Creative director: Pro advice for snagging the top spot (2022)

Creative director: Pro advice for snagging the top spot (1)

It's many designers' ultimate goal to become the creative director of a successful agency. Not everyone gets to achieve their dream – you need more than a great creative resume to make it as a great creative director. It takes skill, talent, top-notch management skills and plenty more besides. However, you can put yourself in a better position to achieve your goal if you pay heed to advice from those who have been there and done that.

So what kind of qualities do you need to become a creative director? In this article, we've asked creative directors from leading studios for their advice on how to make it.

01. Treat every project like it's your first

"My responsibility is to ensure all creative is to the high standard we set here," says Martin Widdowfield, creative director at Robot Food (opens in new tab) (the studio behind the opening image for this article (opens in new tab)). For Widdowfield, an easy way to do this is to treat every job like it's your first – with all the excitement and fear that comes with that.

"Every job, big or small should be given the same energy. Complacency is the killer of good creative and spreads like wildfire if left to do so."

02. Trust your team

As creative director, it's your job to look after your team and encourage them to flourish. And that means one of the most important qualities you need to have is the ability to trust others to do a good job.

"It's incredibly hard, as most creative directors are creatives who have worked really hard to get to the position where they are listened to," say the Gary Holt, David Law and Simon Manchipp of SomeOne (opens in new tab). They have all this knowledge and skills that they naturally want to pass on to their juniors – but that, the trio say, is not what a creative director is there for.

  • 12 of the best creative resumés (opens in new tab)

"No hot young designer wants some 45-year-old droning on about photosetting and waxers. They want their ideas approved and published. The client wants the best, most exciting, progressive, and effective idea to create a monopoly for their product, service or organisation. Not something dug up from a 1980s sketchbook. Great creative directors hire really, really good people. Then let them do really, really creative work."

03. Don't run a dictatorship

A major part of the creative director role is to do with mentoring your team. "I’m a firm believer that everyone has ideas and my job is to help bring them to fruition," says Widdowfield. "It doesn’t matter if you’re a senior or straight from university, everyone at Robot Food has the opportunity to put their mark on the agency and is encouraged to do so."

Creative director: Pro advice for snagging the top spot (2)

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04. Give good feedback

"Look after your studio family and encourage them to flourish," say the SomeOne CDs. "See the good in everything they do, but be consistent in your advice.

Widdowfield agrees, stressing the importance of good feedback in particular. "CDs need to be confident and decisive, yet patient enough to help nurture ideas without stressing the designer. I’ve had too many experiences in my early career, where a CD gets frustrated on an idea and doesn’t offer any form of constructive feedback to help."

05. Get your hands dirty sometimes

As is common the further up you move in a design company, becoming a creative director tends to result in less time in front of Photoshop and more time managing and guiding others.

"My own role still involves some hands-on design/copywriting, but very often it's about me taking the lead on a project, working with the client on the overall approach and then briefing my team to create something wonderful," says creative director Chris Jones (opens in new tab). That means checking in on the project throughout its development, and making sure it's staying true to the brief and providing what the target audience wants.

But be careful not to lose touch completely. "I believe creative directors should get their hands dirty sometimes," says Widdowfield. "It's all too easy to dictate some instructions and let the creative struggle to translate that idea on their own."

06. Be happy to be hated

As a creative director, you'll be responsible for guiding artistic decisions. And to truly stand out, you'll need to be willing to take some risks. "It is far too easy to be liked; you just have to be accommodating and hold no strong convictions," say SomeOne. "Then you will gravitate towards the centre and be average. That cannot be your role."

Creative director: Pro advice for snagging the top spot (3)

07. Stay true to your studio's vision

While it's important to keep things fresh and push new ideas, you also need to have a clear understanding of your company's identity. "A good creative director has to have a clear understanding of their agency vision," says Widdowfield. "Without this, work is not going to deliver on the image the agency wants and in turn won’t attract the desired work in the future."

08. Know when to shut up

"Whether it's clients or your own team, creative directors should spend a lot of time listening. Really listening," stresses Jones. In order to really get to the bottom of what a client's issues are, he tries to sit back and mainly listen in meetings, only speaking when he has a really good question to ask.

