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Battle of the Ages: How Youth Trumps Experience
By: Tom Roarty
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Have you met the 22-year-old Art Director? No, this is not the start of a joke, but maybe the punch line of what was one of the creative industry’s most-sought after careers. There was a time when designers aspired to become Art Directors and the prospect of that coveted position fueled creative, forward-thinking work. These days, the title has lost some if its luster due to the ease at which the title is so easily obtained.
The above statement is in no way an attack on any designer’s work. Most dedicated design programs are producing high-quality creatives, and the thing about a good designer is, if you can create for one media, you can usually create for many. The notion is very appealing to hiring managers, but does skill alone become deserving of a Director’s title? At some point talents outside of creative abilities will have to be tested, and those challenges will be accomplished by something schools can not teach … experience.
Aside from being creative, an Art Director has to have a variety of other skills in order to legitimately clam their title. Such as the ability to mentor, present ideas comfortably, and know how to read a client. Each of those traits is as important as the design itself for a true AD, and each is also un-teachable in a classroom setting. They are instinct-based skills that grow over time, with experience. Without the ability to master all aspects of an Art Director position, the most legitimate title you can earn is that of a Senior Designer. Why harp on the linguistics of a title? Because foundations tend to crumble when the proper materials are not being used.
Today’s businesses are finding ways to cut corners all the time. All too often, experienced personnel are being replaced by younger, less-experienced, and, more importantly, less-expensive staff members in every industry. It is the way modern-day business is done, and that will not change any time soon, if ever. However, in the world of advertising, things have always been different. Creatives were always behind the curtain, bringing brands to people in Oz-like fashion. There was what some would call a time-honored tradition in rewarding hard work and dedication with the keys to the kingdom, which came in the form of the Art Director title. These days, the title is becoming more commonly given, than earned.
The fact of the matter is this, time and experience makes an Art Director. Not a school or a hiring manager trying to lure in inexpensive, multi-disciplined talent. With each recent grad entering the design world with a Director’s title, our industry becomes a little weaker in the foundation, and the admiration for what once was a respected position becomes a little less. Cultivation of the future creative is imperative to the respectability of the design world. Today’s graduates will eventually inherit the reigns, but until that day, they should at least know the aspects of the jobs they are given and earn the right to hold the title for which they are known by.


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