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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
To commemorate AIGA’s 100th anniversary,
we asked design leaders, thinkers, and practitioners to reflect on
the past, present and future of the industry in short personal
essays that we’ll publish over the remainder of the year as part of our
Section: Inspiration -
Celebration, personal essay
Thoughts on Design: Paul Rand on Beauty, Simplicity, the Power of Symbols, and Why Idealism Is Essential in Creative Work
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