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Ed. note: This article was originally published on HOW’s InHOWse blog and has been modified slightly for this forum.
Defining the business relationships that in-house designers
have with their companies is an often ignored but absolutely essential exercise
for in-house groups. Lack of clarity (and documentation) about an individual
designer’s or design manager’s responsibilities, performance, hours, vacation,
pay, benefits, opportunities for advancement, etc., can and will quickly lead
to frustration, disillusionment and bad morale in a creative team—even if it’s
only a team of one.
The clearest way to view the relationship between in-house
designers and the companies for which they work is as a contractual agreement.
The designer commits to providing agreed-upon services at an agreed-upon level
of quality, and the company commits to providing specific benefits and
compensation. This quid pro quo mind-set puts the business relationship
in a context that avoids all the emotional mess around the questions of
loyalty, fairness and exploitation.
Pretty simple in theory but not so in practice. Often,
designers walk into jobs without having been given a position description, a
list of performance expectations, a career path or an org chart that shows where
they live in the corporate hierarchy. They don’t have a true sense of how much,
if any, overtime they’re expected to put in and how they’ll be compensated for
that OT. Are there periods when, because of their company’s business cycles,
they won’t be allowed to take vacation? What are the metrics their performance
will be assessed by? When will they be assessed?
It’s in a designer’s best interest when interviewing for a
job at a corporation to have these questions answered. Hopefully the hiring
company has done due diligence and can proactively address these issues. If
not, the candidate should not be shy about gaining clarity on the business
relationship they’ll be entering into. If a designer is already working at a
company, and that organization has not provided them with clear documentation
on the agreement they've entered into, then they should request it. This way,
they will know what is expected of them now and also what they need to do to
move up into higher level positions should they desire to do so.
It is also critical for in-house managers to define working
agreements for the other designers within their department, and if that hasn’t
already happened, to develop those right away. In addition to creating
descriptions for all the positions on their team, managers should document
salaries associated with those positions, routes for career advancement,
reporting structures and performance metrics.
Once the documentation is completed, the in-house manager
should review them individually with the entire team so everyone is on the same
page. Staff should have an opportunity in these one-on-one reviews of the
contract to bring up any concerns and the managers should resolve those
Whether the in-house team is a department of one or one
hundred, clearly defining roles, hierarchies, compensation and career paths
will empower all of the organizational players to quickly resolve any
conflicts, confusion or upset around responsibilities, expectations and
fairness. This will help to create a culture that allows in-house designers to
stay focused on providing great design and design strategy to their company.
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
At Pentagram Julia Hoffmann designed for renowned clients including The Metropolitan Opera in New York. Then as art director for Crispin Porter + Bogusky, she worked for powerhouses like Burger King. Still, since joining MoMA in 2008, she believes that “in-house design studios are the future of successful branding.” In this interview, learn why.
Section: Inspiration -
INitiative, branding, 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.
Section: Tools and Resources -
INitiative, in-house design
Serving your company’s needs shouldn’t be a bad thing. Epstein urges in-house design teams to adopt a more positive outlook on the “S” word.
AIGA members have opportunities to learn new skills, get advice on
pressing career questions, hear insights from industry leaders and learn
how to manage more effectively. Find out more about exclusive webinars, workshops, certificate courses and conferences.
Section: Tools and Resources -
professional development, design educators, students
Design Jobs is an exclusive job board for AIGA members. Look here to find your next design job—or design hire!
Section: Tools and Resources -
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