Demystify the Difference Between Design, Art Direction, and Creative Direction

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Written by Digital Surgeons,
• 4 min read

A power lies within us all, brewing just below the surface. That is the power to make, to imagine, that is the power to create. Included is a video by one of our creative leads Joe Pilcavage, who shares what inspired him to become a better creative director, providing you with some keys to unlock your own creative potential and carve your own path as a Designer, Art Director, or Creative Director.  

If you’ve ever played a video game, you know the importance of leveling up. Usually, this means hours of work to slowly boost your stats in order to get passed the next, more difficult challenge presented to you. You need to put in the work if you want to become a better, stronger player who can progress further. Leveling up your character in a video game is not unlike improving your performance in the real world. Certain goals and criteria need to be met in order to assert mastery over any given set of skills.

The role you assume when playing a video game dictates your usefulness in certain situations. It's important to have an area of expertise you excel in while still maintaining a broad range of core abilities. This means having a well balanced, or “T-shape” model when it comes to your skill set. The same can be said for working in the real world.

Whether you’re a Designer, Art Director, or Creative Director, everything you do comes down to two things — building relationships & telling stories.


Designers are problem solvers focused on the look and technical execution of an idea or concept. Their job is to draw attention and engagement. Design is one of the first things we notice and one of the last we forget. Even something as simple as a business card can engrave ideas into one’s brain, leaving long-lasting impressions. It isn't just a three and a half by two-inch piece of paper, it's more than that — it's your story, it’s how you present yourself, and how you will be remembered.

Art Directors manipulate the power of design and emotion to create meaningful experiences. Their job is to convey the message of a piece and evoke emotion in the most appropriate, relevant, and concise way. Art Direction is not the same as Design, but uses Design to connect you to the experience. Where Design would be the “look” of something, Art Direction is the “feel” or visual language you can associate it with. It’s the mood, the tone, the message, the intangibles that resonate with you afterward.

Creative Directors supply the Designers and Art Directors with keen insight and strategy. A great Creative Director is not just a jack of all trades, but a master of them as well. Their job is to change consumer behavior by forging ideas at the convergence of cultural relevance, product function, and customer needs. They work for the team, acting as their sword and shield, simultaneously supplying them with the motivation they need, while guarding them from negativity that could stunt their ability to be creative. Creative Direction can and should come from anywhere, drawing inspiration and paving the way for the rest of the team.

Creative potential exists in the thought space where purpose, skill, and clarity meet together in unison. We all have an untapped potential. You already have the keys, now embrace your power. 

No matter what your role may be, one thing remains the same — we all have a quest.

What’s yours?

Need help opening the doors to your creativity? Don't call a locksmith, Contact us and let’s have a conversation about unlocking your organization’s full creative potential.