3 Don’ts and 6 Does for Creative Directors. As well as any one who leads a creative team.


I started creative directing ( guiding others to create, not just myself ) in 2012. And in 7+ years I have learned a lot both good and bad.

Though I still roll up my sleeves and do the work (I can’t help it I’m a crafter first) I spend a significant amount of time coaching, guiding, searching for inspiration and nurturing others to grow and find their own creative voice. It is empowering…humbling…a confidence builder and confidence killer…scary…and enjoyable. All at once.

And one of the most rewarding and challenging things about it is forcing yourself to hold back explicit direction.

Find ways to guide others to get to where you can see they’ll end up with the right nudge. It can be frustrating because we all started on the other side of that desk and know we could get the work to where it needs to be ourselves in less time. It comes with experience that gives you a weird sort of future sight – you can practically see into the future and visualize the end work. But telling someone specifically what pixel to push or line to write is a sign of a bad CD and one of the best ways to have your team leave. No one wants to feel like a robot.

With that in mind I thought I’d share some things to never do and things to try and always do from my own experiences. I’d love to hear more from you readers. Not just for creative managers but for those who work under them (the good and the bad)

3 Don’ts and 6 Dos for Creative Directors…

  1. DON’T be a pixel pusher or mandate specific direct changes (like make it blue here, or change that word to this word) unless you are forced by timelines or too many rounds with an un-collaborative team member.
  2. DON’T take the work away from them to do it yourself unless they are too overwhelmed with projects that they can’t focus. And if that is the case…take the less inspiring work and heavy lifting off their hands.
  3. DON’T fake timelines to force faster work. This one really made me loose faith in people earlier on when I was starting out as an Art Director. It’s your job to manage the outside stresses and demands from the rest of the company or clients. If you know the work isn’t ready or going to be ready it’s on you to manage so that your team has the right guidance and time to make the work better. Telling them fake timelines or padding timelines just shows someone you have no faith in them. You are always better to simply be honest and say it’s not there yet, let’s keep digging.
  4. DO work to give specific feedback that not only explains why you think it’s not working, but ideas on how it could work better or where to take it. That isn’t you saying “Make it green and put it in that corner” (See #1). Instead find ways to inspire them towards where you think it can go conceptually. Show examples of other things that do a good job of where you feel the work can grow to…give examples of multiple avenues they can try but be sure to still frame the sand box within only a few suggestions so that it is clear where you want them to go. It’s never a blank canvas or never ending job. It’s a sand BOX. You need to give them some walls to play in or it will never end and then a week from now you’ll be back at #1 or #2…but it will be from your failing. Not theirs.
  5. DO continue to look for inspiration and send it to them to keep them excited and looking inward to dig out stronger work from their talents. You are training younger staff how to naturally be on the look out for inspiration around them at all times and you are training more experienced staff to brake lazy habits they will default to and rediscover new inspiration.
  6. DO listen to your team. Ask what they like and why. Let them take their own paths and prove their direction is better than yours. If it turns out to be the case support them.
  7. DO explain yourself. If you have a strategy or reason for your direction tell them. If you know the client and what will help their business tell them. Start planting the reasoning on ways to shape and sell it into the teams heads early as they work on the project. That way by the time they share/talk to the client they already know the strategy to sell it.
  8. DO Keep it short. Lately I’ve limited creative reviews of work-in-progress to 30-60 minutes max. It forces the team to be prepared to share and not wonder. It forced me to keep my focus and my direction limited so they still have time to talk and aren’t left with too many directions to focus next on. I want to be able to pop in, feel something instantly and have a reaction without over talking, over rationalizing or over directing. (It’s how you respect their time and your own)
  9. DO know when it’s ok to NOT say anything. If I don’t have an instant feeling or excitement or are simply torn and unsure I say so. It’s much easier to simply say “I’m not sure what I think or feel. Let me take it and think about it for a bit.” Instead of fumbling your direction or getting lost in your own head and confusing them. (It also says a lot about the work…if it doesn’t inspire or excite you and still make clear sense…your direction may well be “if I’m not excited or get this, will the audience? If you think so convince me.”…then show it to others.)

I’d love to hear other ways you work with your team or your managers work with you that you love or hate.




About the Author:

Todd Lawson is a creative/art director who understands code & designs UI & UX, a designer who does large scale paintings, a painter who writes articles, a writer who designs clothing, a clothier who is constantly curious about what’s next. His curiosity has garnered Cannes Lions, One Show Pencils, CA’s, Cassies, and countless other accolades. In 2014 & 2015, he was Ranked 9th & 15th Best Art Director by Strategy Magazine’s Creative Report Card. As Digital User Experience Lead & Associate Creative Director, Todd helped Grey Canada win ADCC’s 2013 Agency Of The Year. But the story doesn’t stop there. In 2015 Todd left Grey to Co-lead the complete transformation of Dashboard, his past agency, from a 16-year-old marketing firm into a Software SaaS Development Company, successfully selling it to tech firm Vicimus in under 2 years. Todd then led the company rebrand, developed departmental processes, guided UI/UX for product, oversaw and built external marketing plans and rebuilt creative and design teams. See 18+ years of curiosity at www.toddlawson.com