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Not every creative is cut
out for—or wants to work in—a corporate environment. It takes a
special right-brain/left-brain blend of interests, skills and aptitudes to
succeed as an in-house designer. But if you are one of those individuals who enjoys
the unique challenges of this type of work, check out these recommended strategies to develop your expertise, strengthen your reputation and
ultimately build a successful career in the “in-house neighborhood.”
1. Polish your communication abilities. Written and verbal
communication is the currency for success in the left-brain corporate world. To
succeed, you absolutely must hone your writing and speaking skills. Practice
2. Consider an M.B.A.
or design business degree. Even
though the M.F.A. is now considered the new M.B.A., there are many business
skills, perspectives and leadership insights that you weren’t taught in design
school. Without mastery of these, you’re handicapped. To advance within an
organization, you need to have a foundation in economics, project management, people
management, marketing and business strategy. Now more than ever there are a
multitude of opportunities in business education, from full-time degree programs to continuing
3. Know your
numbers. Make peace with Excel. If
you can’t articulate the value you or your in-house team bring to your
organization with hard numbers, you ain’t goin’ nowhere. And if you want to
grow your group, it’s critical that you have the ability to craft and sell
budgets to upper management.
4. Teach. Nothing develops your skills and marketability like
teaching at the college level as an adjunct professor. It enhances your street
cred and forces you to use communication and organizational skills that will be
valuable—and highly valued—in the world of business.
5. Read the
trades and then some. It’s the “then
some” you should focus on. Business leadership and management websites and blogs, books and videos relevant to in-house concerns should be part of your daily information diet. You
need to know much more than what a ligature or .swf file is to become a
industry organizations and then volunteer and network. At one time or another, almost everyone has joined a design-related group. But expecting that alone to get you noticed
and valued by peers and colleagues is a bit naïve. You’ve got to have some skin
in the game so that others know you exist and are (eventually) willing to help you grow in
7. Write and speak. Contribute articles on design and design business to
industry blogs, and work your way up to getting published in the top-notch publications.
Speak at local events and parlay that experience into getting onto the national
stage. It’s good for networking, and it’s good for your resume and credibility.
look for both operational and creative ways to contribute to your organization. Sans the corporate speak, this is about sniffing out
problems in your team’s day-to-day operations and proposing solutions. This also includes seeking out new business and expanding
services. Remember, you’re not just a designer anymore.
friends with recruiters (like The Creative Group). Shop
yourself around with the people who will eventually shop you around, whether you’re
actively looking or not. When you eventually decide to make a career
change, it won’t be as if you’ll say, “Here I am. Now get me a
job,” and they’ll all come running. You need to have established relationships with recruiters if you
expect to be able to hit the ground running when you decide to make a move.
10. Plan your
path and act on it. While it’s great
to be adaptable and go with the flow, there’s value in setting a
general direction for your career—and avoiding a “How did I get here?” moment down the road. Go online and take a free career interest
assessment. Then start targeting industries, and even companies, that
would be a good fit for your skills and professional aspirations. And even though you’ve been
given this type of advice twenty times over in the past
and ignored it, really do it this time. The process will open your eyes to opportunities
that could have a significant impact on your professional and personal
Andy Epstein started his career as a freelance designer and illustrator with clients as varied as Bacardi, Canon, Bantam Books and Merck. Jumping into the world of in-house in 1992, Andy created and grew in-house design teams for Commonwealth Toy and Gund.
He later restructured and expanded the hundred-person creative team at Bristol-Myers-Squibb and consulted at Johnson & Johnson. After a three year stint at Designer Greetings leading an in-house design team responsible for the company’s product lines and Point
Of Sales materials, Andy moved back into pharma heading up a 65+ managed services team at Merck.
Andy has written and spoken extensively on in-house issues and published “The Corporate Creative”, a book on in-house design, in partnership with F&W Publications in the spring of 2010. He is a co-founder of InSource, an association dedicated to providing
support to in-house designers and design team managers. Most recently he was head of INitiative, the AIGA program dedicated to in-house outreach and support where he expanded on his efforts to empower in-house teams and raise their stature in the design and
AIGA members have opportunities to learn new skills, get advice on
pressing career questions, hear insights from industry leaders and learn
how to manage more effectively. Find out more about exclusive webinars, workshops, certificate courses and conferences.
Section: Tools and Resources -
professional development, design educators, students
Design Jobs is an exclusive job board for AIGA members. Look here to find your next design job—or design hire!
Section: Tools and Resources -
College is only the beginning. Use your college years to learn broadly
and build a portfolio that opens minds and doors. Ask your professors to
your work; go beyond what’s required...
Section: Inspiration -
mentoring, advice, students
Remember when summer vacation meant three months of care-free days? The AIGA Baltimore board members remember, too, so we’re taking this July off for some much needed R&R. We'll see you in August, though!
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