’s hard to create a portfolio by yourself and a lot of students choose to go to a portfolio school to learn to create a portfolio. There are many different types of portfolio schools, including our online portfolio school at book180, but all of them share one thing in common: You’ll leave with a competitive portfolio. 

The thing is, for most portfolio schools, you don’t need a bachelor’s degree to get in! At book180 we had a fantastic student who skipped undergrad and jumped right into our program. She jump started her advertising career at 19 and saved a ton of money!

3. Stay Inspired:

Another misconception of becoming an art director is you need to know how to draw really well. It’s completely false. Art directors have to be all-around creative, but that can be showcased in so many different ways: with creative problem solving, creative photography, and creative video production. Always be looking at new design trends and other student portfolios to get inspired. And get cozy with Adobe Creative Suite; it's like your creative playground.

4. Network Network Network:

Your book will get you hired, but who you know will help your book get seen by the right people. Make friends in the biz. Connect to junior and mid-level Art Directors on LinkedIn and ask them about their journeys. Those connections can open doors to killer opportunities.

5. Find A Mentor:

Find a mentor who's been there, done that. They'll give you so much advice and help introduce you to their other AD friends. It’ll definitely help fast-track your career. At book180, we pair all of our grads with a mentor at graduation. 

Becoming an art director might take time. You'll face rejections and bumps along the way, but keep grinding. Persistence pays off big time. Find a supportive community of fellow aspiring art directors and help each other put the work into building portfolios that’ll get you hired!