"It should be all about the client, not the agency," he adds. "Similarly, in-house you need to take the time to listen to your team and accept that you can learn from them."

SomeOne echoes Jones' advice: "Great creative directors may listen to their clients for hours. Because somewhere deep in all those spreadsheets, PowerPoints, briefs and data is the spark that they can pass on to the creative minds that will put pen to paper. They must choose that spark very, very carefully, or risk a fire that can take down the entire ship."

09. Don't let bad things happen to good ideas

"The best creative directors do something entirely different," says SomeOne. "They trust talented people to do talented things. Then stop bad things happening to the work, and to the people. Often without the people even knowing it."

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Creative director: Pro advice for snagging the top spot (4)

Share what you know with the wider world. It's helpful for less experienced designers, and helps strengthen the design community as a whole. "Don’t keep it to yourself and don't be paranoid about sharing your expertise, even with competitors," says Jones. "Writing blogs and speaking at conferences are both great ways of getting stuff out there and have the added benefit of helping you meet new people and sparking debate."

11. Create the right environment

For creatives, the right studio environment have a big impact on the work created – everything from what's on the walls to the mood in the studio is important.

"It's very difficult to define, but the perfect working environment for me is generally relaxed, with occasional bits of Victorian mill owner-style discipline thrown in to keep standards high," shares Jones. "Equally, encouraging creatives to let off a bit of steam by throwing stress balls at each other or flying the office's remote control helicopter around is just as important."

12. Keep your mind open

"Be a sponge for as much culture (both high and low) as you can fill your mind with," suggest the SomeOne creative directors. "Then forget about it. It will remind you when it's needed."

Many studios will specialise in one particular area, as of course, you'll need to know your particular discipline inside out. However, it's vital to be aware of what's going on in other specialisms, too. Jones works for a digital agency (you can see some of his work in the video above), but still keeps an eye on what's going on in the branding and advertising segments. As well as making sure your work is well rounded and being open to any new developments, this can help keep you inspired within your own specialism.

13. Preach

"There's nothing worse than seeing a project presented by someone who doesn't really get it. Doesn't understand it, or really like it. If the person presenting doesn't believe in the work, there is no reason for the audience to care," says SomeOne.

"Great creative directors pick their fights very carefully, but once they have committed to a route, they believe that it is the greatest idea on the planet. And they make a stand for that work. They protect it. They enhance its chances, co-ordinate people who could help it, channel it to concentrate it. They become evangelical. They believe. You, as the designer, may never see any of that in the studio – but they will be out there fighting the good fight for a cause they passionately believe in: a great idea."

14. Don't get bogged down

While it's pressurised at times, the creative industry can be a wonderful place to work – and many would agree that great ideas can happen when you relax and have fun. "The best creative work comes when the mind isn’t bogged down with stress," says Widdowfield. "Yes, deadlines loom, and that concept can be a struggle to crack, but you’ve got to just put that to the side and enjoy it."

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FAQs

What makes a creative director successful? ›

"Great creative directors pick their fights very carefully, but once they have committed to a route, they believe that it is the greatest idea on the planet. And they make a stand for that work. They protect it. They enhance its chances, co-ordinate people who could help it, channel it to concentrate it.

How can I be a better creative director? ›

To work as a creative director you need both a keen eye and strong leadership skills and management skills.
...
Goodby & Silverstein's 5 Tips for Creative Directors
  1. Observe the world around you. ...
  2. Empower others to do the work. ...
  3. Learn from your own experience. ...
  4. Learn from the experiences of others. ...
  5. Communicate effectively.
Jun 7, 2021

What skills should a creative director have? ›

It's essential that creative directors have stellar communication, presentation, problem-solving and project-management skills, too. Successful creative directors have polished soft skills that enable them to inspire creativity and work well with different personality types — all while juggling various projects.

What does a creative director need to know? ›

Creative directors need to understand creative crafts like design trends, art history, cinematographic techniques, illustration, or writing styles. Understanding design thinking and how to conceptualize your ideas are also important skills.

