For graphic design professionals who have the right training, education, and experience, the position of creative director offers numerous possibilities for advancing in the graphic design profession. There is high value in the workplace for professionals who have the artistic ability to create everything from print material to online content, and this is especially true in the position of creative director.
Graphic Design Education
Completing an education in graphic design is often one of the first requirements for securing a position as a creative director. From prestigious art schools to community colleges, the importance of creative graphic design can be seen in the growing number of curriculum that offer this degree or certification. In a graphic design program, students learn a number of skills that prepare them to create everything from magazines and brochures to film and video content. Although it is not the only path, having an exceptional understanding of the design principals and underlying artistic edge is a plus.
Prospective students can consider earning a certificate, associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, or master of fine arts degree offered across the United States at post-secondary institutions. There are even a number of high-quality online graphic design degree programs to choose from. Common courses include typography, package design, principles of branding, 3D design, digital tools, print and digital media, visual communication, information design, and graphic design history. In addition to coursework, an important element of an education in graphic design is the completion of a portfolio that allows each student to showcase his or her ability.
Specializations and Skills
Many graphic design programs offer students opportunities for choosing a specialization or concentration within the graphic design field. Some options include multimedia, print design, or web publishing. These specializations correspond to the expertise often required of a creative arts director. For additional information, visit the AIGA website.
Whether choosing to pursue a general degree program or focusing on one area in a specialized degree, creative directors are responsible for a number of tasks and duties in their positions. Some of the skills that will be required to be successful in the workplace in this position include the ability to conceptualize and develop design solutions, critical and creative thinking, presentation of ideas, create visual communications based on a number of design principles, understanding of mediums of delivery and presentation, and customer service and management applications.
Interpersonal and Management Skills
Creative directors are often the managers in departments of graphic design firms. In addition to a role as a graphic designer, creative directors in these positions are also responsible for managerial tasks such as employee evaluations, scheduling, budgeting, and client management.
Customer service and client management is an integral part of the graphic design business. It is important for designers and directors in design firms to be able to meet client expectations and demands. In order to do this, the first step, and one of the most important skills for a creative director to possess, is to have exceptional interpersonal skills and solid understanding of customer service. Creative directors must work with both clients and other designers to see a customer’s vision come to fruition satisfactorily.
But Where Does the Journey Begin
For the most part, anyone can become a creative director through hard work and political aplomb. Most creative directors start out at the bottom—by being a copywriter or a graphic design artist within a department. In this way, they learn the ropes and understand the structure of the company in a far more in-depth manner. But there is a more direct route.
Many creative directors have a bachelor’s degree in a skill not related to graphic design. For example, they may seek to build on an existing degree in advertising or journalism. But there are a number of ways to elaborate upon this base, such as a master’s program in strategic communication and leadership.
This is because the creative design director does not input their own creative energies into design, but rather uses the resources she or he has in order to maximize the profits and prestige of the firm in which they work. However, it absolutely offers an edge with the department resources, the graphic designers who are working at various projects.
The Case for Soft Skills Becoming Hard Skills
The soft skill department has a wealth of under appreciated talents and fertile opportunities. As mentioned above, a creative director position implies that, while a graphic design understanding is essential, it can be lacking. This is where soft skills come into play. Managing the tensions of highly creative people isn’t as easy as it might seem, and coordinating the efforts of other departments with one’s own isn’t always a straightforward goal.
This is why interpersonal management, a broad and overarching understanding of the political structures in place, and a good estimation of time and resources available are integral to this position. They aren’t optional attributes when the context changes and one is tapped for a creative design role. They’re requisite.
As well, understanding how to manage clients is a crucial skill. Creative directors manage more than one at one time, and their stakeholder landscape becomes far more complicated. This would be where the importance of customer service intersects the ability to balance the needs of various shareholders within the company. In addition to maintaining good customer care, they must keep their designers happy as well as the other departments within the company. It’s an essential task, but one that requires subtle management of interpersonal information.
Beyond the Marketing Department
It isn’t just the job of the marketing department of a firm or an independent consulting firm to have a creative director roll. More and more, the UX/UI departments of various service and product-oriented manufacturers or providers require a group of graphic artists who are well-versed in maintenance and design of their websites. While they do often work closely with marketing personnel, they must operate along different lines. That means that a creative director is often required.
They work to ensure that the designers and other personnel under their umbrella are working towards the same goals. They also ensure that these people are protected, often meeting with the marketing people, hashing out agreements, and putting out fires between the marketing department and the UX/UI department. It is the ultimate goal that these two groups work together, although they may be on different budgets and have different goals.
