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Job Description: Design Director

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A Design director bridges the link between creative employees and management. A senior role for leaders with a proven track record of effective communication, innovation, and high-level design problem-solving, design directors ensure that all products and experiences are delivered on time, on budget, and to the highest standards of quality. In addition to communicating a company’s creative vision to design teams and stakeholders, a design director supervises the entire design process and all-important technical decisions.

Job Description, Salaries and Benefits

Design directors lead teams of professionals that are responsible for curating the appeal of a product or project. They can work in a variety of areas, including interior design, marketing, architecture, and entertainment and work with teams to conceive and produce the visual layout of a variety of media, including websites and magazines.

A design director’s daily duties vary depending on the projects they’re working on and the size of their design team. However, daily tasks may include:

  • Participating in client meetings
  • Developing design ideas
  • Choosing specific design elements
  • Supervising design projects
  • Establishing design teams
  • Deciding how best to organise and present the document
  • Overseeing design and branding projects for clients
  • Analysing trends in design
  • Working to a brief
  • Fostering a design oriented atmosphere
  • Staying updated with the latest in design technology
  • Creating positive production with team building feedback and critiques
  • Making sure all deadlines are met with all work completed to the client's and company's requirements
  • Coming up with visual strategies for the production of a new brand, marketing a new product or laying out the pages for a magazine
  • Analysing data and reviewing feedback
  • Collaborating with sales and marketing teams

Design directors are supervisors within a collaborative environment, and they primarily report to the account or art department director. Design director salaries in the UK may range from around £55,000 to £115,000 or more a year. In the US, according to PayScale, design directors make an average salary of $115,873 per year or $55.71 per hour.

A Design director should have:

  • A creative eye and an interest in all things artistic and creative
  • A creative mind and an inquisitive nature
  • Creativity and imagination
  • Interest in following trends in the field
  • A clear and concise writing style
  • A flair for technical subjects
  • The ability to absorb information
  • The ability to juggle several projects at the same time

There are over 4,000 design director jobs in the UK. They are employed in-house by the vast majority of creative companies. Design directors use artistic and creative skills to visualise design projects, and employ analytical skills to choose and supervise the design teams that create these projects based on specific client needs. 

They are vital to the worlds of video or film, computer gaming, and digital design, to name a few. They can also be important in the development of software and websites.

Design directors receive comprehensive benefit packages from a majority of employers that include health insurance with medical, dental, and vision benefits. Life insurance and retirement benefits are typically provided as well. 

Paid vacation days, holidays, and personal days are included in most packages. In addition to salary and benefits, design directors may receive additional monetary bonuses for meeting or exceeding certain design goals.

What is the work like?

Design directors job responsibilities include not just overall delivery of the design project but also the handling of hiring and mentoring team members, inspiring and encouraging the artists and designers, and reviewing work before the final submission.

The design director also oversees the creation of the initial design for a project that meets the needs and desires of a client. Once a project is awarded, a Design director works with the account director to see to a way to best allocate the budget and time so that the project is profitable. The director is also responsible for choosing suitable designers for the work. 

Organisations will have multiple design projects on at any given time. As a result, the design director should be capable of planning people’s time, and also be able to juggle multiple projects at a go.

Design director input is required for a huge variety of products and activities, including:

  • Websites
  • Exhibitions & Displays
  • Fashion designs
  • Packaging
  • Books and magazines
  • Corporate identities
  • Advertising
  • Computer games

At design focused agencies they are very much seen as "top of the tree" creatives, whereas they might be a little lower on the ladder at advertising agencies and brand. Design directors use artistic and creative skills to visualise design projects, and employ analytical skills to choose and supervise the design teams that create these projects based on specific client needs.

Hours and Environment

Design directors usually work 37 hours a week/traditional office hours. Working hours are usually Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. However, Design Directors may be required to work longer hours to finish projects on time. 

The work is normally office-based, although some work from home, particularly post-COVID. They may also travel to other offices, conference rooms, or restaurants to meet with various clients.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • Salaries for junior Design directors may start at around £55,000 a year.
  • With experience, earnings may rise to around £100,000.
  • Senior Design directors in a manager role may earn up to £115,000.

Skills and Personal Qualities

A Design director must have:

  • Strong creative skills and the vision to turn briefs into creative projects
  • Knowledge of graphic design and CAD tools
  • Excellent leaderships, organisation and analytical skills
  • Good collaborative and communication skills
  • Time management and multi-tasking skills
  • The ability to solve complex design and communication issues
  • The ability to adhere to tight deadlines and manage budget constraints

Interests

It is important for design directors to have an interest in:

  • Graphics and typography
  • New developments in design software
  • Current trends and techniques
  • Art history and design history
  • Photography and the visual arts
  • Pop culture, and counterculture
  • The zeitgeist of social tastes and current affairs
  • Politics

Getting in

Little training is provided to design directors because these professionals must already meet extensive education and experience requirements. Usually, design directors begin performing their work duties immediately, though a short grace period may be provided to allow directors to become familiar with existing projects and clients.

Entry for young people

When hiring design directors, an associate’s degree in graphic design, fine arts, advertising, or a related field is accepted by some employers, but many prefer a bachelor’s degree in one of these disciplines.

Entry for adults

Some employers will accept candidates with past work experience and less formal education. Many design directors keep portfolios showcasing their past projects, which can make candidates stand out against others seeking the same job.

Training

Design director jobs are only typically offered to those with years of experience within the creative industries. A minimum of 5 years managerial or senior-level design experience. Extensive supervisory experience (including leadership, team-building, and delegation) leading and managing a creative team is also recommended.

Getting On

Continuing professional development is important, especially keeping up to date with technological changes. Follow industry trends by reading the trade press. Most agencies offer training on the job but there are many other providers of development schemes.

The IPA offer the MBA-level IPA Excellence Diploma, which is aimed at those with three to five years of experience in the industry who want to develop a broader understanding of how brands work and create value for clients. The IPA also offers a range of short courses and seminars for experienced staff.

Design and Art Direction (D&AD) offers continuing professional development schemes. You can also showcase your work to gain industry status and foster networking opportunities at the annual CIM Marketing Excellence Awards.

Further Reading

Design Director: A Complete Guide 2020 Edition by Gerardus Blokdyk - This Design Director All-Inclusive Self-Assessment enables You to be that person. All the tools you need to an in-depth Design Director Self-Assessment. Featuring 943 new and updated case-based questions, organised into seven core areas of process design, this Self-Assessment will help you identify areas in which Design Director improvements can be made.

Editing by Design: For Designers by Jan White - This completely updated edition of an industry classic shows a new generation of editors and designers how to make their publications sing! Readers will find a treasury of practical tips for helping story and design reinforce each other and create powerful pages that are irresistible to readers. Brimming with hundreds of illustrations, Editing by Design presents proven solutions to such design issues as columns and grids, margins, spacing, captions, covers and colour, type, page symmetry, and much more.

Creative Direction in a Digital World by Adam Harrell - Creative Direction in a Digital World provides designers the tools they need to craft compelling digital experiences across screens, devices and platforms. Readers will learn how to take a multi-disciplinary, human-centric approach to digital creative direction that will help them uncover target audience insights, concept more creative campaigns, change consumer behaviour, and create more user friendly digital experiences. 

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