What an independent designer gained from going in-house at Instagram and Facebook

He was freelancing and planning to launch a startup one day, but when Instagram offered him a job after months as his client, Maykel Loomans jumped at the opportunity to work in-house for the photo-sharing app he was a fan of since day one of its launch.

After working at the creative agency he co-founded straight out of design school for two and a half years, Loomans left to work freelance. Turns out running your own shop isn’t as cool as many think it is. “The agency structure, especially leading it, was definitely not the best use of my time,” he says. “When you’re not really experienced, it’s easy to lose focus on what you actually want to do.”

Being at the behest of multiple clients and projects at his agency made the opportunity to dive deep into a single project like Instagram attractive. Describing freelance versus in-house work like “short-term versus long-term happiness,” Loomans found the thrill of new clients and projects less attractive than the larger impact he made as part of a corporation whose product is used by millions every day.

Within weeks of accepting Instagram’s offer and moving from the small Dutch town of Maastricht to tech haven San Francisco in 2012, Loomans unexpectedly became part of the Instagram team acquired by Facebook’s $1 billion deal. He and the rest of the company were insta-rewarded financially, too, and for the next five years he focused on improving Instagram’s interface design. More recently, however, Loomans joined Facebook as a product designer to work on its search experience.

At Instagram, and now Facebook, Loomans has access to enviable resources he never had before, like a privacy team that handles policy issues while he makes headway on the interface design of Place Tips, the company’s latest product that recommends nearby attractions based on your location. While some may think corporate structures are inefficient or give designers less creative control, Loomans says the specialized teams actually allow him to focus more on designing.

“Being able to work with a tenured privacy team that can tell you exactly what they’ve learned over the last couple of years is extremely helpful,” he explains. “I actually like to see them as guardrails. It’s not their job to be in your way.”

And lest you think the in-house designers at fast-growing tech businesses are “put away in a corner,” Loomans’ experience has proved otherwise. Sure, he’s had the distinct advantage of working at Instagram and Facebook, two young, design-centric companies, but Loomans believes their in-house model will become the norm as more people understand the importance of design. It’s when businesses and governments empower their designers with a sense of ownership—one that really only comes from working in-house—that the outside world will see the impact design makes on our everyday lives.