What's the difference between a Creative Director and an Art Director?

Glenn Kramer's picture

Are Creative Director and an Art Director interchangeable job descriptions? Sometimes I see one listed in a masthead (such as a magazine), other times I see both listed.

oprion's picture

I think the terms are often used interchangeably, but if both a present in a company, CD's get to boss around multiple AD's.
Personal Art and Design Portal of Ivan Gulkov

speter's picture

A few thousand dollars.

Stephen Rapp's picture

Nice answers. Art Directors at bigger studios or corporations often oversee just a particular segment of design or at least different teams. So you might have an art director for interactive design and another for package design. The CD would oversee all these, then someone who knows almost nothing of design will oversee the CD.

Nachos's picture

They seem like somewhat subjective terms based on the firm/company. Probably could be used interchangeably, however, my Creative Director tells my Art Director what to do. Personally I don't like the term "Director". The director of a movie usually doesn't act. The director of a band usually doesn't play lead guitar. The athletic director of a university usually doesn't play on the team. You get the idea. My point - that my Art Director still does plenty of graphic design but coordinates client requests, tracks time, bills clients works with print vendors, and many other tasks.

blank's picture

In some cases you might see both because neither one is paid very well but management gives them “director” titles in place of a higher salary. This practice is most common in the not-for-profit sector.

aluminum's picture

"A few thousand dollars."

I've actually seen the opposite...the title promotion is given in lieu of a pay promotion. ;o)

typerror's picture

Odd... here in Richmond ( and in other towns where I deal with both) it can mean between 10 and 30K


Si_Daniels's picture

>What's the difference between a Creative Director and an Art Director?

One has a goatee, round rimmed glasses and drives an S4

The other wears round rimmed glasses, drives an S4, and has a goatee.

Apart from that they're pretty much the same.

Glenn Kramer's picture

Great answers so far, and quite humorous ones. Even salary.com doesn't make a clear distinction between the two.

Nick Shinn's picture

The traditional distinction in ad agencies is that Creative Directors produce creative strategies, and supervise teams of Art Directors and Copywriters who produce the campaigns that implement those strategies. Art Directors direct the services of production designers, photographers and illustrators.

typerror's picture

Concise and to the point Nick. Very well stated.


HaleyFiege's picture

There's probably no clear distinction on salary websites because the titles are so abstract now. Traditionally the Art Directors would present their ideas to the Creative Directors who would give feedback and yay/nays.. but everything is more blurred now. For instance the place I work as an Art Director, the Creative Directors are called Senior Partners and sometimes I work with them on projects. The Project Managers are called Producers, which is traditionally the name of people in production, but now we call the production people Developers.

Also in advertising the Creative Directors could have either come from an Art Direction OR Copywriting background.

.00's picture

To follow up on Nick's point, ad agency Creative Directors almost always come from the copy side. Rarely does an AD rise to become a CD in the ad world.

I remember attempting to do a custom typeface for the CD (who came from copy and was in the business for years). I would show him test words and his comments were completely unhelpful in communicating what he was after. After several rounds he said that he liked what I did, but wished it were more musical, and that he was asking everyone on the project to listen to music (any music) while the worked on the campaign.

He was fired and I got a kill fee.

jupiterboy's picture


CDs are writers, and often produce headline/concept campaigns. Now that headline writing isn't as big of an issue I see AD as more common, and more from the art side.

aluminum's picture

I got it! Art directors wear more colorful ties:

HaleyFiege's picture

Really? In agencies I've worked in it's either been split down the middle in terms of Art Director and Copywriter CD's since they usually get promoted in pairs or there are more AD CDs... In interactive agencies there are definitely more from the AD side.

Chris Rugen's picture

My understanding is the same as Nick's concise description. Though I've encountered instances where the difference is one of perception and self-importance, rather than skill or role.

By the way: great pics, aluminum! Mad Men is so great.

David Sudweeks's picture

AIGA says it like this:

Creative/design director
A creative director or design director is the creative head of a design firm, advertising agency or an in-house corporate design department. In all of these areas, key responsibilities can include the development of graphic design, advertising, communications and industrial design publications.

