No matter the industry, earning the coveted title of creative director is a great accomplishment. Not just because it provides you with a broad sense of creative freedom—any creative person’s dream—but also because landing the job requires an enormous amount of work.
If you’re interested in learning how to become a creative director, look no further. Below, we explain the basics of what a creative director job description typically includes, the skills you need to pursue this profession, and insights from three inspiring creative directors from varying backgrounds. They share how they landed the roles, what their day-to-day responsibilities look like, and the advice they have for others aiming for the same gig.
What Does a Creative Director Do?
The role of a creative director is to determine the creative vision for a brand or project and see that vision through to completion. This could involve elements such as photography, video, graphic design, and messaging. Ultimately, the creative director is responsible for maintaining a cohesive look and feel for a project.
While the role involves creativity, it also includes elements of relationship management. Creative directors must manage budgets, timelines, expectations, and deliverables, coordinating the multiple aspects of a project from beginning to end. Typically, creative directors aren’t the ones doing the nitty gritty creative work; they’re the ones directing others to produce that work.
A creative director job description can look different depending on your chosen industry. For example, a fashion creative director will determine how to appeal to the company’s target market, what designs to create, and how to work with individual designers to bring that vision to life.
A creative director salary can range widely based on factors such as industry, geographic location, and experience, but according to Indeed, the average salary for a U.S.-based creative director in 2020 is about $104,000.
What Is the Difference Between an Art Director vs. Creative Director?
When comparing the roles of art director vs. creative director, it’s helpful to think of creative director as the more conceptual role, while an art director typically takes on more of the execution of a project. While a creative director develops the overall idea for a project, the art director uses technical creative skills to lead a team of artists, approve and tweak designs, and determine how to bring that concept to life.
How Many Years Does It Take to Become a Creative Director?
It typically takes several years to work your way up to the role of creative director, varying based on your individual skills and the unique company and role. You may start off as a junior designer for example, then move up to designer and senior designer before being eligible for the role of creative director. Generally, individuals typically spend about five to 10 years on a creative team before moving up to the role of creative director.
What Skills Do You Need to Be a Creative Director?
To learn how to become a creative director, you’ll need to curate a specific, well-honed skill set. Required skills include:
An Eye for Art
Most creative directors start off in a creative role, such as a writer or designer, so art skills are important from the beginning. However, as a full-fledged creative director, it’s more important to have creativity and an eye for art, so you can direct others in creating your vision. It can also be helpful to have a knowledge of design trends, art history, pop culture, and technology, so you can bring current elements into your projects and ideas.
Strategic Leadership Skills
Creative directors must be able to lead and inspire their team to produce great work—so it’s important that they understand how to manage and motivate effectively.
Communication and Interpersonal Skills
As a creative director, you’ll also manage client relationships, so it’s critical to know how to effectively collaborate and communicate. This includes overseeing timelines, collecting and implementing feedback, and managing expectations.
New to Working on Collaborative Projects?
Collaboration for Creatives: Make Your Project Better With David Bill & Marc O’Brien
As the final say on creative projects, you will need to have strong decision-making skills. You will need to determine when projects need more work, what needs to be changed, and when the product can be considered final or go to the client for approval.
Because there are creative directors in so many different fields, there’s no one degree to pursue on the path to becoming a creative director. You could major in nearly anything—journalism, marketing, graphic design, computer science, etc.—and work your way up to this senior role.
However, for additional insight into how some current creative directors worked their way up into their roles, we spoke with three successful creative directors. They share their stories below.
How Three Creative Directors Landed Their Jobs
1. Paige Hudson, Creative Director, Second Story
Paige Hudson, 35, is the creative director of Second Story, a network of experiential design studios that help elevate the art of storytelling through various media.
