Art & Creative Directors Tips

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A Freelance Creative Director's Career

Artisan Talent Tip: Freelance creative directors are especially useful when managing strategic and advertising issues that are beyond the scope of your in-house staff, or that require outside-the-box thinking or a level of concentrated attention that your multitasking internal team is too busy to provide.

As a creative, what should I know about representing myself on the Web?

The Web: Your Professional Presence

If you are a freelance creative director or art director, you'll want to have a presence on the Web. Whether this is a blog, portfolio or traditional website is up to you, but there are some things to consider before you show this site to the world. Keep the following points in mind as you put things together:

  • Be clear. Make sure that you are communicating what you do with your readers. Specifics are good, and examples are desirable.
  • Be creative. It can be difficult to be clear and creative, but you really need both to shine on the web. Someone looking for a freelancer to do a creative project will expect to see a little bit of what you can do on your site.
  • Be connected. Don't rely only on your website to get the word out. Link your main site up with your Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn accounts so that you are funneling as much traffic as possible to your main page. Put a link to your website in the signature block of your e-mails. Have it on your business cards and use it on forums if it is within the guidelines. Give people every opportunity to find you.


A Freelance Art Director's Career

Artisan Talent Tip: A freelance art director is the next step for a designer in terms of experience and industry knowledge. Besides understanding design and production thoroughly, a good art director will be able to work collaboratively with copywriters, creative directors, brand managers, and others in an organization, and supervise freelance designers as needed. The most important difference between a designer and an art director is in people skills. A designer may work primarily alone, accepting assignments and sending off completed work. An art director's job is heavy on communication, involving close cooperation with copywriters, creative directors, brand managers and others. You may even get to hire your own freelance design team to bring your ideas to life!

What are some tips for leading a team as a creative director?

Creative Directors: Leading A Team

Creative director work is extremely stressful—you are responsible for bringing projects together as well as setting the direction and tone for them. In order to do this well, you'll be relying on a team of people underneath you to perform to the best of their ability. How can you do your best to motivate these people? Here are some good tips for keeping your creative team on track:

  • Provide specific feedback. People need feedback in order to improve. Try to be specific and non-judgmental when you speak with art directors or copywriters about things they could be doing better.
  • Accentuate the positive. Be sure that you aren't only communicating the things that your team can do better. People perform well when you notice the good work that they do and comment on it.
  • Listen. If you truly listen to those working for you, it can be beneficial to everyone involved. Sometimes the best ideas come from people who are brand new, so keep an open mind.
  • Be clear. The better you communicate your expectations to the people you work with; the more likely they will be able to execute your projects.


What Skills Do I Need to Be a Creative Director?

Artisan Talent Tip: Many people start out in either writing or design, and come to the creative director's role by consciously taking on more learning and responsibility in the other arena. There is no one set of qualifications which can make someone a creative director. Rather, it requires strong people skills and experience in both design and copywriting.

Do you have to be creative or practical in order to be an art director?

Art Director: Creative Or Practical?

People think of art directors as the creatives who bring concepts to life through imagery. While this is true, they must also be able to do things that are not as "right-brain" oriented. For art directors, jobs change depending on the task at hand. They often have to manage people such as layout artists, designers and copywriters, which requires attention to detail. It also means that art directors must have good communication skills. Generally speaking, the higher the art director's position, the more people she will be in charge of managing.

Many art directors will also handle meeting with clients and creating presentations for them to review as a project moves toward completion. Again, this requires organizational and people skills. A good art director can easily switch between being creative and practical, depending on what is required at any given time. Although this position isn't for everyone, those who thrive on a fast-paced environment with new challenges will do well.

How can I generate ideas for a client's project?

Idea Generation (Brainstorming Part I)

In a typical ad-agency scenario, an account executive will sign a client and then bring the deal to the creative director, with information about the client's needs, target market and budget. The creative director then brings together a creative team -- perhaps an art director and a copywriter -- and holds a "brainstorming" session to generate creative ideas.

Because the quality of these ideas -- even the crazy ones -- will help make the final concept better for the client and the agency, it's important that creative directors know how to conduct them effectively. Here are some common ways to encourage great ideas to bubble to the surface.

  • Find a relaxed environment -- perhaps something that takes you outside your normal work space. Nice day? Take the session outside.
  • Try to schedule your session for a time when people are likely to be at their best -- 10 a.m. is often preferred.
  • Have a whiteboard or flip chart available, and assign someone -- preferably not one of the key players -- to record all ideas.
  • Commit to not judging or evaluating any idea until after the brainstorming session is over.
  • Present the creative challenge -- the customer's needs, the available resources, the target market.
  • Ask a few open-ended questions ("How might we reach this market?" "What are some ways around our budget limitations?") to get things going.
  • Set a time limit for free-flowing idea generation -- perhaps 25 minutes.
  • Encourage laughter and joking around, as long as it's not meant critically.
  • Once your time is up, reduce the meeting to only the key members of the team. Be sure to thank the other participants for their help.

