It's many designers' ultimate goal to become the creative director of a successful agency. But the stark truth is that not everyone gets to achieve their dream. So what kind of qualities do you need to become a creative director, and how do you go about steering your career in a direction that will ultimately win you the position? Chris Jones, our creative director was asked by Creative Bloq, to share his insights and the benefits of his experience. Firstly, he was asked, what qualities were needed to be a creative director, and secondly, how do you go about becoming one?

The qualities a creative director needs:

  • You offer strong, flexible leadership

Becoming a creative director inevitably involves less time in front of Photoshop and more time leading and hopefully inspiring others. My own role still involves some hands-on design/copywriting, but very often it's about me taking the lead on a project, working with the client on the overall approach and then briefing my team to create something wonderful. I'll stay in touch with the project for its duration, inputting regularly and checking everything against the brief and what we believe the target audience wants.

  • You're a good listener

Whether it's clients or your own team, creative directors should spend a lot of time listening - really listening. It's the only way I've found of really understanding what a client's issues are, for example. I'm not a huge talker in meetings, I listen a lot and aim to speak only when I've got a really good question to ask. It should be all about the client, not the agency. Similarly, in-house take the time to listen to your team and accept that you can learn from them.

  • You share the love

Share what you know with the wider world. Don’t keep it to yourself and don't be paranoid about sharing your expertise, even with competitors. Writing blogs and speaking at conferences are both great ways of getting stuff out there and have the added benefit of helping you meet new people and sparking debate.

  • You create the right environment

For us creative types, environment is incredibly important. From what's on the walls to the overall vibe in the studio, striking the right balance is essential if a team is going to produce really exciting work. It's very difficult to define, but the perfect working environment for me is generally relaxed, with occasional bits of Victorian mill owner-style discipline thrown in to keep standards high. Equally, encouraging creatives to let off a bit of steam throwing stress balls at each other or flying the office remote control helicopter around is just as important.

  • You have good peripheral vision

It's one thing to specialise in a certain area of the industry and certainly knowing your subject inside out is essential, but maintaining good peripheral vision is a must too. I work for a digital agency producing websites, social and mobile experiences, but I still follow what's going on in branding and advertising, and indeed the wider creative world. Digital is bringing so many disciplines together, it's essential to keep a very open mind to anything exciting from any industry.

How do you become a creative director?

There is no single way of becoming a creative director. Unlike the more traditional professions (in their grey suits), it's not a case of doing a certain degree, joining a 'reputable firm' and following a strict career path waiting for those above you to retire/die. Like most things in the creative industries, it's a lot less structured than that.

My own path has been far from straight and true, resembling something more akin to a bowl of spaghetti. I started with a degree in Technical Illustration (drawing cars and planes), followed by two years as a multimedia designer producing CD-ROM presentations (remember them?). I then freelanced for nine years doing everything from print design through to advertising and branding, before becoming digital agency Blueleaf's creative director in 2006.

I've met lots of creative directors from a range of backgrounds, designers and copywriters, from branding, advertising or design. There's no consistency, but I think the good ones have all shared similar attributes - mainly the ones detailed above. That's more important than gaining specific qualifications or experience.

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By Chris Jones 

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