INitiative Panel Discussion: AIGA Dallas Fort Worth
AIGA Dallas Fort Worth, in partnership with The Creative Group, organized a panel for “INitiative Part 1,” the chapter’s first in-house event. Moderated by Lyle Miller, manager at Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s in-house creative services team, the panel featured four in-house design leaders from the community: Tammy Schriewer, art director in the global design division of Mary Kay; Joshua Ege, art director for the e-commerce design team at Fossil; Jason Puckett, art director for Cooper Aerobics; and Antimere Robinson, director of creative services at FUNimation Entertainment. The following is an edited version of the conversation, which took place at the Clampitt Creative Center in Dallas on August 20, 2012.
Lyle Miller: I’ll start things off by telling you a little bit about myself. At present, I work at DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit), where I’m the creative services manager for a department that includes copywriters, designers and print production. We have about 13 people in our group. Perhaps each of you could tell us a little bit about yourself and where you currently work in-house?
Antimere Robinson: I work at FUNimation Entertainment, where I just celebrated my 10-year anniversary. I started doing DVD menu design when we had five brands. It was a small company at that time—30 people in the corner of a building. Now we have more than 100 people and we manage more than 350 brands. So we’ve grown really quickly in 10 years time.
Tammy Schriewer: I work at Mary Kay and I’ve been there for about six years. Before that, I worked at Group Baronet, which transitioned into MasonBaronet, and prior to that, I was at a small startup ad agency. I’m in packaging, which is the last thing I thought I was going to do. In school, it was my least favorite subject, but I’ve been doing it, in some respects, for the past 12 years.
Joshua Ege: I’m an art director at Fossil on the web team. I run the fall and spring fashion season for the website, and I’m responsible for approximately 300 to 400 feature images per season. I manage a team of three to five designers each season, and I work with art directors from different groups, like catalogue and sales. We get together and come up with the concept for the season and spend six months working to realize it.
Jason Puckett: I’m an art director at Cooper Aerobics, a health and wellness company. We have seven different groups, including a fitness center, spa, clinic and corporate wellness consulting. I’ve been there for about two and a half years. Before that, I was at an agency for about three and a half years.
Miller: As a student, did you have ambitions to work in-house or for an agency? What was your first “real” job like out of school?
Puckett: When I started design school, I had no idea what the difference was between agency and in-house. I just wanted to do cool stuff. It wasn’t until I began working that I learned the difference.
Robinson: My first job out of school was actually at FUNimation. At the time, I, too, didn’t know the difference between agency and in-house. I just knew that I wanted a job! My graphic design hero is Vaughan Oliver—he designed posters and album covers for bands like The Pixies and Dead Can Dance, and I knew I wanted that. I wanted a chance to work on everything, and maybe to help the brand become famous and grow. That ended up happening naturally at FUNimation, where I work on 20 different brands every year. For a while, I was designing every DVD cover that came out of the company.
Miller: So did you feel like you had more opportunities to work on a variety of projects because you were in-house?
Robinson: Yes, because we were constantly picking up new shows and new movies to reproduce for different audiences. For a while, we were just working on Dragonball Z. You can only take so much of Dragonball Z before you want to punch yourself in the face. But then we started to get some different shows—some classic shows, some horror movies and some action shows. There are just so many different things to work on and that’s what keeps it exciting. We have the FUNimation brand, but then we also have every brand that we manage.
Schriewer: In school, like everyone else, I had no concept of the in-house versus agency world. I just wanted to work. And I ended up landing at a place that was sort of an in-house/agency hybrid. There were about eight new brands or brand extensions that came out every year, like clockwork. We named brands, came up with the logos, picked the packaging and color scheme and did everything else, all the way to point-of-sale. I have memories of working until 3:00 a.m. and thinking, “I just want to go home!” But I learned so much at that job. Even though I didn’t believe it at the time, looking back I see that it was a great opportunity to learn a little bit about everything.
Ege: I always wanted to be a designer, ever since I was eight years old. My dad was a pressman for 33 years, and so I really knew what I wanted to do. I knew I didn’t want to work in-house, but at that time I was a very naïve, young designer. I wanted to be a rock star. I was thinking, “I don’t want to work on the same stuff every day! How boring is that?” But I later re-evaluated, and it turned out that working in-house suited my life. And I’ll tell you something—at Fossil, I may start a season with a specific direction and by the end it’s totally different. I never work on the same thing over again. I never get tired because it’s constantly changing. It’s very different than working in a design studio.
Puckett: At first I was really scared about being the only art director, but I enjoyed being a jack of all trades. I’d act as our in-house photographer for small shoots and do some video, which I had experience with. There were a lot of little things that I’m able to do rather than designing all day or always working on only one project.
Miller: In your current position, do you have an agency relationship?
Robinson: At FUNimation, we don’t have any out-of-house help. The only thing that we do outside is replication of DVDs and Blu-Rays. We always try to handle everything ourselves. Even when we have too much work, I don’t want to farm it out because it’s easier to manage a designer in-house. Using someone outside seems like more work for me. I try to use the team that I have, as they understand our business.
