Centaurs, RoboCop and the X-Men...

Like all characters from Greek mythology, comic books and movie sagas that combine man and animal, alien or machine, we in-house designers, though endowed with special strengths, constantly wrestle with two competing halves of our psyches. We must be intuitive yet logical, unique yet conformist, artistic yet technical. With one foot in the creative universe and the other in the world of business and finance, our workplaces demand that we be of two minds and spirits, much like those fictional counterparts.

Clearly, differing demands and an accompanying mindset can coexist—and when there is synergy between the two, amazing achievements occur. But the going can be difficult and we need specific talents, skill sets and dispositions to succeed.

Alex Murphy, aka RoboCop, woke up from surgery with superhuman, bionic appendages that were of absolutely no use to him until he could be trained in their use. Whether we've taken the design or business school route to our in-house careers, most of us need additional training for our alter egos, too. For the design grads this means taking courses in business-related disciplines. For the business majors, design classes are in order. The types of training available range from one and two day seminars to adult education classes offered by local colleges, art schools and universities. Some in-house creatives have gone back to school for graduate degrees in complimentary areas of study. Be aware that in order to capitalize on the dormant strengths you have waiting in your other half—be it the creative or the business side—without taking advantage of these many options, you will never discover your true potential in the corporate environment.

Unlike the X-Men (and women), we don't have the luxury of wallowing in a state of alienated seclusion. Anyone who thinks that in-house design allows us to hide safely behind our 20-inch monitors, avoiding the salesmen and bean counters, has been sorely misled. There are no account execs in the in-house universe. We need powerful, effective written and verbal communication skills to sell our concepts to administrative philistines, keep our non-design co-workers clear about our needs and progress, and educate upper management on the value of good design. Training and on-the-job experience contribute to our success in this area.

Human intelligence coupled with the strength of a horse made centaurs powerful creatures. But I'll bet they never had to multitask. Many in-house departments don't have a traffic manager, forcing us designers to use our right brains in the concepting and design of our projects and employ our left brains in the management of our jobs. Our responsibilities include client and vendor contact, scheduling, art directing, quoting, pre-flighting and archiving our files. In-house groups would do well to standardize and document those processes to ensure consistent performance and boost efficiency.

The off-screen technical know-how that has brought many hybrid characters to life onscreen is another prerequisite for our success in the world of corporate design. Though we're creative problem solvers who need to apply innovative solutions to difficult marketing requests, we have to master the often technologically intensive tools necessary to complete the job. Sorry to sound like a broken MP3 player, but training is paramount. We all need to stay current on the software and hardware we use to do our jobs.

Finally, let's address the angst that afflicts our fictional peers. Give it up. It may make for good literature, but it has no place in the corporate marketplace. A good attitude is often cited by upper management as more important than talent. We need to maintain a positive, professional and supportive persona. Believe me, we'll all have more fun and create better work if we opt for the relatively stable Superman alter ego. Batman never got the girl, and who wants to live in a cave anyway?

About the Author:

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 business communities.