Categories: Graphic Designer and Illustrations Articles

Interview with an Art Director

Considered working as an Assistant Art Director? This interview will take you through the ups and downs you can expect in the position, what it takes to land the job, what you can expect to earn and more. This is a true career story as told to GraphicDesignJobs.org, which lists interviews with different types of Graphic Design professionals, including a graphic artist, a design editor, and everything in between.

I work in the motion graphics industry, and my job title is assistant art director. I’ve been working in the field for a bit under two years now, and I couldn’t ever quit! It’s a great job, and I’m really enthusiastic about the future of my field. In terms of using three adjectives to describe myself, I’d have to pick excitable, tenacious, and optimistic.

I’m an African American man. I definitely haven’t experienced gender discrimination, but I’m almost certain that I was once turned down by a possible employer because of my skin color. I can’t really make any conclusions, as I don’t know for sure, but I trust my gut on that situation. The way he treated me seemed discriminatory during the job interview, and it made me uncomfortable. I decided it was probably better to work somewhere else anyway, so I went on my merry way and kept my eyes open for a better job with a better boss. Direct confrontation isn’t the way to go here. People should just try and avoid working in environments where racism or sexism are key factors.

As an assistant art director at my company, I am part of a group of people who determine the look and feel of our company’s creative works. We research color schemes and advise our graphic designers and illustrators, helping them pick the right design elements to be added to the mix. When most people think “art director”, they probably think of an art director behind video games or movies. While the jobs are very similar, the duties differ slightly. Art directors for the type of company I work for rarely stay on one project for more than two months at a time. Art directors in video game companies spend a lot more time developing the visual style of their products.

I’d have to say my job was a 9 or 10. I really do enjoy doing what I do, but I would like to get a bit more vacation or time off. I work a lot during the holiday season because of advertisers’ demands. We often receive revision requests and are required to correspond with our clients to make sure that the advert we’ve designed is serving their marketing campaigns well. I’d like to have some more days off during Christmas to spend time with my girlfriend.

I definitely feel comfortable in my job. I’ve got a really nice office and a great group of people working alongside me. What else could I possibly ask for? The work environment, while often stressful, is much better than being crammed into a cubicle all day. I can stretch my legs out in my office, all with enough room for my tablet and tools.

I also compose music for our company’s advertisements on occasion. Composing music is a hobby of mine, and I was going to school to become a music teacher before I figured out that I wanted to be a graphic designer. I don’t really have a unique situation, and I’m just a guy trying to have fun and pay the bills, really.

I found out by complete accident that I had a knack for design. I was messing around with Adobe Photoshop for a classroom music project. I was trying to make some graphics for the Power Point presentation I had to deliver, but I grew hooked on the program pretty quickly. After that, I discovered animation software and started producing my own little animations. This led to me changing my major, which also led me to this company and this line of work.

I learned quickly that 90% of the work is about paperwork, and the rest is about the art. There’s a lot of paperwork involved with helping this company run efficiently. When I’m not busy working with artists or designers, I’m filling out paperwork and filing the papers away in our cabinets for future reference, just so we can take a look at post work for our clients whenever we need some inspiration.

I started working at age 15 for a lumber company outside of my home town. I learnt quickly that work was a sobering experience, and that it wasn’t hard to make friends when you’re all sharing in a struggle. I hauled endless blocks of wood back and forth between the truck and the fields, and that was an experience that shaped me as a human being. I understood that work was meant to be difficult, but could be made easier by working as a group.

One of our folders filled with files for a client’s advertisement went completely missing. We assumed that someone had lost the disc or hidden it somewhere accidentally. It turned up later in the garbage bin, thankfully.

Walking into the office first thing in the morning and hearing the new ideas that the other directors or the designers have come up with is always refreshing. I’m always excited to come in and hear some design advice from completely different perspectives.

Working to deadlines is still a difficult task for me. While I’m not a procrastinator, some deadlines just break people down. Working late nights isn’t fun at all.

Luckily, our boss understands, and so it isn’t common to see people taking a day or two off after a deadline has just been met. Most times, this is people catching up on lost sleep over working hard on the project.

People in my position make anything between $41,000-$71,000 dollars per year. I live a very comfortable life, and I feel very fortunate.

I take literally no vacation. I honestly think I’ve got a bit of a workaholics streak, but that’s just me.

It always helps to have a degree or training in graphic design, but we’ve had interns fresh out of high school with enough experience as freelancers. Freelance graphic design is a great place to start out before considering bigger positions.

I’d tell people who are considering this line of work to not stress out about deadlines. As long as everyone is working at full capacity, most deadlines will be met. Remember not to freak out over tough orders!

In five years, I’d like to remain exactly where I am, except for a modest pay raise!

Written by Ruan Smit


Ruan Smit started Pixelsmithstudios with the vision of creating a new design orientated environment of sharing, learning and expertise development amongst local Animators,Illustrators,Game Developers and VFX artists in South Africa.

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