Senior Designer vs. Creative Director

I’m an in-house graphic designer who recently received a job offer from a different company. I’m happy with my current place of employment, so I brought the offer I received to my marketing director to see if she could match it. She and our CEO agreed to match it, as well as offer me a new job title of my choosing, as long as it doesn’t have manager in the title.

I am the only designer in our company of 120 employees (health insurance) and handle every project from conception to completion. I’ve worked here for 5 years and have been in the design industry for 12 years. We have a total of 4 employees in our dept. who I work laterally with.

Current title:
Marketing Coordinator: Graphic Designer

To me, the logical title would be senior designer, but I’ve had a few designer friends say creative director. I don’t want my title to be misleading to future employers.

Thoughts? If you need more information from me, just ask!

Thank you, Jason.

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I lifted this one from Wiki:
Brand Identity Developer

Job titles are very fluid and what they mean in terms of responsibilities varies from one place to the next.

Creative director sort of implies, though, that you’re in a top-tier management level position and directing the creative endeavors of the company. Is that what you will be doing? Will you have the ability to override this marketing director on creative disagreements? If your marketing director says, we need a brochure that says this and who needs to approve your work before it’s good to go, you’re not really directing the creative — he or she is.

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I agree.

I was in an almost identical situation as you just several months ago.

The title I went with was “Creative Lead”. It may not be the most well-known title, but I feel it perfectly sums up my role and experience at the company.

Good luck and let us know what you end up going with!

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Also agree here that “Director” implies management.

Side note: Bold move on bringing that job offer to your employer. That could of had a much different outcome.

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I’ve always heard that’s the way to do it. They agree and they get to keep you around, they disagree and you work for someone new.

I guess the worst they could do is to agree, then fire you after a few weeks when it seems it would have been enough time to fill the position at the other job.

Very true. I definitely waited until the right moment to bring it up. I was also willing to take the other job had they not responded with a wage match. I have a great relationship with my marketing director, so I felt comfortable bringing it to her first. That being said, I was still nervous.

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From my perspective, the kind of company you work for matters more to a graphic design career than the titles you hold in them. An ad agency title seems to be the best looking on your portfolio. That means a Jr Art director in an ad agency that does sexy TV commercials will look better than a creative director of an in-house department for some unknown B2B company that doesn’t do sexy TV commercials.

I held the title of Art Director for an in-house department while I was still a student in college. But I was the only artist, so I wasn’t directing any subordinates. Right after college, I got a job in a much bigger company where I was 1 of 4 artists, and the only one making creative decisions. I had more influence on the creative decisions than the Marketing executive. And yet I held the title of DTP associate. When it came time to promote me, they refused to even give me the title of Art Director, let alone Creative Director.

“Director” in a large company usually means “Department Head,” a position that they don’t usually give to graphic designers in large companies that aren’t ad agencies. At that same company, I lost my promotion opportunities to a woman with less experience, but from a small ad agency. She was hired to run my division with (by her own admission) less skill and experience than I had, simply because she had “agency experience.”

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Thanks for the perspective. The verdict seems to be it’s more about the work you do, rather than the title.

It is incredible how majority of employers prefer agency experience over in-house experience. I’ve even seen it mentioned in job postings before.

I’ve never worked at an agency but I do recall having a conversation with someone who did. We spoke at a design conference last year. They told me that the agency lifestyle was very cut throat, the pay was less than ideal and the hours were long (I’ve heard the low pay/long hours from other sources as well). This particular individual owns their own company now but gave me the advice of sticking in-house.

While that conversation was just one person’s opinion I can’t help but think that there may be some truth in what they are saying. While in-house may not be the sexiest job, it may certainly be less stressful with better benefits and higher pay.

If anyone here works or have worked at an agency, I’d love to hear what your experience was like.

Most employers don’t take kindly to an ultimatum of sorts. Even after everything is said and done, it still creates a sense that you’re not committed to the company, you’re looking for a new job, or you’re dissatisfied with your current employer in someway.

If I have ever been offered another position at a different company, I’ve come to realize that I must make a definitive decision to either 1. Stay with my current company, or 2. Terminate my employment with current employer, and accept the new company’s offer.

Although, I know the company I work for rather well. I also know that I am replaceable. Tell them “joe’s print shop has offered me $xx.xx an hour” and they’ll say “well, good look at Joe’s - you can pack up your things”

Oh, you’ve asked a question where it’s impossible for me to be brief. Sorry.

