12 Essential Art Direction Interview Questions *

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Describe your process for creating campaigns, from conception to execution.

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Any art director candidate should have a well-thought-out process for creating and executing campaigns. The specifics aren’t as important as knowing that they’ve developed a system that works.

That said, there are some things that should be present in any established art director’s workflow. Early on, they should have a phase where they do discovery on the project and define its scope. After that would be creating and designing concepts for the campaign, followed by collecting feedback and making adjustments. The execution of the campaign should also be well-thought-out.

Good candidates should be able to adapt their usual working process as necessary to fit within the established workflows of the company.

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How do you incorporate current trends and technologies into your campaigns?

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Expert art directors should keep track of current trends and technologies and understand when and how to incorporate them into their work. The answer to this question should give insight into how the candidate considers trends and what their decision-making process is on whether to incorporate trends or not.

The best art directors do not follow trends blindly just because they’re new or popular. They should be able to grasp how a trend or technology can be used to enhance a brand and when it will detract from the brand’s promise.

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Can you talk about a time when your art direction helped solve a business problem?

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Since art directors oversee the creation of advertising campaigns, they can be presented with a variety of business problems to solve. Look for candidates who show an understanding of how business problems can be identified and addressed with creative solutions.

Candidates should have a firm grasp of how advertising and related campaigns can be used to bolster a business’s market position, mitigate a public relations issue, or launch a new product successfully. Beware of candidates who don’t seem to understand business problems, or are unsure of how their work contributes to solving them.

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What do you do in the first week of a project to learn about a new brand you’ve started working with?

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Experienced art directors should have a process for how they familiarize themselves with a new brand or company. This should be well-thought-out and provide them with the necessary information to dive into creating new campaigns and improving upon existing ones.

Exceptional candidates should be able to answer this question easily and should have a plan already in place for starting with a company. The plan should include getting up to speed on the brand’s goals and current positioning (including in comparison to competitors), past campaigns, and any campaigns currently being developed. The first week on a new project should also include getting to know the team the art director will be working with.

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How have you mentored or led colleagues on projects in the past?

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Art direction is a leadership position, and most art directors will have a team working under them. Strong leadership and mentoring skills are necessary to be an excellent team lead, and the best candidates should be able to reflect on their career to identify instances where they’ve effectively shown these skills.

Look for candidates who share stories about collaboration with their teammates. Good leaders identify the strengths within their teams and bolster them, while helping compensate for their weaknesses. Art directors who attempt to micromanage their teams often suffer from high turnover and reduced morale.

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How do you keep your team motivated through tough projects or tight deadlines?

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Since art directors are team leaders, it’s important that they possess excellent leadership skills. One of the most important of those skills is the ability to lead a team through a tough project or to meet a tight deadline.

Look for candidates who are eager to approach these challenges, rather than those who seem nervous by the prospect. Experienced candidates should have multiple times in their career that they can pull from to answer this question, and some may relay multiple anecdotes.

Pay attention to their particular strategies, too. Does their approach fit with company values and culture? Do they take an authoritarian approach or a collaborative one? How a candidate performs under pressure will influence the way their team works when the pressure is off.

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How do you balance the design aspects of a project with the strategy aspects?

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A firm grasp of business strategy is necessary for an art director to be successful. Ad campaigns cannot be successful if they do not fit within the overall brand strategy. Design has to serve that strategy.

Rather than seeing design and strategy as potentially opposing forces, the best candidates will see the strategy aspects of a campaign as a positive challenge to flex their design chops. Look for art directors who embrace strategy alongside design and view the two as interlocking parts of a cohesive whole.

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How do you measure the success of your role within a project?

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The art director’s success in a project can be measured in a few ways, and which one is “correct” depends on a company’s goals and internal culture. Does the candidate’s answer fit within the company’s definition of success?

If an art director candidate defines success purely in terms of revenue while the company is more concerned with raising brand recognition, then the fit may be off. One answer candidates may commonly give is that a successful project is one that they’re proud of. Encourage them to expand on what makes them proud of a project to get at the real things they value in terms of success.

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In your opinion, what makes an ideal team member?

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The best art director candidates should have an idea of where their strengths lie and should look for team members who complement those strengths. They should also seek team members who complement one another. It’s rare that designers excel in every area of design, so creating a team that has complementary skills is vital to the success of a project.

An ideal candidate will want team members who fit into the overall company culture and can function well as a unit while working on a campaign. The specifics of “ideal” are less important than the reasoning behind the choices, which the candidate should be encouraged to expand upon.

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Talk about your most successful media campaign and how it was created.

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Experienced art directors should have numerous successful media campaigns to pull from to answer this question. Pay attention to how they’ve defined “success” - is it based on revenue, or the way their team came together, or the quality of the work they produced?

Make sure their definition of success matches the company’s. Make note of the campaigns they mention and research them after the interview to make sure you agree with their assessment of success and that their approach was one that made sense within the brand’s goals.

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What was your least successful project? What would you do differently?

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Some candidates may have reservations about discussing their less successful projects. But this is a good way to gather whether they’ve learned from past mistakes or failures and applied those lessons to future work.

Pay attention in particular to what they would do differently. Do they pass the buck off to other teams or their own team members? Or do they take ownership of their role in the failure of the project? Mentioning shortcomings from other teams isn’t necessarily a negative thing, as long as they also take responsibility for their own role in the campaign and where they could have done better.

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For you, what is the toughest aspect of being an art director?

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There’s no right or wrong answer here. The answer to this question should give the interviewer a better understanding of whether the candidate being interviewed has the appropriate skills to fit the position. If the areas where they express difficulty are areas where someone filling the opening needs to excel, then that candidate won’t be a good fit.

If the areas where they struggle are a minor part of the job or are easily compensated for by other members of their team, then those are less of a concern. It’s also a good idea to ask the candidate how they compensate for those challenges. Any experienced art director will have developed strategies to deal with the parts of the job where their weaknesses lie.

* There is more to interviewing than tricky technical questions, so these are intended merely as a guide. Not every “A” candidate worth hiring will be able to answer them all, nor does answering them all guarantee an “A” candidate. At the end of the day, hiring remains an art, a science — and a lot of work.
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Looking for Art Direction experts? Check out Toptal’s art direction experts.
Christina Barsan
United States
Christina is a digital designer and creative director with over 15 years of experience as a visual thinker, problem solver, manager, collaborator, and lover of technology. She constantly seeks to help her clients create the ideal brand for their business that’s aligned with their big vision.
Simon Moolman
South Africa
Simon has more than 11 years experience in the creative industry. He became an integral part of agencies such as MC Saatchi, VML, and Ogilvy—where he led various creative teams. He has worked with the world's largest brands and transformed emerging brands into competitive entities. His focus is interactive and experience design. He is constantly pursuing meaningful storytelling through design that makes a difference in people's lives.
David Fotherby
United States
David has created exceptional, user-centered products for some of the top Fortune, healthcare, retail, and entertainment businesses worldwide. His approach of putting the user at the center of product design ensures that clients have a clear insight into their market potential and the technical requirements needed.