Career: Web Art Director
A Web art director works with Internet Web sites and is responsible for translating the overall business objective into a visual solution. The art director works closely with the creative team to figure out the best way to communicate the site’s strategic goals and brand message in an online environment. Web sites contain very complex technical elements, so art directors in this industry need diverse experience. It’s not enough to be a designer; you also need to understand the technical aspects of Web design. Whether or not you can write code, you need to comprehend what the code can do, otherwise you end up designing something that can’t be built. The Web is interconnected, and its nonlinear nature allows for a variety of ways to navigate to a piece of information. Therefore, you need to understand the principles of information architecture, which deal with the flow of information and how effective the user finds it. “It’s a lot more than deciding Ôthis is blue or red’ or Ôthe button goes here or there,’ but whether there needs to be a button, what the button will do, and how it will function,” says one Web art director. “For instance, if it’s a shopping site, what is the ideal e-commerce experience for the user? What information must consumers fill out and in what order if they want to purchase something?” During the actual design process, a Web art director can spend many hours on their computer designing the content and functionality according to plan. One Web art director sums up his work like this: “I sit in front of my computer 90 percent of the day, trying to figure out what stuff’s going to look like and what the best interface is to create the best user experience.” The job is very team-oriented, more so than other print design work. Because Web-site development is so complex, one person can’t be an expert in all the necessary disciplines of design, information architecture, and programming. Thus, a Web art director works closely with a variety of different people on a day-to-day basis, as well as throughout all phases of the project. An art director’s core computer programs consist of Photoshopª, Illustrator ª, and Freehandª. Flashª is also good to know, as is Macromedia Directorª. 3D programs are a nice shiny bonus. “Gain as much technical knowledge as you can without sacrificing basic design. If you have a choice between a technical class and a design class, go for the design,” recommends one art director.
Five years ago, most art directors came from traditional print design backgrounds and had no interactive experience. Today, expectations are starting to change in the industry, but if you are a good designer with good design sensibility, it’s still relatively easy to get a job and learn the interactive side on-site. You might not come in at as high a level as if you went into print, but the field is pretty wide-open now, and it’s not too hard to move up. However, there is a big disconnect between designers with solid design skills and those with interactive skills. “We get a lot of young designers who are technical wizards but don’t have the design background, and a lot of really good designers who don’t have the technical background,” notes one art director. “More than technical experience, we’re l “Generally, we want to see a BFA-a bachelor of fine arts in graphic design,” says a Web art director. “But because so much of your hireability depends on your portfolio, your degree is not that critical. We would hire someone who never took a design class, provided their portfolio shows fabulous designs.”ooking for solid design, which a lot of the people don’t bring to the table. My advice is to focus on being a good designer and problem solver.”
A designer is a designer, and if you’re a good one you can apply your skills to any field. While a print designer can’t jump to industrial design without further training, one could make the transition to packaging design. In school you generally choose a particular field of design, and there is unique training and knowledge for each field. In graphic design, which Web design is based on, you could also make the leap to book design or advertising design. A good designer is infinitely marketable. If the Internet turns out to be a fad, a designer can always get a job in another design field.