How I Became a Creative Director

I spent six years as Art Director of CNNMoney, CNN’s financial news website. I was very well liked there, and by all measures I was doing great. But I had spent a total of 12 years at the company, and it no longer felt like there was anywhere for me to go, in terms of career progression — so I quit and started my own one-man studio, EDLUNDART.

The way I described it at the time was that I was quitting to be an artist for a while, without worrying too much about making money or meeting anyone’s needs. I felt I had to explore my own creativity outside of a corporate framework, and I knew that I was capable of doing much more interesting stuff on my own than what I was able to do in my day job. This is not a criticism of my employer, but simply an observation that I was working really hard without generating much I could proudly put in a portfolio. That just wasn’t the nature of the work I was doing.

The first year of EDLUNDART went largely as I had hoped. I did a range of really wacky and fun and interesting projects, and regained creative health. I even landed a couple of freelance clients, curtailing the financial bloodshed.

“My company is real, but it’s also just a storefront for my services.”

As time went on, I gained more clients, some of them quite fancy. I received good press for projects, and even exhibited a couple of things in art spaces. I was designing, animating, directing, writing and otherwise creating everything from data visualizations to print posters, narrative animations, social media dashboards, short films and background music for TV shows.

Recently I looked up and noticed that three or four years had gone by, and people I know were becoming Directors of this and Vice Presidents of that. Meanwhile, I had no title at all. What if I wanted to apply for a full time job again some day? I guess I was still Art Director, as that was the last title bestowed upon me. And I love that title. I dreamed of it as a teenager, despite not really knowing what it meant. But it seemed a bit unfair that I had not only put in six years as Art Director — including a final year managing a design department through a tumultuous time— but now several more years building a viable company from scratch, working with major clients, and still did not have a title to keep up with the Joneses. It seemed unfair, until I realized that I’m my boss now. I’m the one who was being unfair. I’m the one who would have to promote me! Who else could possibly do it?

So I asked myself if I truly deserved a promotion. Turns out, I kind of do! Not to brag, but I’m by far the most valuable EDLUNDART team member — I not only captain all of our work, I’m also responsible for budgets, business development, and strategy. I present to clients and even manage PR.

At EDLUNDART, I have crafted a multi-faceted yet ultimately cohesive creative vision, and implemented it across different media for diverse clients across the world. I’m pretty sure these are the lofty types of things that Creative Directors do.

For a long time, I rejected the use of email signatures, as I always found the trumpeting of titles a bit obnoxious. So it was with some trepidation and even a weird sort of shame that I recently joined the party with my new title as an anchor to my emails.

Hmm, this guy seems like kind of a big deal

I’ve seen some LinkedIn profiles and other things where more or less unemployed people are calling themselves CEOs of largely fictitious companies that sound like empires. It feels sad and delusional in a way I don’t want to emulate. I worry a bit that I sound like them, and I constantly have to remind myself that my business is very much real and profitable and not some megalomaniacal fever dream. The word “founder” also fills me with dread, as it seems to imply certain things that I don’t necessarily feel apply to me. But it seems weird to just call myself the Creative Director of my company, because that sounds like someone is above me running the place. I could just use Founder as my title, but then it sounds like I founded a company a few years back and now don’t really do anything. On a few contracts and other paperwork, I am referred to as “Principal,” but I don’t love the school associations of that word. So, until I can no longer stand the embarrassment, I am going with “Founder & Creative Director.”

“It’s all a bit of a game, so I decided to play.”

My new title has not set the world on fire. Current clients haven’t mentioned anything about the change. I thought my friends might tease me about it, but so far it’s been pretty undramatic. It’s hard to say what new and prospective clients are thinking when they see it, but I hope they come away with a subtle impression that I’m a professional person who is serious about what I do — and I hope that my personality in emails and on the phone and in person demonstrates that I have some humor and humility about all of this. At the end of the day, clients of EDLUNDART are dealing with one guy who is just their designer, or their animator, or their data viz guy, or whatever else. My company is real, but it’s also just a storefront for my services. I’m the guy with the weird name, the dude who made that slow reggae EP, the art person Jane recommended, or some other human shorthand.

I don’t take myself too seriously, and I don’t care too much about titles. But I realize that titles sometimes matter to companies when they’re trying to assess what you can do for them, whether your insights are worthy of their attention, and whether or not you bring the kind of value that deserves to be generously compensated. It’s all a bit of a game, so I decided to play.

Need a designer or animator? Check out my work at EDLUNDART.com

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