The Day-to-Day as a Design Director
A Design Director leads a team of creative professionals who curate the look and feel of a product or project through the production of visual strategies. They work on projects like magazines, movies, advertisements, video games, or websites. Design Directors can work in industries such as interior design, retail, marketing, architecture, and entertainment. They work with Designers, Managing Partners or Directors, Project Managers, and Sales and Marketing teams.
There is contract, full-time, and freelance work available for Design Directors both remotely and onsite. There is no typical work week for a Design Director as some work a full-time 40-hour week while others work contract positions with overtime for shorter spurts throughout the year. Each Design Director position will be quite different, but you might find them: meeting with their team, pitching new clients, meeting with current clients, responding to RFPs, designing a product or project, hiring a new contractor, delegating tasks, helping a team member solve a problem, developing deliverables, estimating projects, creating mockups or storyboards to guide their team and show concepts to clients, or reviewing team members’ work.
What Skills Should Design Directors Have?
Design Director is a leadership position and they are expected to establish a design team through hiring, mentorship, and training. Most Design teams use project management software such as Trello, Asana, or Monday and it would behoove any Design Director to get to know these tools and choose their favorite. Design Directors must keep up with industry and design trends as well as new technologies to stay relevant in their industry. This career expects Designers to continue learning throughout their careers.
The Design Director is responsible for setting deadlines and ensuring the entire team meets them. They’ll also be creating an estimate or budget for their client or project and will be responsible for making sure their team can stay within this budget reasonably. To ensure these items are estimated properly, Design Directors must be able to communicate clearly in written and verbal form with their clients and their team. Their experience should inform their onboarding and offboarding questionnaires as well as how they’ll manage their team’s concept creation process.
Design Directors must know how to develop design ideas; create storyboards, design comps, or mockups; choose specific design elements for each project; design for user experience and user interfaces; and collaboratively design with all teams involved. They should know how to analyze data from market research, customer reviews, and other research to create effective designs. Depending on their industry they should know basic graphic design, web design, visual design, print design, advertising, branding design, product design, and/or UI and UX design. Their required technical skills will vary but might include Adobe Creative Suite products such as Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator, as well as programs like Sketch. They might also need to know video editing and basic coding in HTML and CSS.
Learn the Skills You Need to Become a Design Director
Graphic design is the creation of visual content to communicate a message. Graphic design uses visual hierarchy, typography, photo editing, spacial awareness, empathy, color theory, and more to create visually appealing and communicative images. Graphic design can be done with software like Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator, Figma, and Sketch.
Web design is the process of creating the look and feel of a website. This includes web page layout, content production, copywriting, graphic design, typography, user-flow, and some coding. Web design can be done using tools like a code editor, templates, and photoshop.
Video editing is most commonly the use of digital software to manipulate and organize video and sound files into a final deliverable. Video Editors use software like Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro, Filmora, and others to create videos that compel, convert, inform, or tell a story.
Photoshop is a software application created by Adobe for image editing and photo retouching on Windows or macOS computers. Photoshop can be used to manipulate and retouch photos. It can also be used to create compositions, collages, design comprehensives, and more.
UX Design stands for User Experience Design which is the practice of designing software and other applications with the user in mind. This means researching, testing, and designing a product using empathy and end-user avatars.
Adobe is an international software company based in the United States. Adobe is best known for its web software ecosystem Flash but also distributes creative software like Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat, Lightroom, InDesign, XD, Muse, Dreamweaver, Spark, Premiere Pro, After Effects, Audition, and more.
InDesign is a computer software created by Adobe for publishing and typesetting. It can also be used to create posts, flyers, magazines, brochures, newspapers, books, and presentations.
Visual design is a set of strategic best practices used to improve a design or product's aesthetic appeal and usability through the selection of appropriate images, typography, use of space, hierarchy, color, and layout.
Illustrator is a computer program for design developed by Adobe. Illustrator is used by designers to create and edit vector graphics. It can be used for print, web, applications, videos, animations, and more.
HTML & CSS
HTML is Hypertext Markup Language and CSS is Cascading Style Sheets. HTML is used to create web page structure and text while CSS is used to style the structure and text visually. HTML can be used to create objects like sections, menus, and functions within a webpage. CSS is used to select those objects and style them with fonts, colors, layout, and more to make the webpage visually appealing.
Sketch is a design platform used to create, share, and collaborate prototypes and wireframes.
Design Director Salaries
A Design Director in the United States makes, on average, $94,911 annually, according to Indeed.com.
Salaries for Design Directors vary by region within the the United States. Listed below are some Design Director salaries for specific areas with the United States compared with the average national salary:
- U.S. Average $94K source n/a
New York City
Los Angeles, CA
Orange County, CA
- U.S. Average $94K source n/a
Typical Qualifications to Become a Design Director
Design Director is a senior-level position and a minimum of five years of experience is usually required. Many employers will expect Design Directors to hold a four-year degree in design or marketing and some might even prefer a master’s degree.
