Julia Hoffmann was the lead designer on the award-winning bestseller The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents America (The Book). Then she became art director for Crispin Porter +
Bogusky, where she worked on interactive for powerhouses
like Burger King. Still, since joining MoMA in 2008 as its creative director of
advertising and graphic design, she believes that “in-house design studios are
the future of successful branding.” In this interview, Julia talks to Andy Epstein about why.
You’ve worked at both
agencies and within in-house groups. What differences have you noticed between
A few things.
Working in-house eliminates the individual ego. You are suddenly
part of a group and, as a result, must take into consideration the bigger
picture. To some extent, you are your own client, whom you truly care about—at
MoMA, we’re both working for and at a museum we love. Conversely, working at an
agency, you quickly dive in and out of a project, it’s fast and intense, and
then you move on to other projects and clients, whether that first project
failed or succeeded. You’re always competing with your peers and wanting to be
the winner. On an in-house team, everyone is in the same boat for the long run;
other departments become your clients and your collaborators. This lack of
competition is maybe a letdown for young in-house designers, because the early stage of a designer’s career is all about
experimenting and figuring out their own style, flexing different kinds of
muscles, not necessarily following one brand’s guidelines and speaking the same
language every day. That’s why it’s so important to keep things fresh in-house,
to keep evolving our language and tackling new challenges.
The working hours are another
difference. You can plan ahead better since you know what’s coming months and
years ahead of time. There are not as many last-minute pitches that force you
to stay late and come in on weekends. On the flip side, the budget always
stays the same, and there is rarely downtime.
An on an in-house team, most of
the projects you work on actually get made.
You’re also the vice
president of the AIGA/NY chapter. Based on that role, what’s your perspective on how in-house design and designers
are perceived by the greater design community, and what opportunities do you
see for in-house designers within that larger community?
Since I began
working for MoMA in 2008, my opinion about in-house design studios has done a
180. I now believe in-house design studios are the future of successful
branding. Working on identity designs at Pentagram, I witnessed all too often
how the redesign wasn’t as well implemented by the in-house design team, or how
it would start to fall apart after a year. The key for a strong brand is not
only about hiring a great outside agency, but also about having a strong
in-house team who knows and cares about the brand and won’t leave it hanging
out to dry after the real work begins. It’s a pity that in-house design studios
are still mistakenly regarded as boring. As the VP of the AIGA/NY chapter, I’m
trying to change this perception. We started an annual in-house design event
where we invite three successful design teams onstage to show the audience what
they’re working on (and inevitably wow them). At MoMA, we launched a website to show off what we do
(obviously, not to attract new clients). A great amount of the feedback we’ve
received has been very positive, with many people expressing how they had no
idea what a wide scope of work we do. I hope other in-house design studios
follow suit, showing other designers, and the design community, how their
studios also produce lots of great work they’re very proud of.
What are some of the design and strategic opportunities you’re
currently exploring at MoMA?
established a strong visual voice for MoMA over the past three years, I am now
seeking to define MoMA’s general voice. As a non-native English speaker, I am
always more comfortable with visuals than words, which makes this mission a
challenge for me, but we have a great copywriter on staff as well as several
designers who are also terrific wordsmiths, so I am very confident we can
tackle it in-house as well.
am also very interested in how we can re-package MoMA’s amazing, and amazingly
vast, content across different kinds of platforms without watering down our
visual brand. What comes to mind is the MoMA iPad app we created
with the interactive marketing agency Deep Focus for the Abstract Expressionist
exhibition last year, and a new kids’ app based on
an educational lab that will be launching in 2012. I deeply enjoy seeing
our graphics extend across different mediums. One of our goals is to create a
more cohesive and integrated brand identity that can work across many different
What should we be on the
just launched, with the help of the digital media company Makeable, the interactive
version of our “I went to MoMA and...” campaign.
How do you stay inspired working for a single client, and how do you keep your team inspired and
I had the fear
of possibly growing tired of the MoMA brand before I started, but fortunately,
the diversity of almost every project keeps things fresh. We have approximately
40 different exhibitions a year, so it rarely feels like Groundhog Day around
here. The curators and artists are incredibly different from each other. It’s
impossible not to be inspired by all the amazing artists and their work.
However, we did start some self-initiated projects to keep us on our toes.
There is nothing worse than feeling repetitive.
And as all in-house creative
directors do, you sometimes partner with outside firms on projects. How
has that gone and can you share some insights on that type of partnership?
for and with art is a slippery slope. There is a very fine line between art and
commerce that some outside agencies don’t know how to deal with when working
with us at first. That said, it’s important for us to get an outside
perspective once in a while, to see the full picture and to stay fresh. It’s
challenging for both us and them because MoMA has very high standards. Usually
creatives want to be the creative ones, and don’t realize how at MoMA they can
start to compete with the art itself; they’re quickly forced to realize
outdoing Picasso just isn’t going to happen, and rather, dialing back and
letting the art speak for itself is the answer.
At MoMA most of
your design peers are women, but I’m guessing that hasn’t always been the case.
To wrap up, I’m curious to know if, based on your experience working closely with
both men and women, as colleagues and clients, do you see a difference in their
collaborative and management styles?
I think it’s
mainly a question of personality, culture and style. I’ve worked with both
women and men whom I could easily apply opposite stereotypes to. I have
noticed a slight, perhaps more traditionally stereotypical difference, though:
Women tend to be more sensitive and cautious, and often take things to heart,
while men often stay more focused on a project and can detach themselves from
the sometimes tumultuous creative process more easily. Each of these qualities
have their pros and cons, and are equally important traits for members of a
team to have. Growing up with three brothers, I always considered myself
more comfortable collaborating with men, but that’s changed over time,
especially at MoMA, where I work closely with terrific women I look up to.
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
Learn new skills, get career advice from design leaders, and learn how to manage effectively with webinars, workshops, and more from AIGA.
Section: Tools and Resources -
professional development, design educators, students, Professional Development
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.
Section: Tools and Resources -
in-house design, INitiative
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.
No business thought leader has advocated more for the
design profession than Dan Pink. His books have consistently encouraged those in the
business world 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. In this interview, Dan provides insights on issues unique to the in-house design community.
Section: Inspiration -
in-house design, INitiative
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