In this day and age everyone seems to carry the title, “creative director.” Having worked in large corporations, both leading an in-house agency model, overseeing relations of outside agencies and third-party creative freelancers, I’ve found that the role of creative direction carries different meanings to different people and within the companies they work. Through all of my interactions there are a few common characteristics that they all share. So, what is it that you should expect of a “creative director?”
A Passion for Simplicity
This exists in different forms, of them, a common vision and focus on its intent are the most important. Erik Spiekermann said it best, “You have to have a strategy, and you also have to be able to visualize it — one doesn’t go without the other.” The creative process generates more than its handful of ideas. And let’s be honest, not all of them are good; some are just downright terrible. What separates the exceptional creative directors is vision — being able to identify a concept that has potential and giving it the energy needed for it to mature. It’s these decisions that allow the team to go deeper with the remaining ideas, making them richer and more effective. This means, in many cases, removing anything that does not otherwise align with that vision — stripping adornments and trimming the fat. Inherently, this task cannot be done alone. This means having to work with leadership, strategists, product marketers, co-managers and other production leads to remain focused on the goal.
A Leader Who Fosters Growth
Personally, I’ve always liked the way that Seth Godin puts it, “People don’t become leaders because they have charisma; people get charisma because they’re leaders.” Truth be told, managing creatives is nothing less of difficult — at times akin to herding cats. But let’s face it, it’s a creative opportunity. Creative leaders must nurture, encourage, challenge and/or do whatever it takes to help make the work better. Leaders need to know what sort of techniques to use with creative people to get their best work out of them. And, great coaches know how to get the best out of each player.
A Relationship Builder
Call it closing. Call it gaining commitment. Whatever you call it, it’s an essential attribute of any Creative Director — the uncanny ability drive to take command of a situation is instrumental. A huge part of this is being able to present work in a way that makes it dynamic, compelling and entertaining. Successful creative directors can make an idea come to life well before it actually exists in the world. Granted, not every creative director has the same presentation style, but has the ability to command the room when sharing the work. This also means being able foster good relationships with the human beings on the client side — the folks on the other side of the table; people will take risks and buy interesting work if they trust you. It’s not about selling an idea, it’s about understanding your client’s problems and finding a creative solution to that problem.
Albeit, not every creative director possesses these particular attributes naturally — they're acquired over time. Yet, through all all of this, it's important to note the ability to have fun. Design is supposed to be fun, and any creative director has a huge impact on the team dynamic and can help create an environment where people enjoy their work.