Creative Director vs. Art Director: Drawing the Line Between Commonly Confused Creative Careers

Creative Director vs Art Director

You’ve always considered capitalizing on your artistic abilities by pursuing a creative career. And if you’ve done any research, you’ve likely encountered two job titles that sound surprisingly similar: creative director and art director.

Both seem like positions that could afford you the ability to leverage your creativity in a meaningful way. But what is the difference between these commonly confused careers, and which one makes more sense for you?

When defining the duties of creative directors versus art directors, there is a bit of overlap. But there is a clear distinction between the roles and responsibilities of each position. Keep reading to learn more about each creative career and determine which might be the better match for your skills and interests.

What is a creative director?

The creative director is typically the head honcho of the creative team. Next to the CEO of the company, there are roles of upper leadership where decision-making comes to rest, and most creative directors fall into that category. They have the final say on what goes to the client. These leaders are idea people, and they are usually the ones who connect directly with the client.

Creative directors generally develop and oversee projects at the earliest stages. They cast vision, form concepts and pilot design philosophy. These are the big-picture thinkers of the team. They can close their eyes and see the finished product, even though it hasn’t been created yet.

What are some common job duties of a creative director?

You’ll find the creative director in meetings with clients, heading up team brainstorming sessions and spearheading the initial concepts and creation of a project. They’re the ones mapping out future plans and engaging hand-to-hand with the client to gain a clear understanding of their goals and objectives.

Depending on the size of the company or agency, the creative director might get into the nitty-gritty with the team and contribute to certain aspects of the project. Or some creative directors may observe from afar and continue steering the ship. Either way, they are tasked with ensuring the projects remain on budget and on course to meet deadlines and delivery dates.

How do you become a creative director?

As you can see above, creative directors have quite a bit of responsibility. That’s why it shouldn’t come as a surprise that you’ll need to be formally educated to join the ranks of these creative professionals.

We used real-time job analysis software to analyze more than 2,500 creative director job postings from the past year.1 The data revealed that 95 percent of employers are seeking candidates with a bachelor’s degree or higher. The most common option is earning a bachelor’s degree in graphic design, but some opt for degrees in advertising, fine arts or another creative field.

Education is only the first step. There’s no substitute for experience, so you’ll likely need to start working in the field to learn the ropes and start climbing the ladder. The creative director is responsible for managing a handful of other creative professionals, so having experience in some of those areas is important.

What is the average salary of a creative director?

The education and level of responsibility that creative directors endure comes with exciting earning potential. Those with five to eight years of experience can earn between $99,500 and $143,500 annually, according to The Creative Group’s 2017 Salary Guide.2

As with most jobs, earning potential typically increases along with years of experience. The salary range for creative directors with eight or more years under their belt jumps to $116,250 – $186,750.2

What is an art director?

While a creative director provides the idea behind the project, the art director is the one who executes it. Once the concept is out on the table, art directors are responsible for heading up their teams and creating the aesthetic of the piece. They will see the project through the production department as well as other phases, such as edits or printing. Art directors rely on their technical skills to help a team get the job done.

What are some common job duties of an art director?

Leading a team of artists, art directors will determine which artistic elements to use, articulate the vision to their team, review and approve copy, designs or photography, develop budgets and timelines, and determine how to best represent the creative director’s concept.

Often the art director will play an active role in the design process, taking part in creating the images, illustrations or copy for the project. You can find art directors working in a vast array of fields, including advertising, on movie sets, in public relations firms, with producers and directors of theater and television or at book or magazine publishing houses.

How do you become an art director?

Similar to creative directors, education is an important first step for aspiring art directors. After analyzing more than 2,500 art director job postings from the past year, we found that 92 percent of employers prefer candidates to have at least a bachelor’s degree.3 Common degree options include graphic design, web design, art or animation.

Having work experience as a graphic designer, editor, photographer or in another artistic occupation will help you master the technical skills and acquire the know-how you’ll need for leading a team of artists. If you’ve been there and done that, you’ll be able to direct and advise more easily. It’s typical for individuals to obtain at least three years of relevant field experience before advancing into an art director position.

What is the average salary of an art director?

Art directors with three to five years of experience can expect to earn anywhere from $65,500 to $87,250 annually, according to The Creative Group’s 2017 Salary Guide.2 This earning potential increases to $81,000 to $107,500 for art directors with five years of experience or more.

Capitalize on your creativity

Now you know the different roles and responsibilities of the creative director versus art director. Creative directors are the visionaries who maintain a holistic view of a project to ensure it meets the needs of the client. On the other hand, art directors are responsible for the actual execution of each step of the process.

No matter which option appeals to your interests, it’s clear that a formal education is a necessary step in acquiring the technical skills and foundational knowledge needed to assume either of these coveted creative roles.

Check out the Rasmussen College School of Design to learn how we can help equip you for success in either of these careers.


1 Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 2,536 creative director job postings by education level, December 1, 2015 – November 30, 2016).

2 Salary data represents national averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. Employment conditions in your area may vary.

3 Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 2,514 art director job postings by education level, December 1, 2015 – November 30, 2016).


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Lauren Elrick

Lauren is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She enjoys helping current and potential students choose the path that helps them achieve their educational goals.

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This piece of ad content was created by Rasmussen College to support its educational programs. Rasmussen College may not prepare students for all positions featured within this content. Please visit www.rasmussen.edu/degrees for a list of programs offered. External links provided on rasmussen.edu are for reference only. Rasmussen College does not guarantee, approve, control, or specifically endorse the information or products available on websites linked to, and is not endorsed by website owners, authors and/or organizations referenced. Rasmussen College is a regionally accredited private college and Public Benefit Corporation.

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