Art director
The art director establishes the conceptual and stylistic direction for design staff and orchestrates their work, as well as the work of production artists, photographers, illustrators, prepress technicians, printers and anyone else who is involved in the development of a project. The art director generally selects vendors and, if there isn’t a creative director on staff, has final creative authority.

(what Nick said)

michaelbrowers's picture

Nick Shinn's definition is spot on, James Montalbano's elaboration on who tends to become a CD is accurate.

Michael Browers

speter's picture

He was fired and I got a kill fee.

I never realized that's what a kill fee was for ;-)

HaleyFiege's picture

"James Montalbano’s elaboration on who tends to become a CD is accurate."

It's really not.

It's true that older creative directors are often writers, but now a days most agencies have pairs of CD's (one writer and one art director) running the creative departments. This is true of all the large agencies - Ogilvy, MacLaren, JWT etc etc. In smaller agencies that handle a lot of interactive accounts it's common to find single CD's of Art Direction backgrounds running things. This is true of medium sized agencies - Grey, Lowe etc etc.

michaelbrowers's picture

Nick provided the traditional job descriptions for art director and creative director, not the watered-down versions of those same titles that many tend to hold today. James elaborated on the traditional job descriptions.

Today, many have a CD title that only manage the graphic design side of things and many art directors have no direct reports and are really graphic designers or senior graphic designers.

Traditionally, Creative Directors had direct reports from multiple disciplines. It is still the exception that graphic designers become Creative Directors who manage employees of multiple disciplines outside of graphic design.

Michael Browers

Glenn Kramer's picture

Reading several of these posts make me think that the Creative Director is not always a graphic designer and doesn't necessarily know how to use InDesign or Photoshop (for example). Am I right to infer that Art Directors are the ones who have more practical computer design experience?

HaleyFiege's picture

It's not really traditional... those job descriptions Nick wrote still pretty much hold true in the advertising industry. Art Director and Copywriter teams present to the Creative Director(s) who have the final say in what concepts go to the client.

It's true there is a lot of overlap now between Art Director and Graphic Designer now though. Previously the Art Director would do concept development and then hand a large portion of the design work to the Graphic Designers. Now Art Directors generally design (pixel push) the layout and look, and rely on Graphic Designers for expanding the concept look and feel into other sizes or medias.

Glenn, most creative directors started out as art directors and copywriters, so they do know how to use the programs and stuff. When you're promoted to Creative Director it's more your role to oversee the entire creative department and give the thumbs up/thumbs down to what gets through - the idea being at that level you're probably a genius at strategy and what sells or whatever.
I found at the larger agencies the CD's never really did any design work themselves.. just provided feedback to the rest of the team regarding layout and strategy. But at smaller agencies it wasn't uncommon for CD teams to brainstorm with us or take on briefs themselves. The agency I work at now is around 90 people, and I often work with a CD team on projects. They make me do most of the design work though :)

PublishingMojo's picture

I used to manage a creative team for a textbook publisher. One day one of my designers brought her daughter, who was in third or fourth grade, into the office and introduced her to me.
"This is my boss," she told the little girl. "He's an art director. Do you know what an art director does?"
Without hesitation, the child said, "He keeps everyone from pitching a fit!"
I've never heard a better job description.

BruceS63's picture

As a CD who began as an AD, my experience has been that the lower on the totem pole, the more tactical, the higher, more strategic. As a CD, I guide the creative product to ensure it is appropriate in strategy and voice. I also teach more. As an AD, I am more hands-on with concepting, hiring the right photographer, illustrator or writer, and deal more with vendors like printers, jingle writers and producers.

My opinion is that in an ad agency setting, by the time you've been in the business 3-5 years, an AD should be able to come up with headlines and copy direction (though not necessarily write finished copy), and a writer should be able to visualize and describe accurately the look and feel of an ad (though not necessarily be able to draw, design or art direct). The most effective people I've seen in either discipline have been able to do that.

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