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Many in-house designers are not proud to say where they work—but why? As an in-house
designer, I don’t believe the design industry at large makes us feel this way.
I propose this frame of mind is mostly of our own creation. By making a few
simple tweaks to the way we talk about and view our work, we in-house designers
have the ability to transcend this self-imposed “in-house embarrassment” factor
and give ourselves the respect we deserve.
For the past
five years, I’ve worked in-house for a Midwestern furniture retailer. Five
years is a significant amount of time when you consider that—for the majority
of it—I’ve experienced in-house embarrassment and struggled to talk with confidence about
where I work. It became my default response to say, “I work as
an in-house designer…but it’s really just temporary until [insert clause about perceived
more desirable experience here].” How awful! And so pointless.
Over time, as
I’ve grown in my career, I’ve come to realize that my sense of shame stemmed from
three main delusions. I’ve also learned, through experience, how to overcome each
delusion by being honest with myself and shifting my perspective. Here’s how I
The fact is, as a designer and leader within an in-house team, there exists a real opportunity
to effect change inside your organization. In reality, the projects I get to
work on are varied. They often require travel for research, and they afford me a fair
amount of creative freedom. Every day I get to go to work and make design
decisions that—little by little—transcend the current aesthetics and brand
positioning of the company. Being a driver of this evolution can be pretty
It’s sometimes helpful to remember that an organization that chooses to have an in-house design team must inherently value the
power of design. Looking at your situation from that perspective can really
This is a
classic case of “the grass is always greener.” Unless these firms and agencies
are designing exclusively for globetrotting “artist-preneur” bloggers with
unlimited budgets, offer complete creative freedom and have no deadlines, I sincerely
doubt I would be working solely for my dream client 100 percent of the time. In-house,
I’ve learned to focus on each project for what it is, and I’ve learned that true
creativity can come from working within
brand parameters and learning when and how to push the limits.
I’ve also made
a simple change in the way I answer when people ask, “Where do you work?” Instead
of just mumbling the name of my workplace, I’ll say, “I’m working on [insert
exciting project description here] in-house for [insert name of company here].”
Not only do I get excited when I talk about something I feel passionate about, but doing so gives people insight into some of the
amazing opportunities that working in-house can provide—and instantly dissolves my
in-house designers are sometimes underrepresented in the spotlight (and even within
the membership of AIGA), I think it’s easy to buy into this fallacy. But the
truth is that in-house designers represent 60 percent of all designers nationwide.
Sixty percent. You’d better believe
that there are people within this majority that are every bit as motivated, inspired
and talented as anyone else in our industry.
It is, therefore,
even more important for us in-house designers to get involved. The sense of
community that comes from participating in a professional organization,
networking with industry peers and striving for continued education and
exposure is what will ultimately keep our personal fires lit—and bring in-house
designers to the fore, where we belong.
I am president of the AIGA Detroit chapter. I am currently persuing an MFA in 2D Design at Cranbrook Academy of Art while growing a solo practice under the name Parker Grey.
Previously, I taught graphic design and typography at Michigan State University. I have also 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 and private label branding.
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Richard Danne is recognized with a 2014 AIGA Medal for elegant, effective design for corporate and cultural contexts and for sustaining a decades-long commitment to strengthening the design community.
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