What Exactly Does A Creative Director Do?

January 16, 2018

It never fails. When I tell people I work as a creative director at a digital agency, the next question is typically some version of, “so, what is it that you do exactly?”

Many people think a Creative Director’s role involves sitting in an ivory tower spouting design direction to their underlings. Others seem to think the role is obsolete, a relic of traditional ad agencies. While it’s true that the Creative Director often holds the keys to the proverbial creative gates, the modern day Creative Director’s role is more integrated, subtle, agile, and collaborative.

On a typical day, it is equal parts creative facilitator, design advocate, team cheerleader, and idea defender.

Below, I’ve laid out what my typical day as a Creative Director looks like:

Good morning, Sunshine at 7 a.m.

I’m not a morning person by any means, but my dog Marshy seems to think otherwise. She wakes me up at 7 a.m. on the dot every morning so that I can stumble out of bed and feed her.  Not only does my dog dutifully act as my daily alarm clock, she also serves as a source of stress-relief and pet therapy whenever days are draining and chaotic. In fact, it is scientifically proven time and time again that pets help lower your blood pressure as well as cortisol levels, a natural hormone triggered by stress. After some light stretching and a brisk walk around the block with my furry friend, I continue on to my morning routine of showering, getting dressed, and eating a hearty breakfast, usually consisting of a bagel, eggs, and fruit, to prepare for my day.

digital agency - Creative Director dog

In the office by 9 a.m.

About two hours after stumbling out of bed, I roll into the office, grab a steaming cup of joe from our fancy espresso machine, check emails, and make a mental checklist of what I want to get done for the day. In the fast-paced environment of a digital agency such as YML, it’s important to always have a game plan for what I want to accomplish. Whether it’s brainstorming with team members or preparing a presentation, I want to be as efficient and intentional as possible with my time.

digital agency - office

Getting my hands dirty by 9:30 a.m.

Creative Directors do a lot of delegating when it comes to actual design work, which makes sense given the amount of projects and people one must oversee. However, while I do delegate the majority of the designing and crafting to my team, I jump at any opportunity to get my hands dirty. Whether its helping to define a product concept, prototyping a new experience, or animating a slick interaction, I stay involved in the creative process.

After all, being creative is why I got into design in the first place. I still remember staying up late into the wee hours of the morning designing and coding websites as a prepubescent teen, gleefully discovering the joys of creating something tangible out of clicks and keyboard strokes. I try to make sure I never forget the reasons “why” I do things — that’s what drives us, differentiates us, and yet simultaneously, also connects us.  Designing is my passion and I constantly remind myself that I’m blessed to be able to do it for a living.

Creative ideas are brought to life by 11 a.m.

The Creative Director’s role requires combining technology, strategy, and design in order to bring an idea to life. It’s often a push and pull, both internally with your team and externally with the client. It’s getting that delicate balance just right; the one where you can give your team autonomy, manage expectations, and encourage innovation.  All of this necessitates constant communication and collaboration, and I like to do it in the form of whiteboarding, internal reviews, and client working sessions. Here at YML, this creative process often takes the form of a Design Sprint, a week-long jam session of solving business problems through designing, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers. This is the ultimate crucible of creativity where your design, critical thinking, and problem solving skills are put to the test. In a recent Design Sprint, a startup in the Cryptocurrency space called Nimiq came to us with a challenge. How might we create a product that helps to differentiate it from the plethora of cryptocurrencies in a unique and engaging way? We debated, we slogged, we struggled, but ultimately we came up with a viable solution that was worthy of testing.

Which takes me to my next point: the role of a Creative Director is hardly glamorous nor is it often visible. It is usually messy, with dozens of ideas scrapped before landing on “the one.”  If you’re doing a good job at it, your role can seem invisible, elevating your team and making the whole creative process look easy and seamless.
digital agency - computer

Taking the time to eat a proper lunch at noon

My days are usually pretty jam-packed but I try to make sure I set aside time to eat a proper lunch. I try to keep it light with a salad or a small sandwich in order to avoid the afternoon food coma slow down. Lunch is also the best time for me to connect 1:1 with coworkers or have team bonding with folks that I don’t interact with on a daily basis.

digital agency - lunch

An inspirational walk at 2 p.m.

I make an effort to step away from my desk at least once a day to go outside on a short walk. I’m lucky to have an office located right next to a beautiful lagoon that was once the home of Marine World. Not only do these walks help clear my head, it also sparks ideas whenever I’m feeling a creative block.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan found that taking a walk among trees and nature—as opposed to an urban environment—can improve your short-term memory by 20 percent.  In another study by Jerome Singer, intentionally allowing your mind to wander allows it to access memories and meaningful connections, helping to lead us to those coveted “lightbulb” or “aha!” moments when we least expect them

digital agency - go for a walk

Always searching for new talent

Recruiting is a big part of my job at our digital agency, so I’m constantly talking to potential hires. I typically try to do this later in the afternoon, around 3 or 4 p.m. after I’ve completed the bulk of the day’s work. Aside from their portfolio, the most important thing to me is whether they’re a good cultural fit. Maintaining the culture and health of the team is always top of mind for me.

I’ve been lucky to be able to see the team grow over the past four years from a handful of designers to a team of 17 across two offices. This is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a Creative Director: building a team of wonderful, creative folks who you’re able to watch grow to spectacular heights.

Spread the word: 4:30 p.m. is playtime

We often have random activities in the office to break up the work day.  It might be an ice cream social one week, cocktails and karaoke another, and a few rounds of Mario Kart in-between.  It’s important to carve out some time for play and to give the brain an opportunity to replenish its creative juices.

digital agency - party time!

Closing time is 5:30 p.m.

I usually try to wrap up whatever I’m doing by this time and make notes of what I need to do the next day. I try not to make a habit of working too late as I believe it’s important to maintain a balanced life. I’m a big believer in the mantra “work smarter, not harder.” Dedicating a good chunk of time hanging out with family, exercising, or just vegging out on the couch is super important in order for me to feel recharged and motivated to do my best work the next day.

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