Creative directors are found in many industries. They serve as the head of creative departments at film studios, magazines, marketing and advertising agencies, nonprofits, and private companies. Even the White House has a creative director.
If you have a passion for art and design, you may have wondered: What is a creative director, exactly? And, how does one reach this executive-level creative position?
Interested in how to become a creative director? We’ve got you covered, with the basics on what a creative director job description looks like and the skills you’ll need to become a creative director or art director.
What Does a Creative Director Do?
The job of a creative director is essentially to develop and oversee creative projects from concept to execution. Creative directors set the direction for a brand’s identity or the vision for a film. They’re in charge of the overall vision and narrative in marketing, advertising, or creative campaigns. They don’t typically dive into the creative work themselves; rather, they direct others to produce the end result.
On a daily basis, creative directors will meet with clients to discuss their needs, lead team brainstorming sessions, balance a budget, direct creative decisions, and deliver projects. Great creative directors will know how to manage and motivate a team by making sure their staff have the resources they need to do their best creative work.
What Do You Need to Become a Creative Director?
To learn how to become a creative director in film or any other field, you’ll need to acquire professional and creative skills. While the specific requirements will vary by industry, any creative director will need the following:
An Eye for Art
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.
Creative directors are in charge of communicating with their staff, company executives, and clients. It’s critical to know how to give and take critiques, manage multiple team members, and effectively communicate a creative vision so that others can execute it. They often need to make presentations, so public speaking skills are also a must.
Before becoming a creative director, you’ll likely begin as a writer, designer, photographer, or another junior-level creative role—and mastering that craft is a key part of the career path. From there, you’ll need management roles that allow you to hone your communication and leadership skills.
5 Steps to Becoming a Creative Director
Step 1: Get a Higher Education
To learn how to become a creative director in fashion or any other field, you usually need to start by getting a bachelor’s degree in a specific creative field like art, marketing, graphic design, photography, or fashion.
Some creative directors also choose to earn a master’s degree with a focus on fine arts or business administration. Though a master’s isn’t required, it could give you a competitive advantage over other candidates (or be a good choice if you have a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field).
Step 2: Get Professional Experience
That said, in creative fields, experience outweighs education, so you’ll need to gain in-the-field experience. If you’re interested in how to become a creative director without a degree, then this step is even more important.
You need to gain anywhere between five to 10 years of experience before becoming a creative director and may start as a graphic designer, photographer, or artist to gain creative experience. Start by applying for an internship, fellowship, entry-level job, or junior role.
While that’s the typical progression, don’t obsess over following a specific formula. “Often, indirect career paths make for diverse and valuable experiences. So don’t worry if yours doesn’t match anyone else’s—you can make your own way,” says Nancy Herrmann, creative director at Stark Design and Boutique, a branding and advertising agency.
Step 3: Create a Portfolio
While other professions require a resume, a creative director portfolio is more important in this creative field. All potential employers will want to see your creative director portfolio, which will highlight your talents and past work. Think of your portfolio as a marketing tool that showcases what you are capable of (more on that in a bit).
Step 4: Hone Your Skills and Gain Expertise
The best creative directors constantly pursue opportunities that allow them to expand their knowledge, stretch their skills, and spot nuggets of inspiration everywhere. “A lot of us can be inspired by the same inspiration, but what’s going to make your work stand out is your personal take on it, your life choices, where you are creatively, your point of view. That’s what really is going to make the story,” says creative director Daniel Vosovic.
Step 5: Build Your Network
Creatives need to forge meaningful connections with other creatives. Networking gives you the chance to gain inspiration and learn new techniques from experienced professionals, and potentially hear about or land new opportunities. Connecting on social media platforms like Instagram and LinkedIn is a friendly, low-pressure networking method, but in-person events like conferences, workshops, and art fairs can pave the way to valuable connections too.
There are also professional organizations for every creative field, offering resources, events, and award competitions. Creative directors aren’t required to join a professional organization, but becoming a member can provide access to valuable networking and learning opportunities.