How She Landed the Job
“Second Story found me and recruited me. 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. What sold me was having the opportunity to build experiential environments you can physically walk into. I wanted to make spaces that deeply engage people and go on to live in the world for longer than two to three days. To me it is so much more rewarding to make things that allow people to play, connect, stay curious, and question the world around them.”
Her Day to Day
“My day-to-day involves eating scoops of peanut butter as fast as possible in between meetings. More seriously, I usually have a mix of client meetings, new hire interviews, new business pitches, one-on-one walks outside that double as mentorship meetings with members of the creative team, public speaking opportunities, and strategy meetings to think about everything from our studio process to our business approach. Also, I’m often traveling—as in 14 plane rides in the past month.”
Her Best Advice to Aspiring Creative Directors
“Don’t force yourself to fit inside of a box. The industry wants people who are breaking the mold. Diverse talent and diverse voices are going to build memorable stories and innovative cultures.”
2. Mark Prommel, Design Lead, Pensa
Mark Prommel, 42, serves as the design lead at Brooklyn-based product design firm, Pensa. The firm’s mission is to help other companies improve products and user experiences.
How He Landed the Job
“My current business partners, Marco Perry and Kathy Larchian, are two brilliant, talented, and creative people with whom I had worked with years earlier. We went our separate ways, then about 11 years ago they had started Pensa while I was at another design firm. When they presented the opportunity to join them, I quickly said yes. Over the years, it has been tremendously exciting to build a design firm together that collaborates with such a wide variety of innovative clients.”
His Day to Day
“It varies quite a bit, but typically my time is split between leading and working with our creative team to design product innovations like these, and cultivating both existing and new client relationships. It is a constant balance between keeping an eye on the big picture vision of the company, while diving into the details of our work to push things forward.”
His Best Advice to Aspiring Creative Directors
“In your early design career, there are two major things to remember that go a long way: work hard and be humble. This may sound cliché, but I have found it to be universally true. Being talented is a given, or you wouldn’t have an opportunity, but you must master the skills, craft, and processes needed to achieve consistently stellar results in your chosen creative field. It takes years of grinding, learning, and practice to truly become a great doer in design.”
3. Jenny Yoon, Founder and Creative Director, Kinn Studio
Jenny Yoon, 33, is the founder and creative director of Kinn Studio, a jewelry boutique that specializes in modern pieces meant to be passed down as heirlooms.
How She Landed the Job
“My parents’ house was robbed a few years back and all of our family heirlooms were stolen. My intention was to replace what was lost, and thankfully I met a few great bench jewelers in Los Angeles to help me make some of the most beautiful pieces. It was just a matter of time before my friends started to ask to make them custom pieces. Fast forward a year and a half, and there are supporters of Kinn’s story, value, and our jewelry. I enjoy my role because I get to make pieces that I love, work with people that I respect, and most importantly, share our story with thousands of people.”
Her Day to Day
“My day usually begins early. I like to walk my St. Bernard in the morning and listen to a podcast to spark ideas, thoughts, and insights. Then I look at my calendar to block out things I want to absolutely get done for that day. Once I’m in the studio, my day is pretty planned out with tasks and meetings, which can be anywhere from visiting the manufacturer, interviewing someone for our Muse Monday Series, or building out a mood board for the next campaign. My day winds down with some sort of a workout and a really good night of sleep.”
Her Best Advice to Aspiring Creative Directors
“Ask questions and ask for honest feedback. I used to shy away from asking for feedback, whether that’s because I wasn’t confident in what I was doing or because it wasn’t perfect for any feedback yet. I quickly realized that people are very open to sharing their feedback, and it not only validates my own ideas, but also helps spark new ideas that I didn’t get a chance to think of myself. All the while, don’t forget to stay true to yourself and trust your instincts.”
There’s no one path to becoming a creative director, but these stories and tips should give you a good idea of how to move forward with your career goals.
Learn How a Creative Director Builds Brands
The Creative Process of Brand Building: Connecting Consumers & Companies Through Stories With Stanley Hainsworth