What do I do with the ideas generated in a brainstorming session?

Evaluating Creative Ideas (Brainstorming Part II)

Once you have a list of ideas, meet as soon as possible -- ideally just after the brainstorming session -- with your creative managers and key team members. Decide on five criteria which your best idea must meet. Then evaluate each idea against those criteria.

Out of this process, one idea or group of ideas should emerge as the one best suited to presenting to the account executive and the client.

If your "winning" idea turns out to be impractical -- or if your boss or the client hates it -- you'll want to have a Plan B, and maybe C or D. So don't throw out that idea list, and keep a record of all the top-scoring ideas for future reference.

Which is more important, design or copy?

The Best of Both Worlds

Whether you're creating a Web catalog, a taxi ad, a magazine campaign or a direct-mail political piece, the best persuasive communication happens when design and copy work together to communicate the same message.

Maybe you've seen cases where that didn't happen -- a vivid headline with boring art, a striking design with conservative copy, a site that was a delight to read and a horror to navigate. Don't add your work to this list.

If you're the creative director, it's your job to bring design and copy together in service of the client's goal. This may mean putting personal judgments aside and doing the best job you can, even if your client is an annoying jerk whose company cuts down rain forests.

It will also mean putting aside your ego and convincing others to do the same. Your art director may have an idea that will look fabulous but won't match the tone that's required for the copy. Your copywriter may have to be persuaded that the best headline will be six words, not twelve. This is where you earn your money -- and, we hope, sell lots of whatever your client is marketing.

What programs do I need to know as an art director?

Tech Skills for Art Directors

Besides understanding how to turn concepts into completed designs, art directors need to keep in touch with current tools and design trends. Here are some creative production programs and skills that show up as requirements in recent job listings for art directors:

  • Dreamweaver
  • Flash
  • Motion graphics/animation
  • PowerPoint
  • InDesign
  • Photoshop
  • Illustrator
  • Quark Xpress
Many of these are very expensive to own. If you're a student, you may be able to get lower-cost "education versions" of some of these programs on which to learn. However, be aware that their makers often place restrictions on whether these versions can be used to produce commercial work.

How can I gain the business knowledge needed to advance as an advertising manager?

A Walk on the Business Side

Let's say you're a designer or art director who's eager to move up, but you're being told you don't have the business chops to be a creative director. How can you get your nose out of the art department and make it happen?

In some circumstances it may be possible for you to move over and spend some time as an account executive. This will develop your sense of how the business works, and you'll get to use your people skills in a quantifiable way -- when you do the job right, you win a sale and make the client happy.

If your employer isn't wild about this idea, you may have to consider whether you need to move out in order to move up.

I'm not a designer. How can I judge a person's design portfolio?

Evaluating Creative Portfolios

As a creative manager, even if you don't have a design background you may find yourself evaluating portfolios from designers, artists and art directors. Of course you can follow the time-honored "I know what I like" method, but it may be helpful to be a little more systematic.

Start by identifying the key skills needed to do the job you want done. Maybe you want an art director with experience in consumer products and print, or an artist with strong figure-drawing skills and experience working with technical printing requirements. Then ask yourself:

  • Does this portfolio demonstrate each of my required skills?
  • Does the portfolio itself work well as a selling tool?
  • Can the person answer questions about why he or she made specific choices in the portfolio work?
  • Does the work in the portfolio demonstrate a consistent level of quality?
  • Has this person worked with anyone I know in the industry who might be willing to offer a reference?
  • Can this person do work that resonates with the target audience for my product?

What skills do I need to be a creative director?

What Skills Do I Need to Be a Creative Director?

A good creative director doesn't need to have a certain degree or a certain career path. In fact, creative directors bring a wide variety of past experiences to their work.

What a creative director does need are:

  • Excellent people skills, including time management, running effective meetings, reconciling disparate points of view, and synthesizing different streams of information to create a productive whole.
  • Knowledge of design principles and techniques, including current trends and tools.
  • Understanding of effective copywriting and its role in a successful ad or campaign.

What does a freelance art director do?

A Freelance Art Director's Career

If you're a good designer who's picked up some knowledge of advertising and marketing, and want to ramp your freelance career up a notch, consider seeking positions as an art director.

You'll need to know the nitty-gritty, such as how to meet technical requirements and work with vendors, as well as the big picture, including understanding the agency and client strategy. You'll need to be able to dream up stunning visual ideas and present them to non-designers in language they'll understand.

What do freelance creative directors do?

