a creative director in the middle of meeting

Creative Director Versus Art Director: What’s The Difference?

Table of Contents

Working in a creative career is interesting because you can craft visually intriguing art for a living. After spending time working in the creative industry, you’ll notice that the creative director and art director positions are two separate roles in the company. 

You might wonder, what are the differences between these two upper-managerial positions?

It’s often for the creative director and art director to overlap since these two positions have minimal contrasts, resulting in confusion between the two.

However, there are still distinctions between creative directors and art directors. We’ll highlight in this article the differences between these two roles through their job descriptions.   

What is a creative director?

Creative directors think about the big picture in projects and act as the head of creative teams. They’re responsible for creating strategic plans for the clients and are concerned about the ideas behind the creative process.

Constructing visionary plans, concepts, and plots for the design is part of the creative director’s responsibility. Creative directors must prioritise clients and make sure that everything goes according to the objectives of the project. 

Accomplishing the client’s target is possible if the creative directors carefully develop and pay attention to the project from the earliest stages. In the end, creative directors would be responsible for deciding what is delivered to the clients.

Ensuring the project goes according to the goals from the early stages to the finalization requires creative directors to be attentive to details. However, they wouldn’t need to supervise the technical procedures.

What does a creative director do?

Setting up meetings with clients would be the creative directors’ responsibility. They would brainstorm the ideas and inform the price and time estimation of the clients’ campaigns.

As creative directors map up the plans, they need to grasp how the campaigns would result. This duty is why creative directors need to have a skill that allows them to see the big picture for their projects. 

Creative directors are delegated to maintain the brand’s image. This responsibility explains why they need to know precisely how to execute the design process for each project. Although they are not involved in the technical stages, creative directors are responsible for ensuring that the results and process match the client’s goal and objectives.

Besides communicating and building strategies for clients, creative directors are also responsible for managing workloads and giving guidelines for the creative team. In this job position, it is expected of you to guide the creative teams efficiently. 

This job position requires more than just the ability to come up with innovative ideas. Having good leadership skills is essential for creative directors as they will prompt their team with the project’s initial concept.

As the centre of a creative team, creative directors will be the leader for the whole project. This responsibility requires an adequate understanding of the entire process. They might not need to pay attention to the small details, but knowing how to manage the project from the early stages to the executions would be their job. 

Being in a position of leadership makes creative directors require the ability to have analytical skills. They have to delegate precise time estimation and workflow for their team. Other than that, they must be open to opinions and feedback so the client can effectively achieve the goals.

Although creative directors don’t need to pay attention to small details, it depends on their company. In small agencies, creative directors are mostly expected to supervise the design-making process just like art directors would do.

However, in big companies with more clients, creative directors would be expected to do their job as explained above and only make corrections if needed.

How to be a creative director?

If you wish to be a creative director, then you’ll mostly need to have a formal qualification in graphic design course. In most cases, a bachelor’s degree in communication design or a diploma in communication design is highly desirable by employers.

As this position isn’t an entry-level job, you’ll be required to have a significant amount of experience. It’s common for a creative director job vacancy to ask the candidates to have six or more years of experience in the creative industry. 

Other than that, a creative director is someone who understands another position’s functions. Knowing the whole creative position’s role will help them get the big picture while planning the strategy.

Many creative directors hired have previously worked as graphic designers, illustrators, or art directors. So if you are working as one of these, you can climb the career ladder and be a creative director.

What is an art director?

An art director is someone responsible for leading the creative team. Compared to a creative director, an art director will pay attention to the small details. They will delegate technical jobs for their team.

Although being in the same upper-level of the creative industry, an art director doesn’t need to build campaign strategies for clients like creative directors do. Instead, they will focus on the aesthetic elements and make sure the final result looks beautiful and matches the client’s requirements.

Moreover, art directors are responsible for seeing projects through a few phases, such as production, edit, and final output. Art directors will rely on their technical skills to get the team to get the job done.

What does an art director do?

An art director will articulate the project’s vision by determining every artistic element to apply. For example, they will decide which colour palettes, fonts, and many other features to use.

As a leader, an art director will think of developing the creative director’s concepts effectively. To accomplish this, they will develop the budgets and timelines for each project. 

Since they need to focus on the details of a project, art directors will supervise their team during the process. They will be responsible for reviewing and approving the copy, design, photography, and many others.

With their ability to combine art and design and turn it into aesthetic outputs, art directors have the chance to work in multiple industries. Many companies with niches like advertising, publications, public relations, and media production will require art directors to enhance their businesses.

How to be an art director?

Like the steps to be a creative director, someone who wishes to be in this position will need a formal education in design. Most art directors hold a bachelor’s degree in visual communication design. Check out our list of graphic design courses offered by Orita Sinclair Singapore.

It takes years of experience to become an art director. It’s common for an art director in most companies to have at least five years of experience in the creative field.

Most importantly, someone who desires to be an art director must be passionate about arts and its aesthetic elements. This requirement is because art director is a career where someone will be responsible for the quality of the designs.

Delivering lousy designs that don’t match the client’s objective will be a problem. The creative company’s reputation will be questioned if this ever happens.

Choosing a path between creative director vs art director

Now that you have the idea of what creative directors and art directors do, you might feel confused about which career to choose. Although the differences aren’t too many, you can pick the best job that suits your personality and goals.

Suppose you’re naturally an intuitive thinker who relies more on the big picture. In that case, you might want to choose to be a creative director, especially if you enjoy the concept-creating process and highlight your ideas to sell to the stakeholders.

Someone who opts to be a creative director is usually not too keen on small details, but it would be great if you can pay attention to those details as well.

