If you’re creative, and you envision yourself in a leadership role, you might have thought about how to become a Creative Director. But in addition to having creative vision, to be a creative director requires well-developed soft skills (listening, collaboration). Not to mention, these executive level positions take time to work towards. Let’s look at what is a creative director and how to become one. 

What is a Creative Director?

What's a Creative Director?

Creative Director (CD) is an essential role in many types of businesses, from film studios, advertising and licensing agencies, nonprofits, magazines, to retail outfits. This position helps define the aesthetic direction of a variety of campaigns and projects, and oversees their realization. 

In this post, we break down what Creative Directors do, and some ideas on how to become a Creative Director. 


What is a Creative Director? 

A Creative Director is the lead of a creative team and responsible for keeping a project, film, or brand campaign aligned with a cohesive visual style. When we think of what’s a Creative Director, we tend to think of an executive role. But this work is also highly collaborative and requires not only leading a team well but also taking direction from other directors and managers. 

A skilled CD will not only have a great vision, they will excel at listening to and nurturing the creative ideas of other people. Depending on the company size and type, a CD may report to the Chief Creative Officer or Editorial Director. Or if it is a smaller boutique agency or family-run company where the owners are more hands-on, even the CEO. All of these facets are the important “soft skills” that are critical parts of the Creative Director definition. 

Creative Director Role 

What does a Creative Director do? 

Whether it is the announcement of a new fashion line, the design of a lookbook for a magazine, or making sure the promotion assets align with the color palette of an upcoming film release, CD work involves defining the aesthetic direction and keeps all media assets on track and cohesive.

The Creative Director job description will of course vary from one project or company to another. 

CD is a role that draws from many facets of art and design, from graphic design, costume design, to fine art. But CD work also requires overseeing the larger campaign targets, such as deliverable timelines, budgets, and managing client relationships. 

This video dives into the in's and out's of the Creative Director job description.

What is a Creative Director?

Art Director vs. Creative Director 

Creative Director or Art Director?  

The Creative Director job description is often confused with a similar creative leadership role, the Art Director. Further complicating things is the fact that on a film set, the role of CD is referred to as Production Designer. These roles can overlap (especially at smaller companies and on indie films, for example).

But each requires a specific skill set and is responsible for a different aspect of the process. 

Art Director vs. Creative Director: How to Tell the Difference

The primary difference when we look at what’s a Creative Director and an Art Director is that while the former oversees the larger vision, the latter executes the details. CDs are the “big picture” thinkers who conceptualize and manage the larger vision, while Art Directors are directly involved with the implementation of design concepts. 

When thinking about what is a Creative Director role on your project, a good reason for breaking these functions down into separate roles is to make each stage of the process more manageable. Understanding the difference between an Art Director vs. Creative Director (or Production Designer, in the case of film and television) can also help your team allot the right budget and roles that need to be filled for a project.

Having a clear Creative Director job description for your project can make roles and Creative Director responsibilities well-defined. 

Do you have one person trying to helm the ship and be the scriptwriter, showrunner, director, casting director, production designer and set designer? 

Yes, it is true that some auteur directors are often known for having a hands-on role in ensuring their distinct aesthetic throughout a film’s conception (think Wes Anderson). But they almost always have a team to help manage the execution of that style. 

Anderson, for continuing example, plays more of a Production Designer role in communicating his overall vision for how his trademark aesthetic will take shape in each film. However, the implementation of that vision often goes to his go-to Art Director, Carl Sprague. 

For more on Anderson’s distinct visual language, see our post, The Wes Anderson Style Explained: A Complete Guide. And watch our video on Production Design from our Filmmaking Techniques Masterclass to get some inspiration flowing.

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Creative Director Job Description

Creative Director work in diff. media 

Creative Director of visual merchandising at a department store would make sure the art team’s window displays and model installations align with the brand’s quarterly sales targets. Often drawing from industry-wide seasonal Pantone color palettes and other trends. 

In a film or television setting, a Creative Director is known as the Production Designer. The Production Designer oversees all the visual elements of a film: the color palette, set design, costuming, hair and makeup styling.

A Creative Director job description at a magazine will ensure that every element of each issue, from the font choices, feature spread colors and background sets, article topics, and even pop culture references, are on point and au courant

Who Gets to Be a CD?

How to become a Creative Director 

Now, as fun and dynamic as the Creative Director role sounds, it is definitely not an entry level job. CD is a position that people work their way into over time, often starting in the proverbial mailroom. After learning the ropes and becoming knowledgeable in many facets of a given company, or the wider industry, eventually a person with excellent people skills and a strong aesthetic sensibility can climb into the role. 

While having a bachelor’s degree in the arts, public relations, or media is generally a prerequisite for starting off on a career tract. Generally, a master’s degree is not necessary. CD is a position that strongly benefits from a wide variety of work experience, ideally in multiple creative disciplines, and with some expertise in multimedia assets (print, moving picture, audio, social media formats, etc.).

There is no one fixed pathway to becoming a CD, but the following video gives you some tips on how to head in the right direction.

Building Your Career


What Does an Art Director Do? 

In this post we’ve defined the difference between a CD and an Art Director. But if you come from a fine arts, graphic design, set design, or other hands-on artistic background, you may want to dig in deeper to the roles and responsibilities of what it looks like to be an Art Director.

Check out our next post to inspire and inform how you shape your career in the creative industries. 

Up Next: Art Director Duties →
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  • Kela Parker is a musician and writer based in Los Angeles whose distinct voice can be found in everything from her unusual blend of Americana, indie jazz, and pop, to articles on music and film.

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