In today’s business climate, the importance of brands is paramount. Once, a few skilled marketing professionals handled the job of managing a company’s image and reputation; now all serious executives must concern themselves with communicating that message. A CEO can no more ignore the brand than she can the balance sheet.
Creative direction is similar to leadership. Vision is required, but fundamentally, it’s a communications job. And creative directors must be able to inspire, to motivate, to effect change, and to frame new concepts in understandable terms. The basic principles of Creative Direction 101, therefore, are about communication. Design students who aspire to be creative directors could benefit from these principles. But senior managers could learn a lot from them as well.
Master several languages. In managing a brand, creative directors work with a huge variety of skilled professionals, from presentation consultants and architects to multimedia designers and brand strategists. It’s essential that creative directors know enough about each discipline to understand its limitations and possibilities, and they must be able to speak the language of the people around them. Specialists can become too entrenched in the practices of their own discipline.
Learn to draw. Communicating new ideas and concepts is different from communicating facts; in many instances, concepts are best communicated visually. Learning to draw is fundamentally important — which is just as true for managers in companies outside the creative realm as it is for those in it. A sketch is still the fastest and most effective way to communicate concepts nonverbally, whether one is describing a corporate architecture or a corporate headquarters building.
Build a visual inspiration bank. It’s important that a concept be understood emotionally as well as literally. People should curate their own visual inspiration banks for reference. The inspiration bank — a repository of images that are as emotionally evocative as they are visually powerful — can be developed and maintained over the length of a person’s career and can serve as an invaluable asset in defining ideas and aesthetic preferences.
Learn to make analogies. Making analogies is one way of stimulating creative discoveries. Inventing and articulating brands — one of the chief occupations of commercial artists — is a process of creating analogies. If my product were a car, what would it be? If my service were a person, how would she think? If my brand attribute were “friendly,” what would it look like as a retail display? By thinking in analogies, we learn to empathize with our products and customers.
Tell stories. Analogies feed into storytelling — a critical skill in the brand world. I encourage the students in my Creative Direction class to think of their companies as stories and of every aspect of their work as an opportunity to tell those tales in new and exciting ways. The experience of a company, product, or service should be similar to that of a work of art or fiction; the role of a manager should be similar to that of an artist or author. By developing characters, both heroes and villains, and by creating dramatic scenery, we can imbue inanimate objects and intangible services with emotions, associations, and personality.
Keep learning. Work should be an opportunity for further study. Creativity is a process of constant reappraisal and reinvention — sometimes incremental, sometimes revolutionary. Creative directors, like brands, must continue to evolve and grow in their understanding of the possibilities of communication.
Adrian Caddy (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the creative director of Imagination, a multidisciplinary design company with offices in London, New York, and Hong Kong.