A few years ago, I decided to make the switch from working on the agency side to the client side. To be honest, I was skeptical an in-house designer would be given the same amount of creative opportunities. It felt like I was leaving behind a creative world to go work in a business-focused and less creative space.
Working in-house isn’t any less creative, but it is different. Different isn’t bad, but it does change your way of thinking. You have constraints, stakeholders, and objectives that allow you to not overthink things. You work intimately with one brand, so you feel as if it is your own. Embracing the unique characteristics of working in-house can prove your value as a designer and strengthen the design process.
I have identified five value-proving concepts that are unique to the in-house designer.
Good Ideas Live On
When working in a creative field, good ideas often are left on the cutting room floor never to be explored again. We move on and forget their original merit or intent. Recognizing when to resurrect old ideas is unique to the in-house designer. It isn’t considered lazy for an in-house designer to revisit a previous idea because we are building one large story from many small ideas. Old ideas can influence or provide a jumping-off point for a new idea.
Not all good ideas come from old ideas, though. Having an open mind and surrounding yourself with talented people is another way to improve your work. Taking an idea and sharing it with others can help extend one person’s idea and make it more unique. When collaborating with colleagues, be willing to define the core idea, explain the reasoning behind the design elements, and allow others to take your ideas and run with them.
The idea of failing is scary. As creative people, we always want to wow others with our designs. We’ve been trained to refine ideas until we believe they are the best before sharing them. It’s hard to put your ideas out there when you know they aren’t finished. When you embrace the idea of “failing faster,” you learn to put yourself out there, try new things, and take the ball and run with it. The worst that can happen is you fail. And, so what if you do? You learn from your mistakes and do better the next time. Being able to face failure takes the fear out of design. It allows you to make things happen and teaches you to iterate, test, refine your ideas and continuously improve your work.
Working in-house provides a designer with an opportunity to see the big picture of the company, outside the creative work. You live and breathe the company’s values every day. There is a thrill of always being in the know and seeing how all the pieces fit together. You have an in-depth understanding of the business and a unique perspective on how to apply it to your design work. This perspective makes your work stronger and gives you the ability to propose new ideas. As a designer, you want to think of new and better ways of doing things and to not just follow what has been done before. Understanding how all the pieces fit together can spark new ideas or clearly show what should be consolidated.
Have you worked on a design project and wished you could talk to an expert in the field you are designing for? In-house designers are surrounded by a variety of experts in different areas. Expanding your knowledge of other industries makes your design work better. It gives you a better understanding of the audience you are designing for and what the products do for those people, especially when you are working on products that aren’t tangible. In-house you have access to all types of experts: creative, technical, sales, etc. And these experts are your co-workers. It’s the difference between reading research in a brief versus talking with an expert down the hall or at lunch. In-house designers need to take advantage of these resources and allow them to inspire their work.
Become a Storyteller
We all love a good story. We root for the hero and hope the villain gets taken down in the end. Stories create empathy, they make us laugh, and, most importantly, they remind us of human emotion. We connect with a brand when we see ourselves in the story. Although most designers apply storytelling to their designs, the in-house designer has a different viewpoint. We have the opportunity to shape and influence the way these stories are being told. We are allowed to reach out, ask questions, and connect the dots between different people and different stories. We hunt down information and string together a larger story. We connect people inside and outside the company. We give employees something to rally behind and customers the reassurance that we understand them.
In-house designers have the opportunity to weave personality and storytelling throughout many different design outlets, giving the brand a unique point of view. We know the ins and outs of the company and can explore the best medium to convey the right message. When the right story and a thoughtful design combine, brands become more relatable and more memorable.
In conclusion, looking at these opportunities as an in-house designer can strengthen not only your design work but also the way you approach design and human interactions with the brand you support. Have you worked at an agency and as an in-house designer? How did you have to change your working style?