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Creative Director vs. Art Director: what’s the difference and which one is right for you?

In: Web Design, Website Development

Sometimes when working on a project, you realize you might need a Creative Director or an Art Director, but which one do you hire? When navigating a large project, specifically around brand design, the process can be really overwhelming. There are so many variables to consider, stylistic elements to explore, values to convey, lists to check off. An extra set of hands is always helpful, but who you hire is based on what your needs are.

Both types of directors play an important role in brand building and project execution, so understanding the difference between them is the perfect first step in getting started.  We dive deeper into Creative Director vs. Art Director and explore the similarities and differences between the roles and skills to help you pick the right person for the job.

Illustration by OrangeCrush

What is a Creative Director?

A Creative Director is the visionary and leader of the project at hand. They most likely have some, if not all of the art skills to build out the brand, but they’re more focused on the large scope of the project and all the details that will have to happen to bring it to life. They strategically plan out what creative aspects need to be completed, while also ensuring that all visuals, messages and installations are cohesive.

two people high fiving, one person has a light bulbs indicating ideas and the other person design tools
By Felipe Charria

The Creative Director leads a team of individuals to make sure the project comes out exactly the way the client wants it to. They act as the prime stream of communication between those working on the details of the project and the client themselves. They establish budgets, timelines, relationships and flesh out all details of the project to stay in line with the established structure.

From conception to finalization, the Creative Director is the client’s right-hand man. They’re involved in the entire process of the project, and help you along the way. They create a welcoming work environment and focus their energy on bringing a creative team together to build out a creative vision.

A Creative Director might be responsible for…

  • Motivating the creative team
  • Assigning responsibilities to the team that align with the timeline of the project
  • Nurturing and executing the ideas of the creative team
  • Managing the budget of the project
  • Organizing brainstorming sessions
  • Managing the client’s wants and needs from conception to completion
  • Working closely with the client and communicating the client’s needs to the creative team
  • Hiring and training the creative staff
  • Overseeing profitability of the project in conjunction with the budget and timeline
  • Translating marketing objectives to all others working on the project
  • Reviewing work and providing constructive feedback
  • Ensuring visual communication goals and brand standards are met and cohesive
job description for creative director
Illustration by OrangeCrush

A great Creative Director is especially good at:

  • Inspiring and motivating others
  • Communication (both written and verbal)
  • Leading a team
  • Multi-tasking
  • Creative vision
  • Project management
  • Keeping and maintaining relationships
  • Setting the tone and pace for a project
  • Setting realistic goals and sticking to them
  • Dispersing and assigning these goals for successful outcomes
  • Pivoting and problem solving
  • Innovating
  • Marketing and selling (whether that be a physical product or a concept)
  • Giving constructive feedback
  • Time management

Read more about what a Creative Director does here >>

What is an Art Director?

Juggling multiple tasks, checking off to-do lists and responding to emails
By Felipe Charria

An Art Director is wonderful for the visual and stylistic details of a project. They oversee the various aspects of art and design necessary to the project and essentially pitch them to the Creative Director. An Art Director works closely with a team of artists, they determine the artistic elements necessary to complete a project whether it be photography, film, copywriting, painting or graphic design. Then together, the Art Director mobilizes their creative staff, honing in on each individual’s skills and successfully delivers the tone and visual goals of the project.

Art Directors are responsible for overseeing the creative elements of a project, and will often assist with the budget and timeline depending on the company’s needs. They present projects to be approved by either the Creative Director or directly by the client. An Art Director is necessary for fulfilling all the creative design elements and ensuring a project, creative asset and brand is aesthetically appealing and aligns with the brand.

An Art Director might be responsible for…

  • Interpreting a client’s vision and clearly communicating it to a team of creative professionals
  • Figuring out how to visually communicate a specific message or concept
  • Working closely with a team of creatives in all stages of the process
  • Working out all details of the creative project by employing various types of artistic mediums
  • Directing and assigning individuals to these artistic mediums
  • Overseeing their progress
  • Offering advice, feedback and expertise to the creative team
  • Carrying out the vision of a brand visually
  • Pitching to clients and Creative Directors or similar positions
  • Approving the digital and physical artwork for a project
person placing an image on a web design
By Felipe Charria

A great Art Director would be:

  • Exceptionally creative and proficient in specific areas of art and design
  • Excellent at communicating
  • Hardworking and efficient
  • Great at time management
  • Proficient in managing and executing fine details of the project
  • Capable of leading, motivating and managing a team of professionals
  • Well-versed in all different aspects of art and design

Creative Director vs. Art Director

Both positions are helpful in any type of creative endeavor and many times, their jobs can sometimes overlap. Oftentimes both the Creative Director and Art Director have the same goal: to deliver high-quality, outstanding creative work that meets expectations and budgets. They work collaboratively together and with a team of creative individuals to produce design assets for the project and client. Though their end goals are the same, their area of responsibility and focus differs. The Creative Director has a long-hall vision of the project whereas the Art Director is responsible for certain artistic aspects of the desired outcome.

A colorful design of a man sitting on pen and a woman looking at a screen
By Felipe Charria

Creative Directors and Art Directors can work together to deliver results. Typically the Art Director pitches their ideas to the Creative Director, then the Creative Director would ensure these ideas align with the tone and goals of the overall project.

Even though they each focus on a different part of the project, the key to success is working together. The Creative Director often depends on the Art Director’s visual expertise to bring the project to fruition and the Art Director depends on the Creative Director to lead, assign and stick to the finite details along the way.

It can be helpful to have both positions working together on a creative endeavor, but both titles offer necessary and unique opportunities for a successful project.

Who should you hire?

Picking the right person to hire is a great starting point, but also a difficult decision to make. This decision of course depends on the goals of your project.

If you’re looking for someone to execute the entire project, all details of it, not just the visual aspects, you might consider hiring a Creative Director. If you’re looking to manage a team of artists and designers to achieve a specific visual outcome, an Art Director would be a perfect fit. If you’re looking to execute a large project but also pay close attention to the visual aspects and the cohesiveness of the artistic elements, it might be helpful to use both a Creative Director and an Art Director.

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