What makes a great creative? ›

Great creative should be uncomplicated, uncluttered, and make its point easily and without too many layers.

Is being a creative director stressful? ›

This is a stressful job. As the person in charge of designing and building the sets for a movie, you're going to encounter a lot of problems, and you're going to be expected to handle them quickly.

Are creative directors happy? ›

Art directors are one of the happiest careers in the United States. At CareerExplorer, we conduct an ongoing survey with millions of people and ask them how satisfied they are with their careers. As it turns out, art directors rate their career happiness 3.8 out of 5 stars which puts them in the top 17% of careers.

What is a creative director salary? ›

Creative Director Salaries in London Area

The average salary for Creative Director is £86,284 per year in the London Area. The average additional cash compensation for a Creative Director in the London Area is £14,314, with a range from £2,487 - £82,372.

What is the day rate for a creative director? ›

A creative director's charge rate is based on many factors and can range from $500.00 on the low end to as high as $10,000+ per project / per day.

What's the difference between director and creative director? ›

By definition, an art director is focused solely on aesthetics, whereas a creative director will handle strategy, campaign execution, art direction, and more.

What are the 5 traits of a creative person? ›

These are among the five main traits of a creative person according to Munir and you might be surprised that you have all the five:
  • They are risk takers. Creative thinkers are risk takers. ...
  • They have the dare to fail attitude. ...
  • They are willing to be different. ...
  • They are impulsive, fickle and change their mind quite often.
Apr 9, 2017

What are the four characteristics of creativity? ›

In conclusion we can say that if we want to run a creative activity in the classroom, we need to check for the presence of these four features: imagination, purpose, originality and value, and organise the process in a way that all these can be incorporated.

How do you lead a creative team? ›

To manage a creative team effectively, you need to:
  1. Inspire your team to grow and remove the ego.
  2. Connect with the team and lead by example.
  3. Encourage collaboration.
  4. Communicate daily (& effectively)
  5. Delegate small tasks.
  6. Ensure quality standards.
  7. Give constant feedback.
May 29, 2021

Are creative directors in demand? ›

Creative directors are most in-demand in New York, NY. Menlo Park, CA pays an annual average wage of $184,999, the highest in the US. In 2021, women earned 90% of what men earned. California is the best state for creative directors to live.

Is a creative director a good job? ›

Yes, being a creative director is a good career.

Working as a creative director is lucrative and a rewarding career path for a seasoned creative professional who understands the industry. Creative directors generally develop and oversee projects at the earliest stages.

What are the cons of being an art director? ›

Cons
  • The erratic schedule. ...
  • It can take years before you qualify for a job as an art director. ...
  • There is a lot of competition, as many talented designers and artists are moving into art director positions.
Feb 15, 2021

What are the challenges of being an art director? ›

“I would say that the biggest challenge of being an art director is cohesion. As an art director, the goal is to make sure that everything lathers up to the bigger story that is trying to be told. Every piece of content has not only need to make sense from a micro perspective but also a macro one too.

How many hours do creative directors work? ›

Creative directors work about 40 hours a week. It is usually a full-time job, so you will often have to dedicate long hours to each of your projects, often working on more than one at a time.

Do creative directors get paid a lot? ›

The salaries of Creative Directors in the US range from $31,500 to $605,000 , with a median salary of $135,000 . The middle 50% of Creative Directors makes between $100,000 and $134,750, with the top 83% making $605,000.

What is the best career for a creative person? ›

Best careers for creative people
  • Journalist.
  • Illustrator.
  • Copywriter.
  • Interior designer.
  • Advertising manager.
  • Makeup artist.
  • Tattoo artist.
  • Marketing manager.

What is a good hourly rate for graphic design? ›

Hourly rates: $25 - 150 per hour

Hourly graphic design rates vary based on experience and design specialty. Typically, more experienced graphic designers will charge between $65 to $150 per hour. In contrast, more entry-level freelance design rates range from $25 to $50 per hour.

How much should I charge for designing a flyer? ›

Flyer. Hourly – A graphic designer can complete a flyer design in about two or three hours for about $25 an hour. Fixed – Flyer projects are rather broad in scope but can range anywhere from $10 to over $100 per project.

