Inside The Life of Art Directors and Creative Directors in Canada |

Could Justin Timberlake Be Your Boss? The Life of Art Directors and Creative Directors


Probably not. Although he was recently named creative director for Bud Light Platinum but that doesn’t mean you’ll ever receive creative direction from him.

Justin Timberlake is a brand ambassador so he will never be calling you into his office to bat round creative ideas over 100-year-old scotch.

However, since it’s about the journey remember that life in an advertising agency is very different than life in other industries.

Creative careers in advertising are often glamorized in Hollywood so it’s important to separate fact from fiction when choosing to pursue a career in the agency world. What might look like an over-paid and over-jazzed job as an art director in a Hollywood blockbuster might surprise you in real life.

While Creative Directors are seen as the rock stars of the agency, they can’t do the job alone. It takes a creative powerhouse to help develop and execute the creative vision. An art director is one of the most important roles on that team.

While the creative director leads the charge in an agency, the art director is responsible for helping to bring his vision to life.  So if you aspire to creative director one day, the role of art director (AD) is a great step to achieving that dream. However, since it’s about the journey remember that life in an advertising agency is very different than life in other industries.

Where else will you come across baby lions in the lobby simply for ‘research’ or be faced with choosing beer over wine on the Friday drink cart? But don’t forget – in the world of advertising, play hard goes hand in hand with work hard. And that, my friend, you will.

So what exactly does an art director do?

As art director, you will work in tandem with your creative partner – the copywriter. Between the two of you, you will order in a lot of late dinners and work together to do the following:

  • Create concepts and develop the look and feel for the ‘big idea’ for broadcast, print, online or whatever other mediums come to mind as a great vehicle to tell the story and capture audience attention.
  • Choose the visual aspects and elements to tell the story.
  • Create layouts for the ad design.
  • Work with photographers, producers, account people to arrange the production of the campaign for all mediums.

A day in the life…

What to expect when you land

Alessandro-DragoAlessandro Drago is Senior Art Director at Critical Mass in Toronto, Ontario and has some information to share with anyone who’s interested in the role of art director.

How would you describe your role as art director at Critical Mass?

My work at Critical Mass goes far beyond design. I get to work on global brands, participate in creating strategies to strengthen their position in the market place, create experiences to perfect the relationship with their customers, influence their future, and redefine their brand expression and the visual language. Part of my role is also inspiring the team, mentor junior designers and actively participating in creating the Critical Mass culture.

What are the 3 most important skills an AD should possess?

  1. The ability to see the bigger picture while focusing on the details that will make the difference.
  2. Passion – it keeps you going no matter the blocks along the road.
  3. You have to know the basic principles of design and communication, which of course translate into the ability to craft and sell your idea.

What do you consider when you’re looking for an agency to work at?

The culture, the leadership and the new challenges it can offer to make me grow as a professional.

There’s no typical day”

What does a typical day look like in your role?

There’s no typical day and that’s why I love it. It always varies, depending on the project or phase of the project we’re in. Imagine knowing your final destination and the estimated time of arrival, but figuring the best way to get there, as you go.

So let’s be honest – are the hours insane? What type of hours can someone expect to work in your job?

Sometimes they can be, but you’re usually so excited about what you want to achieve that it makes it less heavy and difficult than it sounds.

Let’s say that you have to love what you’re doing, like any other job, otherwise even 8 hours would be unbearable.

What’s the coolest part about your job or ‘what time is beer o’clock?’

Knowing that everyday is going to be different? Finding out you have to travel to Japan 3 days before? Beer o’ clock on Friday’s? Influencing behaviors? Cool people around you? Having the opportunity to design anything, from a digital to a retail experience, from campaigns to product design? Working in an amazing and informal office space? Knowing you can influence or potentially bring change? No dress code?

Now that you’ve started, how do you get there?

So is it enough to have passion for the job or is there more you can be doing?

Natalie-ArmataNatalie Armata is Partner & Creative Director of Toronto-based Giants & Gentlemen. Natalie says that when considering an art director, there are certain things that she and most other creative directors look for.

She also adds what makes a great art director stand out, “A fantastic book: conceptual and well designed. You need to demonstrate a willingness to work hard and an openness to learn. Creative Directors don’t care if you’ve been paid for an ad as a student or not, they care about how creative you are.”

“Things have really changed from years ago. Campaigns aren’t three print ads and a TV spot anymore, they have to be able to design elements in an integrated campaign: from online, DM, signage, packaging to… tattoos. Whatever the campaign requires.”

If after all this you’re still seeking a career as an art director, remember that the road ahead is paved with challenges, obstacles, opportunity and a very rewarding career in one of the most exciting industries. So be resourceful and remember that in order to sell someone else’s product, you have to know how to sell your own brand first – that brand is you.