Can anyone give insight or share a similar experience of how they have transitioned from being a graphic designer to an art director?

Lack of opportunities in work to gain experience, so how can I move into this field or eventually get freelance jobs as this if I have no real case studies in my portfolio.


  • Hey @Ian Wharton and @Pip Jamieson . Is it still possible to receive help with this?
  • I've just gotten my portfolio back online - - so it's not yet up to date, but please do still have a look at it and tell me your thoughts.

    If you can give a guide towards options 1 and 4 it would be great.

    In terms of companies, I'm always open to most places. I don't have a definitive list.

    Thank you for helping so far.
  • Hi Brian, do you have an up-to-date portfolio I can see? Will help me guide towards option 4. Next, do you have a hit-list of companies you'd like to work for?
  • Hey @Ian Wharton ! Thanks for such a speedy and in-depth response and to @Pip Jamieson for pointing you my way!

    Im actually interested in two, if that makes any sense. Option 1 was something I've always wanted to do but lately my interests have been going more towards option 4.

    Any more info or direction in getting there would be greatly appreciated. Feel like I'm at a careers crossroad and currently feeling a bit lost in how to make the next step.

  • Hi @Brian Walker, thanks @Pip Jamieson,

    First need to quickly look at definitions of the title — the industry isn't unanimous on this, it even varies within organisations. To be as concise as possible there will be a ton of simplifications here, but go with it for now and let me know which best fits your ambition.

    1. If you're looking at the role as it's referred to in more 'legacy' advertising agencies, an art director is still typically paired with a copywriter and they form a conceptual team to tackle advertising/marketing briefs. This is a major generalisation but there often isn't much, if any, design happening here as it's a communications challenge. There might be moodboards and scamps and research into visual langauge but not often any production from this role.

    2. More progressive companies engaged in marketing (AKQA, RGA etc) might have this role in a similar definition, but more than likely an art director in these firms is a progression from Senior Designer. In simplest terms it means someone who is beginning to be more managerial, perhaps more client-facing, and likely guiding a team across a handful of projects at the same time.

    3. Design firms and branding firms (who engage in no marketing) will likely be similar, a progression from senior designer. How that happens in this context depends on the growth and ambition of the individual compared to the expectation of the organisation around them.

    4. In production or post-production, it might be more someone engaged in setting the tone — i.e. visual langauge, photography style, how a shoot is conducted, how people are styled. Again how much actual design happens will vary.

    If your context is closer to progression from senior designer to art director, then it's more straightforward. If it's closer to point 1 then there are definitely proactive things you can do to make yourself more attractive to these companies and fill any gaps you might in your skillset. Let me know and I can help refine a next step.


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