INspirational and INformative: An In-house Summer Reading List

Because so many in-house creatives didn't receive training in school on how to prepare for working in a corporate environment, they may require additional resources to help grow and develop their unique skills. If you’re an in-house designer preparing for a summer trip or planning to devote some time to professional development in the near future, we’ve prepared a few recommendations for good reads.

The books on this list cover topics such as communication and analytical and integration skills—skills that are critical to an in-house designer’s success. They also examine various business, organizational and cultural paradigms that give creatives a powerful new context to work within. Despite the fact that these subjects might seem somewhat dry, all of these books are written in an engaging style. And while they don’t come with much in the way of eye candy, they’re chock-full of real-world stories that are especially relevant to in-house designers.


Culturematic by Grant McCracken

Epstein_Summer-Reading-List_CulturematicAnyone who’s seen Grant McCracken present at prior AIGA conferences or read his book Chief Culture Officer (2009) knows that he is a business thought leader and a powerful advocate of design and designers.

Culturematic continues that advocacy, offering a double benefit to designers. First, it provides insight into the way that trends are currently manufactured in our culture, giving anyone working within an organization the tools to leverage these occurrences in their own company’s marketing efforts. The book also documents a process for creating trends that can be replicated by in-house designers.



Connecting Across Differences by Jane Marantz Connor and Dian Killian

Epstein_Summer-Reading-List_ConnectingThe title alone is a dead giveaway about the value this book will provide to in-house designers, especially those who find themselves working in left-brain dominated organizations. Jane Marantz Connor and Dian Killian outline an effective style of communication that helps bridge collaborative gaps—gaps that are a product of cultural, philosophical and cognitive disconnects. They propose “non-violent communication” (recently, and more accurately, renamed “collaborative communication”) as an effective way to building relationships with non-designer business colleagues.

The book provides exercises, role-plays and activities that give designers an opportunity to immediately apply new concepts to real-life experiences.


Succeeding When You’re Supposed to Fail by Rom Brafman

Epstein_Summer-Reading-List_Succeeding WhenAlthough not every in-house creative encounters adversity within his or her organization, I bet that most do. Inspirational and informative, Rom Brafman’s book provides real-world examples of individuals who have overcome extremely difficult circumstances. Succeeding When You’re Supposed to Fail isn’t just anecdotal; it details the science behind the phenomena and provides actionable ways for individuals to adopt the necessary behaviors and mindsets to successfully address difficult challenges.

In particular, Brafman addresses two topics that are crucial for in-house designers: fundamental business paradigms that must be embraced and internalized in order to succeed on the job, and, more importantly, how in-house designers can use this knowledge to bring about change within their own organization.


Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Epstein_Summer-Reading-List_SwitchWith this bestseller, Chip and Dan Heath have crafted an engaging manual on how to successfully effect change. This is a key aptitude for in-house designers whose teams aren’t necessarily well positioned within their organizations or properly resourced and structured for success.

Employing powerful stories to illustrate the basic tenets of successful change initiatives, the Heath brothers consistently focus on the need to appeal to people’s emotions (“the elephant”), as well as their intellect and logic (“the rider”). Precisely how to do this is carefully and methodically covered in Switch. If you read it, the biggest change will be within yourself.


The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

Epstein_Summer-Reading-List_Five DysfunctionsI recommend this book for in-house designers who must work in groups or deal with corporate politics and turf wars (which is pretty much everyone).

In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni looks at the hurdles we face when working with our peers in a corporate setting. He then explores how to best address those challenges by setting up an engaging fictitious scenario. The result is something that reads more like a novel than a management tome.

Interwoven into the dramatic narrative are definitions of the five dysfunctions and advice on how to address them. Lencioni’s recommendations are practical and actionable, so you’ll finish the book with some real-world tactics for establishing powerful baselines for team dynamics that will set you, your team, your clients and your company up for success.

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.