I have been a designer now for 22 years, coming up for quarter of a century is quite, well scary, as it basically suggests I am getting old.
For 15 of those I have been a Creative Director across 3 different agencies, one of which was my own and now on a consultant basis, each brings different challenges.
Recently in a consultant role I was asked to hand over my team to the new full time CD, so wrote up what I felt it meant to be a Creative Director and where the benefits lay. My monthly reports document the process & progress of my team and there is lots on the internet about the type of skills a Creative Director needs, but I thought it may be interesting to discuss how those skills are put to use and what benefit they bring.
Weekly Catch ups
These may seem like informal maybe even time wasting chats that without a team leader making the time for them sometimes get lost, however the importance is much deeper:
- Making designers question what they have done and why
- Being the balance between client and designer
- Suggesting pushback on feedback where valid
- Drawing out better work
- Challenging their ‘safe’ mode
- Giving feedback
- Getting a feel for what work, how much work
- Getting a feel for contentment factor
- Pre-empting tensions / alarms
This as a Creative Director I feel is my most important role, the key to producing great work, meeting deadlines, and keeping clients happy stems from happy designers.
Opening up channels of communication between teams to:
- Encourage designers’ voice & ideas
- Push better working practices / collaboration
- Deal with tension between teams (before it takes hold)
Keeping Designers Creative / Inspired
Time together away from the office/screen is hugely beneficial, it is where innovation and content designers come from. To keep creatives fulfilled needs some dedication - so as a team I like to draw up a yearly ‘plan of fun’, to weave into our core work. More often than not when brainstorming Fun Chart’s designers ask to carry out meaningful tasks as well, perhaps a charity, or helping school children, fun and fulfilment comes from a well rounded work pattern.
Art Direction & Teamwork
With a strong design team I don’t tend to need to carry out too much Art Direction, just feedback in the catch ups but instead facilitate UX, design thinking & brainstorming. Even if the project does not include a UX strategy I am always keen to bring more heads to the table, especially in the planning stage - this may not be so noticeable in small projects, but will become an apparent strength with larger clients.
Pushing New Ideas & Practices
I find designers (or anyone really) when they have their head in the day to day doing of their job they don’t have time for big thinking. I try and take them out and have a bit of headspace to throw ideas around, surfacing a few to bring to fruition as products or tools to better our service to our clients.
With all the best intentions in the world launches can sometimes be a little rushed. A lot to finalise and check list for all members of the project team. My bugbear is content entry, an amazing website through Research, Design and Build can be brought down by hastily added copy. My roll is to catch this and make sure the content is to the same high standard.
Keeping my eye out, especially in an area of the country where I think we have a disadvantage when it comes to recruiting, I keep my ear to the ground as to what are expected of top designers, and where skills are headed.
Interviewing interns, even if it is just to give them experience of a job interview - with a set of questions and test I put them through, to check actual software ability. I am also always open to help school children, talking at schools on ‘jobs in tech’ or taking them in for a week’s work experience.
Bringing on Designers
Whether intern, junior or senior from critiques, appraisals, feedback & informal chats try and establish where the designers can improve and give them help to do so. In juniors I look to take to the next level and in seniors I look to fix weaknesses, in both cases making stronger more confident designers.
Setting & Enforcing Creative Standards
Not everyone is a designer so keep an eye on sales and marketing output at each touch point with clients, across the company. Making sure documents are up to date and teams understand and have the tools to adhere to the brand.
Workshops & Pitches
Of course these are one of the main roles of a Creative Director, but constantly optimising the quality of information derived from them, and bringing in designers to understand and start to run them is also on the agenda.
Agile Sprint Reviews
I sit in sprint reviews to listen. My designers know the detail of the project and are perfectly capable in this respect but I listen to where there may be ‘leaks’. If a ‘voice’ is not coming through I will look to rectify, this could be design feedback, or the voice of the user through the product owner and so on.
I try and do some of the work to make sure I understand the systems and problems the design team are up against.
Keeping Abreast of the Industry
Reading, researching, meeting other designers, learning, networking, I believe are all imperative to keeping currency & advocacy.
Sales & Marketing
The Director side of our role is of course to focus on the growth and profitability of the agency to keep us all in business. Sales, Marketing, Account Management, Pitch and Proposal writing are all an important part of my role.
Yin & Yang
Being accountable for my team both to stand up for what we do or push it forward, Management Meetings are an important time to lobby. Team Directors bring different angles and points of view to the table, but a diverse mix of personal traits I believe is also an incredibly healthy balance and should be encouraged.
And there is always admin, but keeping this shipshape is imperative, and I have to say over my 15 years the tools to help us have blossomed, obviously I’m not alone in this area.
I am a freelance Website Designer, Logo Designer and Graphic Designer based in Woodbridge, Suffolk. Contact me for more information.