What Is the Difference Between a Good Creative Director — and a Bad One?

Being the creative director in the design industry is a sought after position. After all, you will get to be the one in charge, running a team of designers and bringing the brand design vision of companies to life.

Much like any other lead role, however, there are good ways and bad ways to utilize your power and how you choose to run your team will make or break you in the industry. If you anticipate becoming a creative director in the near future, here are the major differences between a good creative director and a bad one.

Good Creative Directors Assign Projects to Their Team (Bad Ones Take All the Projects for Themselves)

As creative director, it is your responsibility to assign client projects to your team members based on their given skill set and portfolio. A good creative director knows this responsibility and leverages their team to their advantage, making sure that the projects are evenly distributed and handled by the designers who will do their best job on the assigned project. A bad creative director, on the other hand, will assign the lower-end projects to their team members while they take on the better jobs along with the fame and money that come with them.

Paula Scher has been the creative director for her client Public Theater since 1994

Good Creative Directors Listen to Their Team’s Opinions (Bad Ones Believe That They Already Know Everything)

Having a team means having several people with varying likes, opinions, and experiences that have allowed them to move forward in the design world. A good creative director knows this and is aware that there is valuable information and lessons that can be extracted from their design team. When they assign a project and oversee it, they know that they need to listen to their team in order to give their team more creative power over the project and to learn a little something themselves.

Then we have the bad creative director, who believes that their knowledge and design skills are the only way to go. Rather than listening to their team and allowing them to inject their own ideas into the project, the bad creative director will judge a team’s project based on their own methods and will make their team’s project their own. Although there will be certain needs that need to be met by a client, the point of being a creative director is to direct, not to dominate.

Good Creative Directors Manage and Nurture Their Team (Bad Ones Micromanage and Criticize)

Running a team means having good management skills. This includes overlooking the progress of a design project, meeting deadlines, holding meetings, and all of the other tasks that come with working with clients. A good creative director will take charge while also managing to provide solid advice to their team and helping them in any areas that they are currently struggling in. However, a creative director will also give their team space to work and will not try to execute the project for them.

1963 Patio Diet Coke-ad from renowned creative director Don Draper

When it comes to a bad creative director, these individuals will often go the route of micromanaging. Instead of simply overseeing the task, they will hover over the team to make sure that the project is being seen through and they will completely take over the process by harshly directing the team rather than giving them creative control. More often than not, these directors will also take over the project themselves and handle tasks on their own if they believe their team is not capable of doing it or if they see members not handling tasks in the way that they see fit.

Good Creative Directors Set the Right Atmosphere (Bad Creative Directors Separate Themselves From the Team)

The environment in which employees work is just as important as the instruction that they are given in order to do their job. A dull, lifeless environment is going to make it difficult for a designer to do their job well and will also bring down their energy levels and increase their stress. A good creative director knows that work environment is key and tries their best to create a culture of movement, creativity, energy, and stress reduction in order to make sure that their employees are happy and constantly moving forward. A good creative director will also create an environment in which their employees know that they can come to them for whatever they may need.

A bad creative director will instead focus less on the work environment and more on themselves. They will not care if the employees are motivated or happy as long as the job gets done. Additionally, a bad creative director will hide away in their offices, making themselves available as little as possible to their team and focusing on their own work rather than the work of their employees. (By the way, an open door policy with a closed door is not inviting!)

Good Creative Directors Seek to Learn and Grow (Bad Creative Directors Think They Know What’s Best)

As technology grows and changes, so does design. New methods are created regularly and different creative approaches are utilized in order to take a company’s brand design forward. A good creative director knows that innovation and creativity are necessary and will do their best to constantly seek out new design knowledge in order to improve their abilities and keep up with the times. They will also encourage themselves and their teams to be more creative and push the boundaries of what is considered normal and functional.

Recent annual report for Zumtobel Group under the creative direction of Jessica Walsh

A bad creative director will believe that their knowledge is all that is necessary in order to create high-quality designs. Although a good designer will have the basic knowledge needed in order to do their job well, a lack of willingness to grow, learn, and evolve will quickly put them and their team in a compromising position compared to teams and directors who are willing to grow and learn.

As you can see above, there is a fine line drawn between good creative directors and bad creative directors that is all determined by approach. For those who plan on becoming a creative director, pay attention to these small details and work them into your position.

Brandpad is a brand guidelines system made for studios and companies that are passionate about brand identities. If you believe that every brand is unique and that their guidelines should be too, read more about us at www.brandpad.io.