I’ve worked at both agencies and in-house (several times for both). They are a bit different, but the random differences between any of those individual jobs has been larger than the differences that I could attribute to it being because I was at an agency or because I was working in-house.

I suppose an agency job has a wider variety of work, but even that’s not necessarily true since people there tend to get pigeon-holed into working with certain clients. Anyway, depending on the in-house job, there might be all kinds of variety depending on the size of the company, the nature of the products and services, and the size of the creative and/or marketing team.

There are other differences that are mostly just procedural kinds of things, like time-tracking and billing issues usually being more rigid at agencies as opposed to in-house. And yes, agency work can be stressful, difficult, demanding, unstable and cutthroat, but it can also be exhilarating, fast-paced and exciting at times. Then again, all of this depends on the agency, its size, its longevity, its specialty, its background, its location, its financial stability, its clients, its culture and its owners.

To me the biggest consistent differences between agency and in-house situations arise in the company culture and upper managements of both.

The senior management at agencies are in the business of advertising and marketing, and have succeeded largely because of their savvy and business acumen in those areas. As a result, the culture at most agencies is generally conducive to and supportive of good work and talent since those at the top have typically spent their careers in the business. That’s not to say that other problems don’t exist, but the people at the top generally understand the business. The big, mega-agencies are a different story of sorts, but that’s another tangent.

In-house creative and marketing teams, however, are typically odd fits within their companies whose top management structures and company cultures are built around things that have little or nothing to do with advertising, marketing, design, writing or whatever.

For example, let’s say the company builds widgets and has an in-house team to help market those widgets. This widget-building company is focused around engineering. The people at the top, for the most part, all came from engineering backgrounds. They don’t really understand marketing very well, and they believe in engineers and exude an engineering mindset. They know they need to market their products, but they under-appreciate the skills and processes required to do so effectively. They tend to view their marketing/creative team as a not-quite-trusted support or service group that exists to implement those things the brains in the company — the engineers — want done.

There might be very talented people on their creative/marketing team, but at some point going up the chain of command, someone with an engineering/business background is calling the shots and making the hiring decisions of who will lead this in-house team. Consequently, out of ignorance, the wrong people are hired, and this incompetence filters down into the creative team as illogical work assignments, counterproductive processes, widespread frustration and poorer results.

The extent and specifics of this dysfunction differs from one in-house situation to the next, but I’ve never been in an in-house group where some variation of this bias that relegates the creative/marketing team to a lesser role doesn’t exist. And typically this problem is worsened by the group ultimately being overseen by someone that upper management trusts but who has little background, experience or aptitude in any creative or marketing fields.

As for employment ads for companies looking to hire those with outside agency experience to lead their in-house teams, well, again, I think this goes back to what I’ve mentioned. The higher-ups in these companies who do the hiring know little to nothing about the business and they lack the background to select the right candidate based on demonstrated abilities. So they end up relying on superficial shortcuts, like insisting they come from ad agency backgrounds. More often than not, they’ll end up hiring a big talker who couldn’t cut it at his or her previous agency job, but who managed to fool those doing the hiring.

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You are right on pint with your reply. I started working in an agency (very low payment and very dynamic and stressful) and then in-house (with very big payment and battling to convince the boss, who was an engineer, about some design choices and marketing plans) and know I work again in an agency but this time with a bigger pay-check (as it was at the in-house job). What I want to say is, that you must also correlate your experience and how to developed your skills with the amount you get paid.

I’ve been working for 4 years in an agency and now moved in-house and been there for almost 3 years. I can say they are two completely different worlds.

I think in agencies there is a tendency of paying less as the market is more volatile and is all about pitching and winning clients and projects. While in working in-house you’re treated at the same (if not similar) level of other employees within the company – and depending on the industry – they pay a lot more and of course you have several benefits.

The only issue I found now is that my portfolio hasn’t grown much as almost all of the work I’ve been doing in the past 3 years is pretty much the same – but on the other side – I gained lots of experience in how to deal and work my way up in a corporate environment.

Also, being the only designer in my company – although now I became a manager and have a junior designers working with me – puts me in a situation where you can’t really find much debate around your work, while when I was working in an agency, there was a continuous debate as we were 8 designers, all collaborating on the same projects. This can be either good or bad.

I would say that an agency is always a good place to start building a portfolio and experience quickly, but in the long term being in-house is more gratifying – especially if you are looking for work-life balance and don’t want to worry about money and long hours.

Finally, I find working in-house more enjoyable than when I was working in an agency, I can can always do more creative projects on the side.

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