Blog > Creative Teams > Art Director vs. Creative Director: What is the Difference?

Which Creative Leader is Right for You?

December 5, 2022
min read
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In the marketing world, there are many different layers and teams dedicated to projects. This is especially true for highly visual projects like an ad campaign or a product launch. In our world, there are two job titles that are often used interchangeably and often confused for each other.

When most people think of art directors and creative directors, most of us automatically assume that they do the exact same thing. While their jobs sound similar, and they both deal with the visual aspects of brands, they are more like fraternal twins instead of identical twins. 

In this blog, we’re going to dive into what makes art directors and creative directors different and where their jobs intersect.

Let’s dive into art directors versus creative directors and see if there really is a difference.

What does an art director do?

Aesthetic, design, feeling, concepts, and execution.

Those are all words that describe what art directors do for brands. Art directors are responsible for executing on creative ideas and ensuring that the artwork or layout for campaigns fit the brand aesthetic and can incite a particular emotion in audiences. 

Their work typically involves overseeing the creative process for film, ads, television, and more. Their years of experience varies depending on where they work. One thing to note is that most art directors have at least a bachelor’s degree.

They are an integral part of the creative department and bring a brand’s creative vision to life, no matter the medium.   

What does a creative director do?

A creative director building a project.

Organization, client-facing, project management, creative direction.

Creative directors are like project managers and art directors combined. The creative director’s job description is navigating client needs, creating timelines, and sourcing and vetting the right designers and artists for a specific project. 

Like art directors, they do provide creative direction but they are much more focused on the client’s vision and overall project management. Sometimes, creative directors are also called design directors. 

Creative directors often start as graphic designers and fine artists, but have over a decade of experience in their field before becoming creative directors. Some directors are self employed, but a lot of them work for brands, advertising agencies, or design companies.

They are the leaders of the entire creative process.

How are they different?

While these two positions overlap quite a bit, there are some distinct differences between the two that should be taken into consideration.

Both art directors and creative directors oversee the creative process of a specific project but creative directors are much more involved in the timeline and planning process than art directors are. They develop the vision and help plan the execution of a specific project.

Creative directors usually give the final approval before a client sees a deliverable. The art director gives creative direction while the project is ongoing. 

Art directors typically do not interact with the client, and they work under the direction of the creative director. While one is typically not above the other, the creative director guides the art director and oversees the entire creative team. 

When to hire an art director.

Should you hire an art director?

Having an in-house art director works best for companies that are in the creative industry (film studios, magazines, etc.) or enterprise companies. 

While every company could benefit from an in-house art director, hiring one is sometimes impractical for companies that don’t have an ongoing roster of creative projects. For small to midsize companies, or companies that are on the brink of a large campaign, art directors could also be hired as freelancers or hired on a temporary basis.


When to hire a creative director.

No matter what type of business you have, you absolutely need a creative director. The only businesses that can get away with not having one are solopreneurs or businesses that are not interested in scaling. 

Creative directors are project managers on overdrive. Instead of leaving the design decisions to the marketing team, a great creative director takes the reins and hires the right creative professionals, plans timelines (and ensures that you stick with them), and guarantees that your visual identity is always in line with the current market trends. 

They are a hybrid of art directors and marketers, and this alone is a superpower. 

Where to hire a creative director.

When you think of creative directors, you may not think that there isn’t any other option other than hiring one in-house for a hefty salary. 

Now, creative directors can be hired either through a creative agency, a design service, or as freelancers. After the pandemic, many companies realized that although creative direction is a very visual and hands-on job, new technological innovations made it possible for them to work remotely. 

Because of this, a lot of creative directors who were furloughed during the lockdowns went off on their own, successfully working remotely and building their freelance careers. 

A lot of mid to small companies have shied away from hiring their own creative directors because of the assumption that creative directors need to work in-house. Now, finding a creative director to navigate a series of projects is as easy as working with the right design service. 

Hiring challenges.

Freelancer challenges: Working with freelance creative directors is a great option for companies that don’t have a ton of long-term projects on their plate. The challenge is finding the right person for the job. 

Many times, creative directors might call themselves project managers, art directors, and a host of other things. Finding the right creative director in a freelance marketplace will prove challenging, especially when it comes to sifting through all of the different options.

Freelance creative directors are a great option for smaller companies that only have a few projects lined up.

In-house challenges: Hiring an in-house creative director is a great option for large or enterprise businesses with consistent and ongoing projects with many moving parts. For smaller or midsize businesses, investing in a full-time and in-house creative director may not make sense. 

Every company, no matter the size, would benefit from a creative director, but there may not be enough projects to warrant the cost. 

Creative agency challenges: A lot of companies choose to explore the creative agency route when realizing that a particular project needs creative direction. Just like in-house directors, finding one through a creative agency may prove to be a higher investment than you’re willing to pay. 

Creative agencies certainly have their benefits, but only if retaining one isn’t going to mean sacrifices in other departments.

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The middle ground.

Creative directors are the middle ground between art directors, project managers, and marketers. Finding one for your company shouldn’t have to be a difficult task. Instead, try a creative service that matches you with your ideal creative director. 

We’ve got you covered. 

Do you currently work with a creative director?

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