In contrast, if you have a talent for figuring out small details and would rather work with a team than clients, you could opt to be an art director. An art director is usually a creative person who has a decent sense of aesthetics. Moreover, the art director position would be great for you to craft and bring the concepts to life. 

However, choosing between these two positions isn’t to be confused with only improving one specialization over another. Before upscaling to this upper-management position, you need to explore a wide range of experiences and interests in the creative field. This way, you might better understand how suitable either position would be for you in terms of responsibilities. 

How do creative directors and art directors collaborate with the team?

Creative director

creative director doing his task
Image source: Unsplash

It has been previously mentioned that creative directors are responsible for creating strategies and plans for clients. This duty also means that they’re in charge of setting up the services’ price estimations. After clients have agreed on the strategies, plans, and price estimations, creative directors will formulate ideas on delegating the concepts to the creative team. 

In most cases, there would be an internal meeting between the creative director and the creative team. Thus, the creative director would deliver all the project’s details. It will then be the art director’s responsibility to figure out the technical procedures.

Generally, during the internal meeting, a creative director would give instructions regarding the client’s objectives and goals. Moreover, the creative director would inform the creative team on expectations and deadlines for each task.

Furthermore, a creative director could also delegate more responsibilities if the projects require some specific elements. For example, suppose the client wishes to collaborate with key opinion leaders (KOL). 

KOLs are people or organizations with strong influences, and their opinions are listened to when making important decisions. If the client desires to work with these well-known people or organizations, the KOL specialists will need to find and hire suitable talents.

Art director

art director desk
Image source: Unsplash

Similar to creative directors, art directors are also in the position of leader in the creative team. The difference is an art director would give technical commands to the team. By specialized orders, the art directors are responsible for setting up the small details regarding the projects.

For example, an art director would ask the graphic designer to use bright color palettes for a client who wishes the design to look youthful. The art director could also ask the designer to select specific kinds of fonts to support the goals.

Another example would be the selection of words to use. The art director could ask the copywriter to use a specific tone that will match the client’s objectives. 

Art directors will be the ones who are responsible for approving the concepts. If some elements still need improvement, they would ask the creative team to revise them until the concepts match the project’s plans.

Job opportunity for creative directors VS art directors

Creative directors and art directors are high-level managerial positions. Many creative companies require their skills to organise the creative process. It’s an excellent opportunity to step up a career and become a creative director or art director.

Many small agencies might not specify either the creative director or art director. However, developed agencies need these positions, especially some multinational companies that have many clients. They need apparent differences to upscale the company’s reputation by delivering decent outputs.

Generally, creative director and art director positions would be filled by someone who has spent many years in a creative team before moving up to these positions. They might previously have worked as graphic designers, art directors, artists, or other similar positions to get design experience. 

Since these upper-level positions require both creativity and leadership skills, employers will seek a few things in your application. Let’s take a look at the list below;


The compilation of finished projects that are included in the portfolio will be professional proof. Employers will use your portfolio as a basis to see if you’re a good fit for the job.


Having a high curiosity would be beneficial for you to absorb more knowledge. Moreover, expanding your interest could help you learn different proficiencies, such as acquiring new art skill sets, providing innovative marketing plans, and insightful campaign strategies.

Strategy and vision

Creating strategy and vision is the key for these positions. As they’re both leader positions, they need to communicate what they envision effectively to the creative team.

Willingness to mentor

Sometimes misunderstanding happens during the process. As good leaders, they need the willingness to mentor and guide their team to reach the goals.


It’s highly discouraged for artists who aim for this position to have a big ego and a closed mind. Being open-minded and having the willingness to evolve and follow the current trend are needed.

Analytical mindset

Having an analytical mindset will be helpful to plan the workflow effectively. This way, the team will have clear guidance on when to move from one project to another. 

Multi-channel approach

Understanding how the company will display campaigns on multiple channels is necessary because different media require different approaches.

Willing to give and accept feedback

Good leaders need to give constructive feedback to the team and be open to receiving feedback. This way, the creative team can effectively reach the intended goals and provide the best output for the client.


The creative director and art director are almost identical roles. However, there are key differences that separate them from one another. 

Creative directors view projects from a broad perspective, focusing more on the big picture. They will think of the entire creative strategy and present them to the clients. Meanwhile, art directors are in a leadership position and will direct the whole technical process to the creative team.

In many small companies, there is no distinction between these positions. Usually, creative directors are obligated to be both strategy makers and technical directors for the creative team. However, many other established creative industries will differentiate these roles and hire either two or choose a specific function that suits the goals.

Since creative directors and art directors are not entry-level positions, there are specific requirements for the candidates. They need to have years of experience in the creative industries.

And if you are aiming to become a creative or art director, now is the time to hone your design skills. Having strong design skills helps as you pave the pathway up to these managerial positions.

Here at our Design School, we have specialised graphic design courses options, dedicated to equip students with the essential skills and knowledge through Communication Design and Interaction Design courses.

Have questions about our design courses? Contact us today and we’ll get back to you soon.

About Orita Sinclair

Founded in 2002, Orita Sinclair is one of the oldest music and design schools in Singapore. We are committed to fostering a love of design and music in our students by encouraging them to be bold and imaginative in their endeavours.

Here at Orita Sinclair, we believe that theoretical and practical foundations are equally important with the music and graphic design courses that we offer. For that reason, we have put in place a forward-looking curriculum that grounds students in key principles before being guided by field practitioners in applying theory and technical craft in authentic, industry-oriented projects. One of our best programme is Diploma in Interaction Design.

Our supportive learning environment prepares students for the demands and challenges of the music and design industries. At the end of their graphic design courses or music courses, our students are ready to step out into successful careers or pursue degrees at renowned universities.

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