How to Hire a Great Art Director, Part I

4 minute read

Upland Admin

As your content ecosystem grows, so will your design and development needs. The aesthetics will have to align tightly with your branding and support your content. And that, my content-savvy marketer friends, is where an art director can come in handy.

Joe Baz and Peter Brown are two smart marketers with experience finding, hiring, and training design talent.

Joe Baz for The Content Marketeer

Joe Baz

Baz is the founder and CEO of Above the Fold, a Massachusetts-based agency specializing in user interface design, user experience consulting, and usability testing. Brown is the creative director at Brown Creative and Atlas Advertising. He lives in Denver and works on a variety of print and digital projects.

In Part 1 of our interview, they discuss the role and responsibilities of an art director and what they look for in candidates. Tomorrow, in Part II, they’ll tell us where to find art directing talent and what their respective interview processes encompass.

Marketeer: Tell us about a typical art director job description.

Baz: At Above the Fold, our art directors are responsible for a team of designers, but they also do some hands-on work, so we look for people with both skill sets. Our job descriptions put a focus on:

  • Consulting experience (being comfortable in a room full of clients, bringing calm to the chaos, and setting the stage for the project with some strategy)
  • A wide range of responsibilities that include visual design, prototyping, etc.
  • An understanding of usability. Our art directors participate in usability tests and work closely with the folks who run them.
  • Coding skills. This position involves front-end HTML, CSS, and JavaScript work.

Peter Brown for The Content Marketeer

Peter Brown

Brown: Aside from having a portfolio that works for our client verticals, an ideal candidate must be able to:

  • Concept, direct, and produce work
  • Think beyond a design or concept to the broader business goals
  • Present well, both internally and in client-facing meetings
  • Take feedback and critique from all levels—from account staff to creative director to client

Also, no divas. No drama.

Marketeer: What do you look for in your candidates?

Baz: We assess our candidates based on five categories. From most important to least important, they are:

  • A creative eye. We can train someone to code, but it’s almost impossible to teach people to recognize good work.
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Hands-on UI experience
  • Coding skills (HTML, CSS, JavaScript)
  • Business expertise or acumen. Again, this person will be responsible for bringing strategy to the creative process and should be able to lead client meetings and solve problems on the spot.

Brown: I hire people I admire. I think this is the golden rule of hiring for this type of position. I’m not worried about being knocked off my perch; the strongest candidates will only help my team and I grow. The bottom line is that if I don’t hire this way, my job will be much, much more difficult.

I look for potential as much as I look at past successes. They’re not always the same. Sometimes I see flashes of brilliance in an otherwise average book [portfolio]. Does this mean the candidate could really be ready to jump to the next level? Maybe they have the skills but haven’t had the right mentoring opportunities.

I don’t try and clone myself. I look for complementary skill sets. I can’t tell you how much this has improved my teams.

I find happy people. I think creativity is best bred from positivity and open minds. You can certainly train people on skills and tasks, but working with personality is much more difficult. You spend more waking hours at the office than you do at home; might as well be with nice people.

I look for people who will be easy to work with, and that doesn’t mean people who will just do what I ask them to do. I want a team that knows when to cut their losses and move on. But I also want a team that knows when to stand up and defend their ideas. There is a place for both. And understanding the difference is critical.

Stay tuned tomorrow to learn where to look for and how to interview your art director candidates.

Find Joe Baz on Twitter or LinkedIn.
Find Peter Brown on LinkedIn.

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