What is a Creative Director?

No one outside the advertising industry had ever heard of a Creative Director until Mad Men came out, than Don Draper became that iconic figure and suddenly the role became crystal clear. When I introduce myself as a CD people often ask me if I am like like Don. My stock reply is that we’re exactly alike but I don’t smoke. To know me is to understand the humour in that statement.

I would like to say that the job is all about 3 martini lunches, naps in the afternoon, brainstorming all night and all those things that sound so glamorous to young people in the business. It’s all about leadership.

dondraper-lessons-1024x428Despite what you read here, I identify with Don Draper on many levels. Perhaps another post for another time.

It took me a while to understand what a CD actually is, though. For the longest time I thought the job was the next rung on a tall career ladder. Back in my days at Unleaded, I definitely had that mindset. I felt I had to be the quarterback, much like Don Draper, pushing myself and the team across the field to score. But that is hardly what the job is about, and a large part of what makes me laugh when I see some 25 year old telling me they are a CD. You’re barely out of diapers at that point kid; there’s no way you’re a leader.

The Creative Director is not the quarterback. Furthering the football analogy, the CD is actually the coach, and if you’re lucky you have a good solid quarterback working for you. Your role as CD is to get the team ready and set them in motion to score. (A little more irony: I don’t really like football that much, but like most sports, games often help tell stories.) Being the CD is all about putting the right people in the right place at the right time to achieve a goal. Sounds simple, but when you’re team is comprised of creative folks, here is where it gets interesting.

Simon Sinek said it best in the title of his book, “Leaders Eat Last”. That one sentiment captures the very essence of a Creative Director. There’s very few Don Drapers out there who swoop in to save the account, or be the mighty creative force who everyone relies on to win. Rather, if you’re doing your job right, you are often invisible because the machine is humming along smoothly. No one will see the inner workings. Or at least they shouldn’t, especially your boss. The downside is that you don’t get all the glory, and you will get the blame should things go south. It ain’t easy, but I find it all strangely rewarding.

My team entered 15 pieces into the BMA Houston Lantern Awards and eight were accepted into the show for the presentation on 16 Nov. I could not be more proud. The younger version of me would have been jealous. Most of my creative efforts this year are still on the proverbial cutting room floor, or buried deep on the archive drive never to see the light of day again. Not to say I did not do anything this year, that is just how the year shaped up. Instead, I look at the current environment of the oil and gas industry, which I’m in the middle of, and I see what my team was able to accomplish despite these challenging times. Let me reiterate: Put the right people in the right place in the right time. And defend them, shield them for outside forces. Give them the room to succeed. I’m lucky that I have some good quarterbacks, and running backs and linemen, etc. I had to do my job so that they could do theirs, and it worked.

That’s being a Creative Director.

For other’s insights into the job:
A primer on creative direction as compared to art direction and design… and what they all mean in a digital context.

How to be a great creative director
What qualities do you need to become a top creative director? Five leading creative directors offer their views.

Managing Designers on Two Different Tracks


2016.10.21 links & more

Creative Matters

The Life-Changing Benefits Of Effective Resource Scheduling

The Power of Creative Cross Training: How Experimentation Creates Possibility
Pick up another creative habit and see your main hustle in a whole new way.

Creative Lives – the Lecture in Progress podcast exploring creative careers

Unlock Your Ideas With Mind Mapping In Just 3 Minutes

5 Top Designers On How To Create The Ultimate PowerPoint Presentation
Slide presentations usually suck—but a good designer can turn that around. Here are four tips for selling your ideas.

How Designers Get a Seat at the CEO Table
Our Q & A with Christopher Simmons, director of MINE, where we discuss how designers can go deeper than the creative brief.

How to Fix Design
Design leaders from across the world come together to figure out what the problems in the field of design are and provide the opening for solutions, which in turn give you a leg up on your career.

by Marty Neumeier


Digital Brand Unification

Q&A: Hayley Hughes talks good brand health

Building Brand Awareness: 3 Basics for Good Design

Taking Pattern Libraries To The Next Level

15 Mistakes That Are Sabotaging Your Content Marketing

Creative Management

How to Create A Handbook Employees Actually Read

6 Top Reasons Your Employees Are Not Creative at Work

10 Dumb Rules That Make Your Best People Want to Quit

Sometimes the dumbest rules can drive away the best employees.

Alex Schleifer: Designing the Perfect In-House Partnerships
Airbnb’s VP of Design on how to establish creative partnerships inside of a large company.

And for fun…

Where Do No. 2 Pencils Come From?