A Freelance Creative Director's Career

In an agency, a creative director has a great deal of responsibility, and is often well compensated. However, these jobs are very competitive, and often very stressful. A different route involves marketing yourself as a freelance creative director. While this may also be stressful, you have the freedom to choose your clientele, and direct contact with those clients to communicate your great ideas.

Many freelance creative directors find that managing their own careers gives them the scope to imagine unusual solutions to problems -- solving a branding issue with an online game instead of an ad campaign, for example.

Where else can an art director work besides advertising?

Art Direction in Film

Advertising is not the only field in need of art directors; the film business also needs talented art directors.

In the business of cinema, an art director is responsible for the design, look and feel of a film's set. This includes the number and type of props, furniture, windows, floors, ceiling dressings and all other set materials.

The art director is a member of the film's art department, which is responsible for set construction, interior design and prop placement.

Can I afford an advertising team?

New Business? Advertise Professionally for Less

If you are a fledgling business with a limited budget, you'd likely benefit more from hiring individual artists rather than hiring a large ad firm. But there is also a happy medium.

Hiring an experienced freelance art directors fresh from the workplace could mean discounts to you. That's because someone who just left a large firm to freelance likely has many many contacts. This could benefit you by helping cover your advertising bases quickly and less expensively!

What are the skills of a freelance creative director?

Being a Freelance Creative Director

It takes well-organized and innovative professionals to be freelance creative directors. Beyond the technical aspects of managing a client's projects, they must manage their own careers. This involves being on top of expenses, invoicing, and taxes (typically done quarterly). They must juggle daily tasks while simultaneously advertising for more work. Therefore, properly marketing oneself is just as important as marketing a client. Savvy self advertising will ensure another job on the horizon.

What does an Art Director do?

The Job of an Art Director

In the world of advertising, the art director is the person responsible for the graphic design and creative positioning of an advertisement or campaign. This person is in charge of the ad agency's production department. Not only does the art director need to be savvy about technical aspects of putting together a campaign, he or she also has to stay on top of the latest trends in advertising to make sure the agency maintains an edge over the competition.

A good art director must have excellent managerial skills, as he or she often works with large teams of artists, photographers, writers and Web designers on any given project.

What is the job description for a creative director?

What a Creative Director Does

A typical creative director job description includes exceptional leadership and project management skills. A creative director is in charge of conceptualizing, designing and producing top quality marketing and communications materials for corporate clients. Qualifications for a creative director position often includes strong design background with the design software QuarkXPress, Illustrator and Photoshop. And, because of the multi-faceted nature of the job, knowledge or expertise in digital production, pre-press, paper and printing, budgeting and general project management is also required.

Is there a community of art directors out there?

Art Director? Join the Club

Founded in New York in 1920, the Art Directors Club (ADC) is the premiere organization for integrated media and the first international creative collective of its kind. ADC is a not-for-profit membership organization that inspires creative excellence and connects creative visual communications professionals around the world.

One of the ADC's missions is to encourage students and young professionals entering the field. In addition, the ADC strives to provide a forum for creative leaders in advertising, design and interactive media to explore and anticipate the direction of their rapidly changing industries.

What should I look for in an entry-level creative art director?

Hiring an Entry-level Creative Art Director

If your company is hiring a creative art director, the following list is a good guide for what to look for on his or her resume.

A solid background in graphic design and with functional skills.
A good eye for layout, type and color (the earlier this skill is mastered, the better).
The ability to handle projects in terms of design, production, basic supervision and project coordination.
The ability to relay ideas in sketch or electronic form.

What is the difference between an Art Director and a Creative Director?

Art Director vs. Creative Director

As you search through resources for freelance art director jobs, you will notice jobs posted for art directors and creative directors. What's the difference, you ask? There is none.

At the upper levels of the field, both positions require creative conceptualization. Each must assess a client's plans and goals in a diplomatic way. Because new campaigns will need to be pitched effectively, exceptional presentation skills are required for both positions. Therefore, the only real difference between the two jobs is the actual job title itself.

What should I put in a job description if I want to hire an advertising art director?

Placing an Ad for an Advertising Art Director

It is important to make your description precise in your advertisement for an art director position. Let candidates know you expect them to supervise creative design and develop final visual images that communicate a client's marketing objectives to consumers.

A typical art director position requires a bachelor's degree with five to seven years of experience in the field. Art directors must also juggle many assignments at once. It may seem obvious, but pointing this out in a job description can help weed out candidates who cannot multi-task well!

What else does a creative director need to know besides the technical aspects of a project?

Beyond Technique

The talents of good creative directors reach beyond the realm of technical know-how in an advertising setting. Beyond dealing with how to get a job up and running, a creative director be in tune with his or her creative team. This means displaying good managerial skills. The ability to handle various creative viewpoints is vital to the success of a client's project.

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Heidi Splete