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the CEO of Bell Labs who led the organization during its most creative and
innovative period, championed six business practices that are also at the core
of the design process and mindset.
Part one of this two-part essay examined how the first three practices—recruiting the best and the brightest,
creating multidisciplinary teams and forcing change encounters—relate to
in-house designers. The second part of this essay explores the remaining three practices.
knew that in order to foster true innovation he would have to integrate theory
into the engineering and product development process. To achieve this goal,
Kelly hired both engineers and theoretical scientists and researchers, and he placed them in the same working environment. He wasn’t looking for incremental product
improvements; he was after real breakthroughs. And that’s exactly what he got.
working in corporations are entirely capable of concepting a project and
producing it. However, it’s primarily the former skill—the ability to draw on
right-brain aptitudes—that makes designers uniquely valuable to their
organizations. This is because most clients approach their design problems
analytically, looking to the past for solutions. They rely on competitors’
successes or prior internal solutions to similar problems to shape new
deliverables. This approach often results in designs that are safe but not
designers have the opportunity to be involved in the strategic process prior to
the implementation of a strategy, they can bring new approaches and come up with
innovative solutions, engaging in creative thinking to produce groundbreaking
and scientists at Bell Labs were given an unparalleled degree of freedom to
pursue personal projects. This resulted not in aimless, unproductive tinkering
or dead-end vanity projects, but in the creation of a plethora of profitable
patents and products for the organization.
afforded similar opportunities for autonomy, do the same. They produce
breakthrough designs in shorter periods of time than they do when they are being
micromanaged by clients. In-house departments at Fossil,
Starbucks, Nike, Target and Morningstar—all companies that deeply value design—are
powerhouses precisely because they are trusted to do their job with little
interference from other departments. It took perseverance, commitment and savvy
on the part of their leadership to achieve that independence, but it paid off
for both the creative teams and their companies.
courage and insight when he established a culture that allowed his team a
seemingly open-ended amount of time to pursue their projects. Although this
approach yielded amazing outcomes, few organizations have the fortitude to embrace this practice.
designers, this has necessitated sacrificing opportunities to create great
design in order to meet expedited timelines. Designers are forced to resort to “bag-of-tricks”
solutions. Admittedly, not all assignments warrant the problem definition, research
and prototyping of a truly robust iterative design process. However, there are
some projects that do. The key is to pick battles carefully, identifying the
high-profile, high-impact projects and fighting for the adequate time allotments in the project schedule.
like research scientists and engineers—they have the potential to make
significant contributions to their companies and they need flexible, nurturing
environments. Bell Labs offers a striking example of the benefits, in terms of
innovation and productivity, that organizations can reap when they find the
right people and place them in the right type of environment. The same holds
true for an in-house department. As a community, in-house designers must advocate
for precisely that combination.
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
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Matériel, Issue One