Job titles are important. Very important. But this doesn’t mean they should dictate everything. Job titles should be warranted. They should be earned.
This doesn’t mean, for instance, that an art director can’t let a junior design act as lead designer on a project. In fact, it means quite the opposite. The only way you can grow in your field is to take on more challenging projects than your title dictates.
In the career trajectory of an interactive designer there’s a substantial amount of time you can operate in a ‘silo’ and create designs that you and you alone are responsible for. I have known many visual designers, senior visual designers and art directors who have worked within a team of developers and Human Experience designer where they are the only visual designers on the project – no one junior assisting them and no one senior to them, guiding the direction of the final design.
The art director level in the career of a visual designer represents the point at which it’s no longer about your design chops alone that make you great at your level – how fast and precise you are in Photoshop, or how beautiful you can animate a scene. If we take a quick jump into the etymology of these positions, we notice that the change comes when ‘designer‘ is replaced with ‘director‘. As an art director, you’re no longer designing on the project, you’re directing the design efforts of others (ideally). As a creative director you’re directing the conceptual and strategic efforts of others.
Getting to a director level is also about how well you present your ideas and designs to your internal team and your client. It’s about how you work with and mentor junior designers. It’s also about how you delegate responsibilities. It’s about management.
Despite these characteristics, you’d be surprised how many people consider themselves art directors. This doesn’t mean the people I’ve known who have been art directors couldn’t perform the non-visual tasks I mentioned above or that they’re not worthy of the title. It just means they’ve never had the opportunity to (disclosure – I’m guilty of this ‘silo’ work lifestyle too).
We have to be very careful when we assign titles to people within the companies we work for. I don’t give a shit if you’ve worked for a company for 20 years. If you’re not qualified to be a manager or a director or a senior vice president, then you shouldn’t be one. End of story. What salary compensation you give someone is another story. That is something between your management and you, and doesn’t get added your email signature next to your email address and job title.
When people who are given titles they never live up to, it might give that person an ego boost, but it demoralizes others in the company who look to them for vision, direction and strength and never receive it.
Giving the wrong job titles to the wrong people effectively makes job titles meaningless, and inevitably confuses everyone, making them question their own worth in the company.