The Importance of Creative Direction (with Moodboard Download)

Creative direction is tricky. But creative direction is also incredibly powerful.

In the world of small businesses, creative direction serves as a starting point, and a reference point as you make decisions involving your brand. It's the North Star, if you will, of your business. Everything should come from, and be directed toward it. And it's not just visual either, it's how you market, and what kinds of decisions you make for your business.

While it's absolutely possible to create a brand that resonates with you personally, it's far more important to create a brand that resonates with your audience. Sometimes those two are one in the same, and sometimes they’re not, but it’s incredibly important to know the difference. You have to have a solid strategy, you have to know the kinds of clients or customers you want to attract and you have to be absolutely certain that you’re giving them value. If you’re not solving a problem for your clients, giving them a service they need, or providing goods that they want, you won’t succeed.

Because it’s about them, not about you.

So if you haven’t already, take a moment and write down everything you can think of about your target audience. Go so far as to pin down their gender, age, marital status, income, what they do in their spare time, their careers, etc. Now, once you have that, what do you do? How do you figure out what kind of design, copy, and marketing style will attract those customers? That’s where creative direction comes in.

When a new client comes to me, the first thing we do is get crystal clear on their products/services, and their ideal customer. Once we have that nailed down, we move onto how to market to those people. Do they hang out mostly online and on social media? Or do they prefer old fashioned phone calls and postcards? That will dictate what kinds of graphics we’ll need once we have a solid brand in place.

Next, I’ll start pulling imagery for a moodboard. While moodboards may conjure images of teenagers, pin boards, and glossy magazines, they are actually an incredibly powerful tool. Mine is something I refer back to constantly, and even have saved on my desktop for easy access. Every time I post something on social media, every time I shoot a photo, and every time I create a post here in The Athenæum, I check back to make sure it’s cohesive. I even go so far as to make sure the music I add to my Spotify mixtapes are songs that my target audience would love.

Take my brand for example — As a designer, photographer, and occasionally an artist, I aim to attract female clients who love modern design, who aren’t afraid to push limits or test boundaries, and are intelligent and driven. They believe that just because it’s always been done that way, doesn’t mean it has to continue to be that way. Or that just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean they have to. They believe that standing out is much more important than blending in, and they’re willing to invest in quality over quantity.

What your moodboard looks like will, of course, depend on who you’re trying to attract. Focused on attracting brides? Your moodboard will probably have lighter, softer colors. Starting a fitness company targeted at thirty-something men? It’ll probably be much darker, with clean, modern designs and masculine imagery. 

Once all that is done, then, and only then, we’ll start working on your logo and branding. Your logo isn’t where we stop though. Your brand covers all of the touch points you have with your customers. It’s imperative to make sure the things you're pinning on Pinterest, or posting on Instagram are cohesive with your brand and your voice. The emails you send out, the copy on your website, the way you interact with customers—all of it is your brand. And it’s so important to have the right creative direction, and a solid foundation to build your brand from, because if you skip steps, you’re liable to have a brand that doesn’t resonate with your audience, and doesn’t attract the right people. Which causes a ton of frustration from wasted time and money.

So take my word for it—don't skimp on your creative direction. It’ll be worth it in the long run, I promise. And if you're struggling, or just need a boost in the right direction, reach out!

Please note that all images included in moodboard are property of, and copyright remains with, their respective owners. Cover photograph by Robert Mapplethorpe.