This is a basic how to guide to become a creative director. Besides the obvious clickbait title I will break down how you can become a creative director in no time, even starting as a dumb designer at the bottom of the food chain. This text tries to be less of a prescription and more of sharing some mental models.
- Develop you own ideas.
- Find a style that you can scale.
- Present, present present.
- Own the responsibility.
- Aim to be world class.
Develop you own ideas.
As the titles suggest being a director, means directing projects, people, teams. You set the vision and you bring everyone together where to go. You can't do that dry, empty, or copying everyone else. Your position only generates value if your vision is unique and clear. Solve problems, bring new ideas to the table that you can execute and always be developing and nurturing your vision and ideas. Collect them, share them, mix & match, go to the past and bring into the future.
People will take you in for your unique way of seeing the world. Do you have great taste, can communicate ideas clearly and also be business savvy enough to deliver value to your clients even from the early days? Then you are on your way.
Find a style that you can scale.
Similar as before, your style, is the personality that you bring into the table. You like clean and minimalistic things? Let that be your forte. You want to make the world a better place? Then focus on the projects that you feel are the most meaningful. Strive to be unique and find that which separates your from your peers. I remember one of my first assignments at the university, I had to design an energy drink. And everyone of a class of 300 people where coming with skinned versions of Red Bull cans. I got the highest score because I brought a bottle, at the time - a radical idea. But I wanted to differentiate myself of everything that was out there in the competition and it worked. That small lesson made me focus on always trying to be different, finding a style that I can scale.
I try to work so that my style becomes - timeless. I hate looking at Pinterest and seeing that everyone is doing the same type of work over and over. There are shape languages, color palettes, ideas that might change, but work that considers the fundamentals of design, composition, light and storytelling -and obviously- your unique (justified) spin is guaranteed to be successful in the short and long term.
I don't feel one ever masters this, but being aware is definitely a differentiating factor.
Present, present present.
For many, many years, I was always the guy making presentations at design studios. I used to design them, prepare them, and eventually go to present them. This is a very underrated task, many people fear the spotlight. Looking back some of the presentations I had in the past to clients are nothing compared to the ones I get to do on a daily basis directly to global clients, where I get to joke and convince people that the work that's been done is what was asked for and delivers value to them.
Offer always to create the presentation deck early one your career, use it to get your foot in the door the big table, be part of that meeting, see how the masters present, learn from them. And to our previous point, see what they are not doing and where there is room for improvement, but also, see how other people react to the jokes, the pacing, the editorial, the story beats. The more you present the more you will get to be yourself at the top. Obviously - try to do more public speaking and a bit of theater doesn't hurt.
Own the responsibility.
Directing projects and teams, means that you will be looked as the vision holder, and you will make decisions, and sometimes you will mess up. You will make someone on the team unhappy, you will not consider production needs, or you will make that bad joke that someone go offended. Own it. Be able and be ready to defend all your work, designs and ideas at each granular level. If you are insecure, be honest about it, maybe take more time to become more confident. If you fear things will be delayed or are heading into the wrong direction, open up, let people know. Some designers, artists, are happy just being on the other side, waiting for direction, masters of execution, the risk is easy to mitigate, but if you give bad directions, you are responsible of the output, and also for their wellbeing of your team. If you are just getting started, own each aspect of your work, and your decisions and soon you will be the one making decisions for teams and projects.
Aim to be world class.
Can't state this strong enough. Like it or not, in the era of the internet, you are competing with the whole planet, so, aim to be world class. A world class designer, with storytelling aspirations to grow, should look at whoever is on top of you that you admire and, in the beginning try to figure out what they do, that you can apply to become better. So simple. Compare your work with the whole world. Challenge yourself and be honest, own the responsibility of being self aware of your strengths and weaknesses so that you can double down on fixing both. Do you need to be more curious? Are your ideas the best in the world? Compare yourself with the best, and endure the pain of competing against the world and yourself. If you manage to tolerate that pain, understanding that it's just making you a better creative, then there is no way to fail. You will only fail if you stop.
Photo Credit: Magda Ehlers via Pexels