19 Attributes of a Total Badass Creative Director

by on September 21, 2016 3:57 am
Many designers aspire to be a creative director at some point in their career. At some point, you’ll come into contact with some great creative directors, some bad creative directors, and some atrocious creative directors. The truth is, it’s genuinely hard to make that transition from designer to creative director. Heck, what if you don’t have any design experience, can you still be a great creative director. Probably not, but, the following points can help you ascertain that truly lofty goal. I’ve gathered some attributes I liked about creative directors I’ve worked with and from my personal experience to hopefully build out a comprehensive checklist of the traits of a great creative director.

Nourish and Develop Your Creative Side

As a creative director, it’s easy to get buried in managing expectations, fighting for ideas and overseeing projects. Unfortunately, if you’re not a point of inspiration, you won’t be able to push your fast moving team to meet their potential. I don’t mean, learning all the newest and coolest tools – although that should be a part of it. You should be more concerned with being able to identify trends. What people currently find appealing and how to use this knowledge to produce award-winning work.

Be a Step Ahead

As a creative director, you always need to be improving and evolving material, ad campaigns, and branding. Great creative directors know how to build visual collateral that inspires the world. To do this, you need to evolve your current assets as well as new ones.

Hold Strong on Standards

Being the creative director means holding people to the standards you’ve set in your brand book and style guide. It’s easy to design things that look nice. It’s hard to design things that consistently match your brand and speak to your audience.

Pay Attention to Details

The difference between good and great is in the smallest of details. Often these details can only be seen by truly great visionaries and thus can’t be learned quickly. None the less, you need to ensure that every drop shadow, border, and color tone is perfect.

Get the Most out of Your Team

If I had to pick one attribute that has helped me excel in various creative directors roles I’ve held, it would be this single attribute. My strive for excellence pushes me to never settle for mediocrity, and I expect the same from my team. Let’s be clear, I don’t think my fellow team members mean to design something mediocre. It can often be forced upon us by deadlines and temporary lack of focus – that’s why It’s important that you never lose focus.

Understand Your Team Members

To get the most out of your team members, it’s important to understand their potential. You should be able to break down their portfolio, see their strengths and weaknesses and understand their personality. From these insights, you will be able to know when your team is meeting their potential or underperforming and how to push them to not only meet this potential but exceed it.

Be a Mentor

To be an effective leader, in general, you need to be able to inspire. Your team members need an example of someone they strive to look up to in some way. You can kind of look at the relationship as a parent and child relationship. You need to bring up the junior designers to be senior level designers and you need to push the senior level designers until their ready to leave the nest.

Be a Leader

A leader comes in all shapes and sizes. There are all types of leadership styles you may follow to be successful. In the end, the most important attribute as a creative director is that your team respects you, feels like you got their back, and is eager to follow your leadership style no matter what it is. The easiest way to earn your design teams respect is to ensure that they are able to produce amazing work that they can be proud of every day – this is easier said than done. Trust me!


It’s easy to tell people what you don’t like about their work. It’s harder to listen to others feedback and utilize it to get better. Stop talking and listen every once in a while. You may learn something.

Don’t Be Afraid to Say No

A creative directors job is to ensure the brand’s visual needs are being met and inspiring your customers. To do this, you are going to have to simply say “No” sometimes. Don’t let Jan in Customer Support where you down on that one-page sales sheet because she won’t let go of adding more cats. You know what I’m saying! It may not be often, but you will need to say it to ensure what you do continues to be great and you are able to keep your teams respect as discussed above.

Give Constructive, Thoughtful Feedback

Your designers work hard every day to produce at a high level. You owe them the same courtesy to put an equal amount of effort into the feedback you give. Make sure you provide feedback that is actionable. Rather than simply saying that you don’t like something or providing feedback that is hard to decipher, provide well thought out details on how a design could be even better. If you don’t put effort into your feedback, why should they put effort into the revisions? Lead by example.

Hire the Right People

Hiring the right team is essential. Heck, why do you think the Patriots win every year. They have a better team. It’s pretty straight forward stuff. However, putting together a good team is hard. You should look to hire complementary talents. If you have five UI/UX designer and no Illustration expert, you should probably look into filling a deficit like that. Also, don’t rush to hire someone simply because you’re understaffed. Use a freelancer until you find someone that you know is an absolute home run. On a side note, don’t hold on to a talent that is under performing. The loss of efficiency of redoing work over and over again will sink your team quicker than you could imagine.

Understand what it Takes to be Great

Do you know what it takes to be a great designer today? Look at the top 50 Dribbble artist. Can you push your team to be as good as these artists? What sets them apart? If you don’t have a clue, you’re in trouble. You can’t be great without knowing what it takes to be great. Study these designers and see what there doing. Are there some similarities amongst them? Are there particular skills they excel at that others are having a hard time to match? Push your team also to hone these skills as there most likely the difference maker in taking your team to the next level.

Be Adaptable

There’s no typical day as a creative director. Thus, to be successful, you must be able to bring order to chaos. Make friends with productivity tools like Todoist, Evernote, Calendly, etc. You will be challenged to be focused every day.

Overshare Your Work and Ideas

To build respect and influence as a creative director you have to share with the design community. Your sharing activities can be through many channels such as Youtube videos, conference speeches, Dribbble, Behance, Blogging, you name it. Don’t be afraid to share your knowledge. Building a brand around yourself will encourage your other team members to follow, and before you know it, you’ll be changing the world.

Culture over rules

Culture is important to team building. Identify what you want your team culture to be and make it a habit to live your culture every day. More importantly, put your team in the right environment and structure to eat, sleep and breathe your culture. See Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose

Stop Bad Things from Happening to Great Ideas

Probably the quickest way to building a great creative team is ensuring that the work you create stays great. Are there too many cooks in the kitchen? Do you have practical brand guidelines? Find out if there are issues with the process of getting assets out the door that is destroying your work along the way. Once you identify these pain points, get rid of them immediately.

Thrive in Controlled Chaos

I’m a big believer that creativity grows from controlled chaos. Learn how to build an environment that is fun yet structured and holds those accountable. Controlled chaos will enable more free thought in meetings and a level of comfort that will breed a creative culture that’s geared toward something great.

Save Some Projects for Yourself

Let’s face it, if you don’t show your team every so often that you can bring it, they’ll just see you as another outsider trying to tell them how to design. Of course, you need to pass the fun projects around but save a couple for yourself and heck show them how you can turn something boring into the best piece your team has designed all year.

To Sum it All Up

Being a great creative director that inspires the world is truly a challenge. You must be both a teacher and a student. Innovative and creative while being detailed oriented and focused. You must be a master of two worlds. You must be able to hold your own in strategic business meetings, yet talk shop with creativity-centric designers. Do you have what it takes? What are some other attributes of a great Creative Director?