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In-house designers fill a unique role within their organizations. Regular collaboration with a variety of departments offers a well-rounded view of the needs and opportunities that exist. The ability to apply the design process and design thinking to non-design problems means the opportunity to make a much bigger contribution. By building relationships and regularly using their unique skills and knowledge, in-house designers are in an excellent position to effect positive change within their organizations.
As an in-house designer, you may find yourself working directly with higher-ups or even the owner of the company. This is a great opportunity to get to know them, ask questions and, in a respectful way, make suggestions. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind, especially when asked. Present your point of view from a positive place—a place of opportunity—being careful not to complain. Decision-makers are often interested to know what their employees really think, and if you cultivate a relationship, they may even seek you out when they’re in need of an alternate point of view.
Oftentimes, in-house designers’ most frequent professional collaborators are non-creatives from other departments. Becoming familiar with other parts of the business is not only an educational experience but gives you the breadth of knowledge and awareness needed to be a true problem solver. Look deeper and think bigger: take into consideration the broader goals of an initiative and the impact it could have on the organization as a whole. Use this information to make suggestions, present options and tailor your design solutions to exceed the expectations of the brief.
In-house designers are often asked to work on non-design projects. This presents a wonderful opportunity to stretch your strategic thinking skills and demonstrate the value of design thinking. The ability to generate multiple viable solutions to a problem is something we, as designers, do inherently—and something we can easily translate to non-design situations. Using these skills, especially on cross-functional projects, will make colleagues see you as a go-to problem solver. What better way to demonstrate the unique value a designer brings to the table?
This knowledge gives in-house designers the ability to make informed judgments about what needs to change and what will stand the test of time. By developing a sixth sense about what “feels right” and what “feels wrong” in terms of the brand, you can become a respected adviser to others in the organization. Consider yourself a “brand ambassador” who is always working to protect the integrity of the brand and make the necessary improvements to stand out in the crowd.
Not every organization has a culture that embraces change. But, as designers, we are often advocates for change, knowing that its effects can alter the course of a company for the better. Don’t get frustrated by those who fear it! Instead, help everyone see the benefits and opportunities that change can bring. This may mean making a mock-up, even if your collaborator is initially resistant, or self-initiating a project you think could make a real difference. Through support and patience, you can help others in your organization see that change and evolution are only natural and participate in driving the process.
I am president of the AIGA Detroit chapter. I currently teach design and typography at Michigan State University while growing a solo practice under the name Parker Grey.
Previously, I worked in-house for the largest independent furniture retailer in the US, providing creative direction to a cross-functional team of architects, interior designers and graphic designers in the development of new retail stores.
AIGA has partnered with The Creative Group (TCG) to create “INitiative,” a national program to help in-house designers make a greater impact at their companies, evolve
professionally and connect with a broader network of peers.
Section: Tools and Resources -
in-house issues, INitiative
If instances of self-questioning about working in-house become a catalyst for self-doubt, why not redirect some of that energy toward constructive self-evaluation? We can’t count on having control over everything that affects our design careers, but we can establish focus, build accountability and develop a newfound sense of assurance about our professional trajectory in-house.
Section: Tools and Resources
Is design inherently unreasonable? Momus goes looking for the answer in a capital of culture.
Section: Inspiration -
design thinking, Voice
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