How much should I charge as a freelance graphic designer? ›

According to Upwork's own internal data, the median hourly rate for a freelance graphic designer on their platform falls between $15 – $35 per hour, with an average of $25 per hour. Within that, there's a wide range of anywhere from $15–$150 per hour.

What is above a creative director? ›

Group Creative Directors (GCDs), Executive Creative Directors (ECDs), Chief Creative Officers (CCOs) may all exist above the Creative Director role, depending on the agency.

Who is higher art director or creative director? ›

An art director typically works with a creative director on campaigns, though might not usually be considered as senior in the structure of the business. They may even report into the creative director. Art direction marries art and design to create a cohesive aesthetic and arouse a reaction from the consumer.

Is becoming creative director hard? ›

The creative director position usually requires a bachelor's degree or master's degree in a specific creative field, such as marketing, graphic design, or fine arts. On top of that, you'll typically need seven to 10 years of experience working in your field.

Is creative director a good career? ›

Creative directors work in management roles with the possibility of earning high salaries. Those with strong portfolios of work and experience designing projects for many types of media, including digital, might have more job possibilities and earning potential than less skilled or versatile directors.

What is the best career for a creative person? ›

Best careers for creative people
  • Journalist.
  • Illustrator.
  • Copywriter.
  • Interior designer.
  • Advertising manager.
  • Makeup artist.
  • Tattoo artist.
  • Marketing manager.

What is a creative director salary? ›

Creative Director Salaries in London Area

The average salary for Creative Director is £86,284 per year in the London Area. The average additional cash compensation for a Creative Director in the London Area is £14,314, with a range from £2,487 - £82,372.

What is below a creative director? ›

Each of these levels could be for Art Directors, Copywriters, or Designers:
  • Intern. (1-2 internships, 3-6 months each) You've gotta start somewhere. ...
  • Junior. (1-3 years) ...
  • Midlevel. (2-4 years) ...
  • Senior. (3-5 years...or forever) ...
  • Associate Creative Directors. (3-6 years) ...
  • Creative Directors. (5-10 years...or forever) ...
  • ... and Beyond.

Are creative directors in demand? ›

Creative directors are most in-demand in New York, NY. Menlo Park, CA pays an annual average wage of $184,999, the highest in the US. In 2021, women earned 90% of what men earned. California is the best state for creative directors to live.

Who does a creative director report to? ›

These professionals often report directly to CMOs and other directors, and they rely on extensive experience and professional judgment to plan and executive projects. A Creative Director must be a great leader with the ability to maximize the talents of their teams.

What are the 5 traits of a creative person? ›

These are among the five main traits of a creative person according to Munir and you might be surprised that you have all the five:
  • They are risk takers. Creative thinkers are risk takers. ...
  • They have the dare to fail attitude. ...
  • They are willing to be different. ...
  • They are impulsive, fickle and change their mind quite often.
Apr 9, 2017

What is the happiest job to have? ›

The 10 Happiest and Most Satisfying Jobs
  • Dental Hygienist.
  • Physical Therapist.
  • Radiation Therapist.
  • Optometrist.
  • Human Resources Manager.

What is the highest paying creative job? ›

Top 5 High-Paid Creative Jobs
  • Creative director. The payslip: According toPayScale.com, creative directors in the US have high average starting salaries of roughly US$44,000, with average US$83,000 earnings of a year. ...
  • Art director. ...
  • Senior graphic designer. ...
  • Animator. ...
  • Game designer.

How many hours do creative directors work? ›

Creative directors work about 40 hours a week. It is usually a full-time job, so you will often have to dedicate long hours to each of your projects, often working on more than one at a time.

Do creative directors get paid a lot? ›

The salaries of Creative Directors in the US range from $31,500 to $605,000 , with a median salary of $135,000 . The middle 50% of Creative Directors makes between $100,000 and $134,750, with the top 83% making $605,000.

What degree do you need for creative director? ›

A bachelor's degree in graphic design, marketing, or a similar discipline, as well as 7-10 years of experience, are required for creative director training. Graphic design, graphic art, or marketing could all be good majors for a creative director.

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