The Role of a Creative Director

Leading the Direction
Photo: iStock

A job title is like a tagline. It’s a quick way to convey what a person does and what their value is to a company. Titles not only help clarify a person’s role to an outside audience but they also help people within an organization understand roles and responsibilities.

Job titles also change as people advance through an organization and they gain more knowledge and expertise. An assistant moves on to become a director, a writer becomes an editor, and a designer advances to an art director or creative director. From my experience, I’ve found there isn’t confusion between the role of writer and editor but there is about the difference between designer and art director. This misconception can lead to confusion about roles within the organization.

Having worked on redesigns for alumni publications, it becomes apparent during the discovery process that the way the publication is developed follows the path of a newspaper not a magazine. Editors are assigning articles and photo shoots, and even times the writers are assigning shoots. This may be because many of the editors have a background in newspaper journalism and part of their role was to assign shoots to a staff photographer. In these cases the role of the art director is actually a designer. They are taking existing imagery and creating layouts, rather than shaping the visual direction from the beginning.

Shaping direction is a key role of an art director or creative director and one of the things that distinguishes the role from that of a designer. Creative directors look beyond the one piece in front of them to visualize a cohesive system—it may be an article, a publication, a campaign, or the integration of multiple communications.

In the case of a magazine when the art director is part of the development, the imagery can be conceptualized and directed to build on a story or theme. They work with illustrators and photographers to shape an idea to be unique to the publication and strengthen the editorial direction of the article. The art director may come back to the editor to fine-tune the display copy and bring it all together.

When looking at advancement or enrollment communications, a creative director works on the development of the strategic direction. While a designer may bring all the pieces together, the creative director delves deeper into the goals of the communications, the mission of an institution, the unique audience, and the communication channels. The end results are strategic communications that work cohesively as a system and speak directly to the desired audience. In a world of brand communication this is more important than ever.