In Praise of In-House Designers
As part of an internal creative team, the main differences I notice between us and agency designers are environmental. In corporate culture, the in-house design department is the unruly left hand of marketing, and this bias—intentional or not—influences our processes, our creative output and our own expectations.
In a recent e-mail update, an editor of HOW Magazine briefly discussed in-house designers. She writes:
Part of my mission at HOW in the last couple of years has been to reach out to corporate design departments. And I’ve been pretty successful in discovering the many challenges faced by designers on in-house teams.
The challenges facing in-house designers are the same as designers in agencies. Tight deadlines and demanding clients (just replace “clients” with “marketing” or “sales”) are part of everyday headaches. As an in-house designer, the main differences I notice are environmental. Our fellow workers (who are not creative) generally view us with a raised eyebrow. In corporate culture, the in-house design department is the unruly left hand of marketing, and this bias—intentional or not—influences our processes, our creative output and our own expectations.
This is not a bad thing. In fact, I often feel the constant resistance to innovative design helps us produce more effective and functional stuff while still pushing our own embryonic envelope.
After concentrating on one or two brands all day, every day of the week, we become brand experts, and understand marketing initiatives as deeply as the marketing department. This knowledge gives us a huge advantage over outside groups; we can react to creative requests with suggestions and input instead of being push-button robots churning out brochures and websites. I have seen too many companies try to complement their in-house collective with agencies or freelancers, and their efforts invariably fall short of the internal talent. After all, who understands a brand better than the designers who created and nurtured it?
Look no further than Fossil. Everything is produced in-house, and they understand their incredibly complex branding efforts so thoroughly that I can’t imagine any agency delivering work even close in caliber.
I often sense that internal design goes through a more rigorous QA process. For instance, I recently spent six months designing a 24-page brochure. It had to be absolutely perfect. From the moment I copied galleys of text into InDesign to final approval on press check, the piece was reviewed a hundred times, with uncounted copy edits, color tweaks and photography swaps left behind in a trail of four dozen cumulative versions. While some might write this off as obsessive marketing, rest assured it is the most comprehensive, polished and technically accurate collateral the company has produced to date, and better than any market rival’s printed work.
Since we work exclusively for only one master company, our work accumulates in a pile of similar-looking design collateral, where our agency-residing brethren constantly churn out piece after piece of widely disparate designs every month for a variety of clients. This is simply the nature of the positions. In an agency, it is easy for a designer, copywriter or art director to claim responsibility for the brilliance and success of a piece. Results can be measured through client satisfaction, repeat business and referrals. As in-house design, we accept our role as cogs in the greater machine whole. We are not only part of our own creative team, but part of the larger corporate team as well, and this is a responsibility that I gladly welcome.