What Is a Creative Director?

Creative director writing down notes about her ideas

If you think of the term “creative career,” you might envision an artist putting together a show at an art gallery or perhaps a movie director creating the next Hollywood blockbuster. But there are also creative careers in the corporate world, and these can be easier to break into than, say, directing Hollywood films.

One wonderfully creative career is that of a creative director. What is a creative director? Quite simply, they are the professional responsible for leading a team of creative individuals, such as graphic designers and marketing professionals, in order to bring the creative vision for a project or brand to fruition. 

What Does a Creative Director Do?

A creative director is essentially the project manager and team leader of a creative department. He or she is responsible for the quality of the work produced by that department, and for ensuring that each product they deliver fulfills the creative vision of the client.

A creative director and their team can work on all types of projects, such as marketing campaigns, video game production, magazine publication and fashion line development. These diverse projects each has one thing in common: they each have a unique voice and style. It’s the job of the creative director to ensure that each deliverable (digital, print or film) for every project is aligned with that project’s voice and style.

Consider this example: Kate, a creative director for a toy company, is responsible for planning the release of a new line of toys. It’s her responsibility to develop the creative vision for those products. She must also ensure that all product packaging, marketing materials and backstories for the toy characters fit that one cohesive vision.

Here’s another example: Pedro is the creative director for an international nonprofit that works to end child hunger. It is Pedro’s job to ensure that all marketing and fundraising materials released by the nonprofit, like the TV commercials and fundraising letters, fit the brand voice and style.

The specific tasks of a creative director can vary from one company to the next. In general, however, they are likely to include the following:

  • Meeting with clients or other in-house professionals to develop the creative vision for each project
  • Turning general marketing objectives into concrete strategies
  • Directing the creative team as they produce all marketing material
  • Reviewing the creative team’s work, troubleshooting problems and providing feedback or revision requests
  • Supervising pitches and proposals to clients

In addition, since creative directors typically head their departments, they are often responsible for planning the departmental budget and developing timelines for deliverables. Some creative directors may be responsible for recruiting, hiring and training their creative staff, as well as establishing professional development initiatives.

Art Director vs. Creative Director: What’s the Difference?

The terms “art director” and “creative director” are often used interchangeably, but they are quite different roles. To recap, the creative director is the leader who is in charge of liaising with the client, spearheading each campaign and overseeing all deliverables. They are in charge of their departments.

In contrast, the art director is only in charge of the visual elements and aesthetics of a project. While the creative director supervises both copywriters and graphic designers, the art director will only supervise graphic designers and other visual professionals. Furthermore, rather than focusing on “big picture” issues, art directors will focus on smaller details, such as the color palette and fonts of a project.

Both creative directors and art directors play important roles in the development of marketing campaigns and other projects, but their roles are distinctly different from each other. To sum up, if the creative director is like the head coach of a football team, the art director is like the offensive line coach — one of the leaders of the team, but not the ultimate leader.

How to Become a Creative Director: An Overview

After learning the answer to the question, “What is a creative director?” you might decide that you want to pursue this career path. Keep in mind that this role is not an entry-level position. You will need to start your career in a non-supervisory role (such as that of a graphic designer) and then work your way up toward the position of creative director.

The process can begin right now. If you’re still in high school, meet with your guidance counselor and see if you can adjust your course load to suit your career ambitions. It’s ideal to take as many art and computer courses as possible. Taking a communications or public speaking class would also be a good idea.

It’s generally expected that creative directors hold at least a bachelor’s degree in an artistic field, such as graphic design. While you’re in college, you should take advantage of the career services department. Ask about internships in your intended field, as these can help you build invaluable professional connections and gain relevant work experience.

It’s possible to land your first job in this field with just a bachelor’s degree. Creative directors aren’t usually required to hold master’s degrees. However, if you’re having trouble moving up the corporate ladder after having worked as a graphic designer for a few years, you might consider going back to school to enhance your career qualifications.

You can also improve your competitiveness as a job applicant by joining professional organizations in order to strengthen your personal brand. Some examples of professional organizations to consider joining include:

  • The American Institute of Graphic Arts
  • The International Council of Design
  • The Society of Illustrators, Artists and Designers
  • Graphic Arts Guild

Additionally, throughout your time in college and later during your professional career, it’s important to spend some time curating your portfolio. Graphic designers need a strong portfolio comprised of their best work. As a student, this will include projects from classes; later, you may include work completed for clients. An excellent portfolio can help you land your first job and climb the corporate ladder toward a position as a creative director.

Earning a Graphic Design Degree

It’s common for creative directors to hold some type of art-related degree, such as a fine arts or graphic design degree. A graphic design degree will give you a strong foundation of knowledge and skills for your future career. For example, you’re likely to study the following topics:

These are all important topics for a future creative director to master. However, remember that these professionals often work on marketing campaigns. If possible, it’s also helpful to include the topics of advertising and marketing in your studies.

Some students may have the opportunity to major in a hybrid degree program, such as a Bachelor of Arts in Advertising and Graphic Design degree. This type of program will cover both graphic design elements and the necessary components of marketing campaigns. Otherwise, students might consider minoring in an advertising-related program and majoring in graphic design.

Is there a Demand for Creative Directors?

Companies will always need creative individuals to market their brand and products or services. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not offer statistics for this particular role; however, the BLS does expect the job growth rate for marketing managers in general to be robust for the foreseeable future.

In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook estimates job growth for advertising, promotion and marketing managers to increase by about 6% from 2019 to 2029, faster than average, accounting for an estimated increase of 18,800 jobs in the field.*

You can begin building a strong foundation for a future career as a creative director when you earn a graphic design degree at Grand Canyon University. The Bachelor of Arts in Advertising and Graphic Design degree program offers a unique hybrid curriculum that explores the principles of both marketing and graphic design. Graduates will emerge with strong competencies in both fields, making them competitive job applicants. Explore GCU’s admissions process and tuition and aid.

Click on Request Info at the top of your screen to begin setting the stage for a creative career.


*COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is based on 2019, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Advertising, Promotion and Marketing Managers

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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