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No business thought leader has advocated more for the
design profession than Dan Pink. His books have consistently encouraged those in the
business community to not only value and nurture their own innovative and
creative sides but to seek out and empower the right-brain individuals in their
companies. This interview provided INitiative an opportunity to elicit Dan’s
insights on issues unique to the in-house design community.
In A Whole New Mind you
suggest to left-brain thinkers that they consider adopting a more creative mind-set.
What advice could you offer right-brain in-house designers about how to better
integrate themselves into a corporate environment and become agents for
Learn to speak the language of business—which often
involves numbers. The only way to persuade people is to speak to them in their
own language. Every time I talk to design students, I tell them, “You're not
allowed to run screaming from the room when somebody puts a number on the
board. You don’t have to be a math genius. But you need to be numerate.”
books have clearly had an impact on the business community and, specifically,
many C-suite executives, but what we’re seeing at AIGA is that the your
advocacy for design thinking and the innovative culture it embodies doesn’t
seem to have trickled down to the level where it would actually be practiced.
Have you noticed this disconnect and do you believe corporate culture is
evolving and, if so, how?
That's an interesting observation. Part of it might say
something about our times. For the last couple of years, people have been so
focused on survival—of keeping the company intact and their jobs alive—that
design thinking has become a second-order concern. But I’ve generally found
people on the front lines, assuming they have a modicum of job security, pretty
keen on doing new things new ways.
of your earlier books, Free
Agent Nation, examines the phenomenon of contract workers that has
greatly impacted the in-house design community. More and more, corporate
creatives are working on-site at companies as full-time freelancers and
consultants. Since the publication of the book, what have you noticed about
this trend, and could you offer insights about its future implications for
One of the biggest changes that I’ve seen since writing FAN is the blurred boundary between
who’s a free agent and who’s an employee. More and more risk is shifting to
individuals, even individuals who get W-2s. They’ve got 401ks rather than
traditional pensions. They’re paying a much larger share of their health insurance
and medical costs. They don’t expect to be with employers forever. They’re in
charge of their own professional development. That makes them quite free agent-like in spirit—if not under
U.S. labor law and the IRS tax code. What’s more, I see more and more people
moving across the borders of Free Agent Nation and Corporate America with
considerable ease. It’s almost as
if people have become dual citizens. In some ways, that means in-house
designers need to treat their company less like a boss and more like a client.
Instead of hitching one’s fortunes entirely to a particular job, it’s better to
see one’s work as part of a portfolio of assignments. At the same time,
employers should offer in-house designers many of the same things they offer
freelancers—that is, they should simulate inside the organizations the
conditions for what it would be like to work outside the organization.
seem to have always relied on the third intrinsic motivator (working for the
sheer pleasure of it) you discuss in your most recent book, Drive,
for their professional, and even personal, fulfillment, yet the businesses for
which they work often unintentionally sabotage this dynamic. What might
corporate creatives do to insulate themselves from and counter corporate
They should look for ways to notch up, where possible,
their own autonomy. So if they’ve got a chance to have a little more control
over when they work, what they work on, and who they work with, they should
grab it. Many practices inside of companies demotivate because they’re forms of
control. Autonomy is the antidote. Also, the more individuals are able to set
their own goals and get their own feedback, the better they’ll usually perform.
So don’t wait around for an annual performance review. Instead, do your own
performance review. At the beginning of the month, set out your goals. Then at
the end of the month, sit down and give yourself an assessment. Where are you
making progress? Where are you falling behind? What tools or information are you
missing? On a daily level, I’ve also grown fond of idonethis.com, which
sends you an email every day that you respond to with, yep, what you got done
in the design community are just now exploring the thought leadership you and
your like-minded colleagues are offering. What books, magazines and online
content would you recommend they explore?
Two of my favorite business books
this year are The
Progress Principle by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer and Great
by Choice by Jim Collins. Both offer some excellent insights for
designers—but from a very hard-headed empirical perspective. On magazines, I
subscribe to maybe 40—but the ones I actually read regularly are The New
Yorker, Wired, The Week, Dwell, Macworld and Sports Illustrated.
(Conclude from that list what you will!) Online, designers can glean lots of
insights from Ted.com, Springwise.com and BigThink.com.
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
In part one of a three-part conversation, Bob Calvano, creative director of Merck’s full service in-house agency, describes how he’s carving out spots for his team to play a bigger role in the company.
Section: Tools and Resources -
INitiative, advertising, in-house design, studio management
In-house designers are at risk of being just different enough to be misunderstood, undervalued and marginalized by both the business and design communities. Shame on us, though, if we let that happen, says veteran in-house design manager Andy Epstein, who outlines how to use outsider status as an advantage.
Section: Tools and Resources -
INitiative, in-house design
Sam Harrison, author of IdeaSelling, describes what he calls the tyranny of low expectations—when employees gradually lose their incentive to generate fresh ideas because they anticipate rejection. That mind-set is the death of creativity, and why it’s critical for in-house designers to tweak their selling techniques to get, and start to expect, more wins. Here are five tips.
Drawing from more than two decades of experience working on issues related to communication and culture, brand diplomat Christopher Liechty proposes a “third culture approach” for in-house creatives challenged to bridge the culture gap between themselves and their business colleagues—who sometimes seem as if the come from another planet.
Section: Tools and Resources
The principal of CO:LAB shares how this brand strategy and design firm aligns what is work with what is meaningful—and how you can, too.
Section: Why Design -
Design for Good, social responsibility
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