In Total, in All
The list of responsibilities is long, and could do with a recap. Below are the bullet pointed responsibilities with a longer explanation following them.
• Managing the creative process from start to finish
• Managing artists, graphic designers, musicians, copywriters, or other creative specialists
• Setting project deadlines and monitoring schedules of production
• Oversight of project budgets
• Developing a creative philosophy for the department and each particular project
• Translating marketing goals into creative strategies
• Pitching concepts to clients or stakeholders in-house
• Establishing the vision for every project and effectively communicating the vision to creatives
• Ensuring visual communication and client standards can be and are met
• Monitoring standards of productivity
• Translating client critiques and feedback into edits
• Meeting with clients and other stakeholders to discuss progress on projects
• Signing off on completed projects
• Studying and redesigning processes, according to need.
• Hiring and seeing to the training of all creative staff.
While it may be advantageous to hire someone without creative initiative, there are some drawbacks. First and foremost, they don’t really understand what goes into creating, nor any of the politics that go along with it. Having a background in some sort of design, fine art, or other artistic field matters, but it’s what can be tagged on to that artistic field that counts.
Marketing and Business Roles
This is where the oversight of project budgets, monitoring standards of output, and translating marketing goals into meaningful creative strategies that can be achieved by artists or others in the department matters. Understanding business and marketing concerns also plays into the awareness of what trends are visually assertive, which ones will stand up to repeated use and which ones will not. It’s less a creative role than an understanding of what sells in terms of visual impact.
This is one important aspect of a creative director degree that often goes unnoticed by those not pursing the position. For the purposes of making a business effective, one must have the necessary tools and standards of behavior that run along those lines. For example, in terms of a creative director position for UX/UI (user experience/user interface), one must balance what one hopes to achieve with the budget outlaid in the project manifest.
Knowing what one’s artists and researchers are capable of beforehand is a huge benefit to this. While one must balance creative talent, customer service, and other aspects with the business part of this, knowing what one has to work with is essential. It will come in handy when making a budget for a particular project, which can include marketing research, and prospective service design iterations.
As well, being aware of the processes and procedures is another aspect of this multi-valent field. Each of the artists in one’s purview is required to submit a piece of work according to a procedure to ensure its proper space in the portfolio. Knowing where pitfalls and time-wasters are is a valuable skill, even if one is coming into a field with which one isn’t familiar. As a creative director, it is proper for certain aspects of procedure to be modified to avoid lost time.
Customer and Client Feedback
This is an aspect of customer service that the usual artist or craftsperson does not. Interfacing with clients, hearing what they’d most want and prioritizing those wants, is part of the director role. They can then take stock of the capabilities of their staff, and send back an estimated budget. All throughout the process of crafting the project, they maintain a diligent line of communication, translating feedback into editing changes and keeping tabs on what the needs of the artists in their staff are, while also ensuring that the customer is happy.
It’s no small issue here to maintain those lines of communication, and to ensure that everyone is as happy as possible. This is why director roles either take a great deal of experience within the field or an additional degree. The management of expectations from multiple parties requires special experience and training. This is another reason why a creative director degree will come in handy.
Imagine a company that wants to keep its bottom line las low as possible, which means arguing down the price of most products or services to their minimum. While there are companies out there who devote a substantial budget to research, development, and creative processes, this is not the standard. Knowing how to tell a prospective client no while keeping them in the game is no small feat. It takes skill and an understanding of how the particular dance unfolds.
The Creative Aspect
While the administrative and client services aspects of this job are important, of greater import is the ability to communicate effectively the staff, the makers and creators. Ultimately, the buck stops at the Creative Director’s door. That director’s understanding of principals must be made clear in the lines of communication, the vision, and the overall shape of everything to come from her office.
As director, it’s imperative that there is a clear vision for the department as a whole. Not only will they call upon their creative talents, but also use their knowledge of business, marketing, and client services as a means to this end. In essence, they carry the torch for the rest of the individuals, who will lend their talents towards such an end. More than that, every product is owned by the director, not because he or she produced it, but because they signed off on it. In essence, they are giving their seal of approval, which means it must meet exacting standards or their name is tarnished.
Irrespective of background, it’s important for a director to have business and management sense, an awareness of client management and how to be firm but maintain a good dynamic, and a working understanding of what the artists do under their management. Each portion of what goes into making a director great in their job is essential. ~
Whether working in the film industry producing animation or handling the printing specifications of a local community hospital, and everywhere in between, creative directors must have a diverse skill set to lead a graphic design team and project.