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Typical Skills You Need for a Creative Director Resume
We’ve already covered some of the broad skills you’ll need to be a successful creative director. Now, how do you showcase some of these competencies on your resume?
Below, we’ve pulled together some different skills creative directors need, as well as some templated lines you can use. Just remember, a good resume requires personalization, so you’re encouraged to tailor these prompts as needed!
Creativity and an Artistic Eye
- Established the vision for [creative project], which led to [result].
- Example: Established the vision for a series of animated social media videos about the electoral college, which led to a 25% increase in the brand’s social media following during election time.
- Proficient with [industry/expertise] tools and concepts, including [example], [example], and [example].
- Example: Experienced with filmography tools and concepts, including storyboarding, foley and sound design, and editing in Adobe Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro X.
- Communicated successfully with all members of the creative team, including [role], [role], [role], and [role].
- Example: Communicated successfully with all members of the creative team, including marketing researchers, designers, pattern makers, and production managers.
- Connected with and carefully interviewed end clients to understand goals for the end project and deliver creative assets that [result].
- Example: Connected with and carefully interviewed end clients to understand goals for the end project and deliver creative assets that satisfied their brand vision.
- Oversaw and managed a creative team of [number], comprised of [role], [role], [role], and [role].
- Example: Oversaw and managed a creative team of 24 members, comprised of animators, sound designers, editors, and project managers.
- Navigated the creative team through [problem or challenge], ultimately leading them to [result].
- Example: Navigated the creative team through an unplanned pause in production, ultimately leading them to finish the project on time and under budget despite the setback.
Creative Director Salary Expectations
Do creative directors make a lot of money? They can! Creative directors are management positions that tend to command high salaries, though the amount they earn depends on their industry, company size, level of experience, and geographic location.
PayScale reports that the average creative director makes $88,754. However, Glassdoor estimates that creative directors make a higher rate of $110,000 on average. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average creative director salary in 2019 was $74,420, with creative directors getting paid $35.78 per hour.
How to Craft a Portfolio
If you’re looking at how to become a creative director, you’ll need to put together a creative director portfolio—an online hub that allows potential employers to see who you are and what you offer.
Be sure to include published work samples like photography, design, and videography, as well as case studies that show the results of your creative endeavors, like increased brand awareness or client testimonials. Feature any awards you’ve won on your portfolio too.
Also, remember that as a creative director, how you present your work is as important as the work itself. Your portfolio should be a clean and design-forward experience that’s easy to navigate and that includes only your most impressive work. Think of it as a visual representation of who you are as a creative professional, and invest energy into capturing your style.
Where to Find Jobs
There are plenty of job boards out there designed just for creatives, such as Dribble, Working Not Working, We Work Remotely, and AIGA Design Jobs. But since creative directors and art directors are typically executive-level roles, many land creative director jobs by being promoted from within or hearing about opportunities through their networks.
Some top talent, like Paige Hudson, creative director of Second Story, are pursued by prospective employers. “Second Story found me and recruited me,” she says. “We spent about two months having exploratory conversations, during which time we talked about the company, my concentration, and what kinds of things we could make together.”
There’s no perfect path to becoming a creative director for a magazine, agency, or corporation, but there are plenty of opportunities available. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that more creative director jobs will be added to the market from now through 2029. According to the bureau, the average job growth rate of creative directors is faster than the growth rate of other jobs by 10%.
Can You Become a Creative Director Without a Degree?
You can become a creative director without a degree, though most producers and directors have a bachelor’s degree. Many directors also have master’s degrees, but that certainly isn’t required.
To become a creative director without a degree, you’ll need to have ample work experience in your chosen field. And most importantly, a creative vision that’s so good, it can’t be ignored. “The industry wants people who are breaking the mold,” Hudson said. “Diverse talent and diverse voices are going to build memorable stories and innovative cultures.”
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