What makes a great Creative Director?

Many think that by being “creative” your set and such a role like Creative Director comes easy, WRONG. 

Being an consultant,  I have the pleasure of seeing how things work from a very fresh perspective. Working closing with creative directors, and other key players to help them iron out really bad kinks.  Whether by helping them recalibrate internal dysfunction to create exponential growth, or deliver on a  creative project. One things I’ve come to realize is:

“Doing and directing are two different things”  How many creatives do you know who were great writers or designers but made shitty Creative Directors? They’re indecisive, unclear with feedback, or worse yet, unable to let go, holding on too tight to the work themselves. All crap qualities for a Creative director.

Making the cross from creative to creative director isn’t easy but here are some tips to help you become a great creative director. Apply these every day and you’ll be on your way. 

Rei Kawakubo

Rei Kawakubo

Label: Comme des Garçons
Creative Director since: 1973

  1. Set the creative standards and objectives so that everyone understands them

People need to know where the bar is and what’s expected of them. Rule of thumb the higher, the better. However be sure to be clear with expectations and examples, especially if you are trying to effect change and improve the work moving forward.

  1. Be approachable and accessible, and eliminate any anxiety

Walking into a new project as a Creative director where there are creative people already working in your department. They’ll be nervous, anxious to know what this means for them personally, and they’ll be eager to know what you’re all about. Be open, be humble.

  Pichitra Boonyarataphan 

Label: Atelier Pichita
Creative Director since: 1980


  1. Find out what your staff thinks about the work and solicit their suggestions for how to make it better

Create a space in which people are comfortable to express their thought on their output and be willing to hear their suggestions. Listen to them and be receptive they’ll appreciate that you’re listening and you’ll get a fast sense of whether they share the same standards as you. A new space will be created where collectively outputs are elevated

  1. Create a culture of honest engagement

At the end of the day it’s your decision and you need to make sure it works. Allow all levels to contribute ideas and give feedback on the work. Create a culture.

  1. Be specific and constructive when you review work

The worst feedback you can give: “That’s just not doing it for me.” What kind of feedback is that? Any creative director can say that. It’s meaningless, vague and can be frustrating for your team. A good Creative director gives feedback that’s useful. Why exactly isn’t it working? Is there an element that works?

If so, find it and communicate it.  If not, suggest angles and directions so the team knows where to go next. Nobody likes to feel like they’re chasing their tail.  Play a guessing game is the worst thing a Creative Director can ever do.

Alexander Wang 

Label: Balenciaga, Alexander Wang, T by Alexander Wang

Creative Director since: 2012

  1. Do some work yourself, but lay off the  plums

So this one’s tricky.  If you do the work, you risk competing with your teams. On the other hand, they’ll respect your opinions about their work if they know you can still bring it. The key is to give them the best assignments, and then hold it down with the one you keep for yourself.


  1. Give people a fair chance

A creative department is only as good as its worst creative. If you’ve done all of the above but still have people who aren’t consistently delivering the work that makes your organization or agency top notch they need to move on.


  1. Hire people better than you

If you find yourself not wanting to, it’s all insecurity and if you want to limit yourself by not bringing on people that can elevate the success of your projects. You’re setting yourself up to lose.

Chin up, and know you’re evaluated by the level of talent you attract and the work you inspire them to make. They might even teach you a thing or two.


  1. Be able to save the day, but try not to

Your team should be efficient effective and able to hold it down in the event of a problem. In cases, where shit happens, be there to have their back.

Be sure you’re invested enough in the problem so that you can if absolutely necessary. Dont try and be a hero, they got this,  but if duty calls, be there.

  1. Take the blame, not the credit

If you’ve approved the work, then stand behind it. If it bombs or gets rejected, fall on the sword. If it’s a success, give the credit to those who did it and stay in the background.

  1. Spend your time turning 9/10s into 10/10s

Know where to allocate and invest in building your team.  Find your 9’s  and turn them into 10’s


Dao-Yi Chow & Maxwell Osborne

Label: Public School 

Creative Directors since 2008

Olivier Rousteing

Label: Balmain

Creative Directors since 2011

  1. Be kind and generous

Creative people can be fragile. Let’s face it, we’re all a combination of insecurity and bravado. So be gentle. Be kind. Be generous with your time and your praise when it’s deserved.

Got other tips? Feel free to share.

Edward Boches is a professor of advertising at Boston University and former partner/CCO at Mullen. Follow him on Twitter at @edwardboches. These tips originally appeared on his blog.


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