Schriewer: I’m on the packaging side of things at Mary Kay. In our world, there are four people: two art directors, a creative director and an illustration specialist. We designers create every single design that comes out of Mary Kay packaging worldwide. We do have a production team, but we don’t use any freelancers. For the global team, there’s a lot more that’s involved, because they’re playing with even more than we are, if you can believe that.
Ege: At Fossil, we bring in creative freelance help whenever we need it, but it’s always on-site, mainly due to intellectual property issues. Aside from that, we like to do everything in-house, and our department has more than 115 creatives. We do video work and we have 15 on-site photographers that do our product photography. That said, we do hire a professional lifestyle photographer each season, and occasionally we bring in a freelance designer.
Miller: What’s your favorite project you’ve done during your in-house career?
Robinson: There’s an anime called “Neon Genesis Evangelion” that came out in the ’90s and I was a huge fan. Our company ended up buying the rights to the movies. The director went back and redid them in a four-movie installment that summarizes the 26-episode series. We’ve released two to date, and two more will be coming out. I was the lead designer on that, and it’s so cool walking through Best Buy and seeing something I made.
Ege: I have two favorites, but I can’t tell you about either one of them because they didn’t come out! I can tell you that there was a logo, and one was a homepage idea that my team worked on that we’re going to try to revive for the spring season. I’m sorry that I can’t talk about it.
Schriewer: It’s hard to pick, but one of my favorite projects was the beginning of a three-year campaign called “Your Way to Beautiful.” It was this beautiful script, and the director who shot it does all of the “I am Second” videos, so it’s really dramatic but emotional. It portrays different groups of women telling the story of what really makes them feel beautiful. I brought my then-18-month-old daughter, who got to be in this video, and I also helped create the backdrop wall. That sticks with me the most. There’s this screenshot of all these women who contributed to the video, and then there’s me and my daughter, captured in time.
Miller: I think that when we work in-house we answer to several managers, and working with marketing is a common struggle. I’m always amazed at how frequently that topic is addressed in online forums and design groups.
Robinson: Our creative and brand management teams work together. We have one brand manager and we have a team made up of an artist, a copywriter, a web lead and a professional video lead. It’s fun having one marketing person against four creative people, because sometimes they’ll gang up on that marketing person.
Ege: We have a merchandising team. They have to work with us and with the brand team to come up with a strategy of how we’re going to sell stuff, and that’s always a really interesting dynamic. For creative reasons, you may want to show one handbag on a page, but to a merchandiser, they see all this wasted space—what we call white space. It’s really a negotiation, where we get our creative freedom and they get to sell stuff. But at the end of the day, if we don’t sell stuff, I’m not working. So I like it when we sell stuff.
Puckett: At Cooper Aerobics, the marketing team is the creative team. There aren’t two battles being fought because we’re already doing it internally. But that’s because we’re small. Our team consists of five people. There are two in PR, two creatives and we all report to the VP of marketing. When projects come in, we handle them internally. I’ll go over my concepts internally and we’ll go though which one will be the best fit. Then we’ll go to the department and tell them, “This is what it’ll look like.” So the only battle we have is the content. What’s interesting about how our team works with the other departments is that, like Joshua Ege just said, it’s all about selling your products and services. We handle a range of things, from big company brochures to small promotions to internal communications, but everything uses the same creative brief, the same form to fill out.
Miller: What’s an advantage of working in-house versus an agency?
Ege: I leave on time every day. I think in my two and a half years at Fossil, I’ve stayed late three times, and one I volunteered for. That’s a far cry from what I used to do, working until 1:00 or 2:00 a.m. and being back in the office by 8:30 a.m. I think that’s a huge advantage. Fossil also has the best insurance I’ve ever had anywhere. Some of you guys are really young and that doesn’t seem to matter, but as you get older that becomes very important.
Another advantage, especially for my studio, is having 115 creatives who are all really good at what they do. You’re amongst like-minded people all of the time, and you all have the same goal: to further your brand, to further what you’re doing and to make it better. Our company is collaborative, so it’s not about getting credit. It’s about the team coming together to get something out.
Schriewer: It’s hard to pick a favorite, but one of the most exciting projects I work on at the company is very trend driven. Every six months I get to fly to New York and help develop the trend a year and a half ahead of time. Not only do I get to work on packaging, but I get to connect the dots internally. I tell them what we learned, and the other people tell the next account team what they learned, and together we contribute to see that vision through. Part of the thing that I’ll be working on in the future is how to really focus our company’s spending and the way we do trends in general, to see if there’s maybe a way to rethink that, or a better way. We’re looking for improvements all the time. That’s the fun part.
Puckett: At the agency, we’d spend all this time creating these great brands and really get people started on the right foot. We’d set them up with a logo, website, brochure and sales items. Then we’d look up their website a few months later and wonder what had happened. It was tough being so passionate about this brand we made for a company, and then to see them not realize what they had. When I started at Cooper and they were at the beginning of their rebrand, I was excited because I could help keep it going.