If Didot Were a Woman, She’d Be Audrey Hepburn

How the French artist Philippe Parreno studiously avoids having ideas.

2016.10.09 links

I followed the advice of this article this morning — 5 Refreshing Things You Should Do Every Sunday Morning (No Matter What). The first thing I did was sat on the back patio and watched the sun come up. Good advice indeed.

My old friends at R+M have some more good advice to share: The Dreaded Meeting

10 Books Every Creator Needs To Read I struggle with the idea of designers spending their time reading versus using that time actually making stuff. But I have rad more than half the list and can vouch for the list as a worthwhile way to spend your time.

Having a daughter who wants to be an architect and a son who wants to be an animator, I found both of these articles intriguing: Architecture Schools Are Failing. This Designer Is Calling For A Revolution and Lecture in Progress takes a look behind the scenes at animation and production company Goldenwolf.

interview with ronan bouroullec in paris from designboom further reminds me that I wish I had studied industrial design.

Finally, my favorite article from last week was 9 Tricks to Appear Smart in Brainstorming Meetings. Brilliant! I’m a sucker for Trick #2.

The Essential Look at Everything Library

Although Sister Corita Kent was the impetus for starting the now defunct Look at Everything blog, there have been many other influences that have led me down this path as well. Teachers from my college days, but also a number of books I’ve come across over the years, too. Here is the Essential list:

The Art of Looking Sideways, Allan Fletcher
Of all the books I have on my shelves at home, this one never collects any dust. It is a constant source of inspiration. From the careful design of each spread to the content on each page, The Art of Looking Sideways rejuvenates my soul every time I open it. I suggest keeping it handy and not reading it cover to cover. Rather, pick it up on occasion, turn to any random page and start there. Repeat this process any time you are stuck looking for ideas, need a break, can’t sleep at night or want to take an adventure but have no money.

I recently stumbled onto this site which is very nice.

How to See, George Nelson
Nelson is one of my heroes, not just because he was an amazing designer who helped shape the USA post-World War Two, but because he was a deep thinker. I don’t know that he was the greatest designer ever, but he had the right people around him and knew everything there was to know about Good Design. How to See is exactly what the title says it is … a how-to manual that every artist should commit to memory.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Betty Edwards
My 11th grade art teacher recommended reading this book and I scoffed at her. After thumbing through its pages at the bookstore one day, I thought to myself “Why read about drawing when the best way to learn about drawing was to just do it?”. I’m not sure if that was wisdom or that I did not want to read the book. Either way, it was a foolish mistake. This book is filled with more than the how-to’s, it is filled with a lot of why’s.

Ways of Seeing, John Berger
You can find the original TV broadcasts of Ways of Seeing on YouTube. They are extraordinarily dated and downright hilarious at times, but the information Berger presents is second to none. Reading the book instead of watching the program will scrub away any of the 1970’s sheen, and leave you with nothing but a wonderful treatise on art, life and seeing the world.

On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes, Alexandra Horowitz
All of the other books in the Essential catalog focus on art or design, but On Looking, a rather new addition, focuses on the rest of the world. Although it is a little long at times, it is a delightful read from which you will learn about art, science, exploring and a number of other fascinating subjects.

What library would not be complete without a few magazines.
On a monthly basis, both Travel & Leisure and the National Geographic both provide an endless source of exploration around the world. I love T&L because it is so aspirational (namely being that I have neither money for travel nor time for leisure), showing how life can be led. And the Geographic goes without saying as one of the most important lens from which the world can and should be viewed. lately they’ve become a little preachy at times, but every single issue has something to learn.

And finally, out library needs an audio section. After much listening and deliberation, it has been determined that a visual blog needs to have a theme song. The Grateful Dead’s Eyes of the World has been selected to be the official song of Look at Everything.

2016.09.30 links


Who was Ladislao José Biro, how did he invent the ballpoint pen and how did it help in World War II?

Contrarian Leadership Advice From ‘The Father of Advertising” When the well runs dry, David Ogilvy always has something to replenish the reserves. It amazes me how advice given 60 years ago is still so relevant today.

5 Clever and Inspiring TED Talks That Will Make You a Better Writer One Day I will become a writer.

What’s Your Ideal Running Speed to Conserve Energy? My son and I run almost every morning. I’m up that early, but pretty impressive for a 12 year old. I’ll have to sit down and do the math on this one over the weekend.

Leading for Creativity: October 5 – November 2 I wish I could attend. Right up my alley.

And to help satiate the design in me:

Design de vivre: Paris as told by graphic designers

Design Freak, Meet Tech Geek

By Design

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