Searching for Design Director Jobs
Design Directors will find the most opportunities by choosing a niche or focus industry. There are myriad Design-specific job boards and freelance job boards. We’ve listed the top job boards here, but almost every design organization has its own job board that will focus on their region, specialization, or industry.
Design Directors can find jobs on these sites:
- AIGA Jobs
- Design Jobs
- Authentic Jobs
- Talent Zoo
- The Ladders
Design Directors can find freelance and remote opportunities on these sites:
Tips to Become a Design Director
Design Directors are typically promoted from a Senior Designer position. Unless you have an unusually impressive freelance portfolio and resume, it is strongly encouraged to work your way up through the industry from any smaller, creative, hands-on role, such as designer, writer, UX Designer, or brand designer. Move into more mid-level roles or promotions during your first two to four years and soon you’ll be on your way to Senior Designer, from which you can be promoted to a Design Director. Think like a Design Director as you work your way up; think about more than just your role on the team - learn what Design Directors do and need to know - and try to find a mentor if possible.
Many Design Directors have worked with five or more companies over the course of ten or more years before landing a Director position. Many Design Directors are hired based on who they’ve worked for and their references there. If you can establish a good rapport with your management or boss at these stepping-stone positions, ask them to leave a review for you on LinkedIn - that’s a major advantage. You’ll need to network for a Design Director job if you don’t plan on getting promoted from within a company you’re already working for. A good place to start is to connect on LinkedIn with companies you’d love to work for and members of their design, product, and marketing teams.
You’ll also want to put your portfolio on display in the “Featured” section of your LinkedIn profile. A strong portfolio is a must for any design job. Your portfolio should show off your specific style, contain information about you, have a link to your resume or CV, and have a clear call to action where potential employers can contact you. Most Design Directors and Design Director candidates choose to compile their portfolios online. Be sure to keep your portfolio’s design clean and user-friendly, especially if you plan on working on websites or applications in your Design Director position.
Design Directors are not only designers. They need to know UX, UI, industry best practices and standards, copywriting, branding, and project management, along with design. Make sure you sharpen your skills on your way to this position so that you are prepared.
What Job Titles Would a Design Director Hold?
Design Director positions will vary within companies and every industry will attribute different responsibilities to this role. Some Design Director positions will combine user experience design responsibilities with visual design responsibilities for this position and will usually use the word “experience” somewhere in the job title.
- Design Director
- Experience Design Director
- Design Lead
- Head of Design
- Interior Design Director
- Solution Design Director
- Architecture Design Director
- Marketing Design Director
- Brand Design Director
As a Senior role, the Design Director is at the top of the pay-grade. Positions to consider leading into this role are Digital Designer, Designer, Motion Graphics Designer, and Web Designer. It will depend on the focus, but nearly any creative role from illustration to animation to web-centric design will be strong stepping stones.
A Design Director who wanted to focus on visual effects and animation might consider a Digital Design or Motion Graphics Design role, depending on how much illustration work they wanted to maintain, knowing it would be a step down in pay. Transferring to a User Experience Designer would be only slightly less pay and would focus more on using design to provoke user emotions than on full projects. A larger salary decrease would be utilizing their skills to design visually appealing websites as a Web Designer.
Salary Comparison to Design Director
Digital Designers make graphics, animations, and other visual effects. Depending on their preference, a Digital Designer might choose to niche down to work exclusively on pre-print, web, or digital marketing. These niches that the Digital Designer is designing websites, applications, advertisements, or publications.Learn about becoming a Digital Designer
Web designers design the appearance and workings of a website. They use their understanding of both visual design and technical design principles to create functional web layouts. Some web designers work from home and enjoy the flexibility of freelance work, while others work for agencies or businesses. Good web designers have the experience and foresight to anticipate the end-user experience and design for ease of use and navigation.Learn about becoming a Web Designer
Designers work in a wide variety of industries and specialize in just as many mediums. Most designers create digital assets, but some designers work with hand-drawn sketches and illustrations. They start with an understanding of the best design principles and functional aesthetics. Common fields for designers include web, apps, print, fashion, animation, advertising, and UX design.Learn about becoming a Designer
User Experience Designer
User experience (UX) designers are responsible for ensuring that digital products offer a seamless user experience, through prototyping, user research, and user testing. They will test the navigation and functionality of websites, apps, and more. UX designers must stay current on design trends to ensure ongoing adherence to best practices. They will also conduct ongoing user research to understand the habits and needs of users.Learn about becoming a User Experience Designer
Motion Graphics Designer
Glassdoor Avg. Salary
$92K / yearglassdoor.com
Motion Graphics Designers, sometimes referred to as MoGraph professionals, use visual effects and animation to create artwork for: television, film, tech devices, software, live-video, video games, applications, and the web.Learn about becoming a Motion Graphics Designer