I am an in-house designer, going on five years strong at my current position and loving the independence and variety of the creative projects that come with the territory. Through my travels to design conferences over the years, I’ve run into only a handful of in-house designers, and it’s a common dilemma in finding a way to relate to the various speakers and workshops. Sometimes you want to hear stories that hit closer to home and are inspiring beyond visual success, conquering the challenges one faces daily. Like many other in-house creatives, I’ve often felt the secondary nature of in-house versus agency, so you can imagine the thrill of entering a room of 120+ designers and knowing they were all lone wolves, or at least members of a small pack, like myself. We’re not talking simple design inspiration, we’re talking a sense of real belonging and camaraderie. AIGA Houston’s Inside Job was an excellent experience, providing just that.
Inside Job 2013
The event kicked off with a casual, networking pre-party at a local establishment known as The Flat (somewhat akin to our very own Bridge Lounge). After securing a cocktail and the ever-present “Hi-my-name-is” nametag, I was off to chat up a few locals and see what this chapter and event had to offer. It didn’t take long to establish that many of the issues I dealt with daily transcended the industry I had found a home in. I had the chance to compare notes with a variety of in-house creatives ranging from the sole designer at a religious-based non-profit to the creative director of a large team at a prominent oil company. It didn’t talk long for it to become glaringly clear to all of us that in-house designers regardless of their industry are constantly looking for answers to the same questions – such as, who is the real client, how do you make your voice heard from within the system, and how do you assign a value to your services that everyone can understand.
Inside the Day
Throughout the next day, this experience moved from a general sense of commonality to the real nuts and bolts of how in-house creatives can improve upon the systems they are working within. Jackie Schaffer, General Manager/VP at Cella, discussed the delicacy of positioning creatives for success and how their business operations team worked to support and create a working project management system for both their in-house team and “clients” that helped their creatives win. Then Claudia De Almeida of Wired Magazine delved into her personal history and career narrative of how she arrived at the in-house position of magazine designer. With every speaker, the stories unfolded of how they had found themselves happy and flourishing in an in-house environment. Several speakers confirmed that none of them originally intended to work in-house, but they all followed opportunity, made practical decisions about their quality of life, and sought a different creative environment, forgoing the traditional route. No one was aiming for a slot at Pentagram or to be the next Bruce Mau. These folks had found that designing from within created a very different set of parameters and this alternate paradigm of creativity inherently required efficiency, community, and design with intention.
I spent my lunch in a group discussion on Managing Digital Media & Brand Assets, learning about technologies that could help streamline brand guideline adherence, such as Dropbox for the most up-to-date branding guidelines and versions. We began to wrap up the day with Robin Tooms on her outsider POV and tips for tying your work to metrics for trackable progress. The final featured speaker was Allen Peters, Associate Creative Director at Target. I can honestly say that after hearing the beautiful story he told with the excitement of love of brand that he exudes, I will never look at a simple Target ad the same again. After all, that is the beauty of in-house design that keeps many of us, particularly myself, going year after year. When you design from within the machine, there is no sending the files and waiting for the client to return with the next project. You are right there for the implementation and the subsequent success or failure of the project. You are part of the pivotal strategic design success or failure within the company.
Want to talk about In-House Design?
It is an exciting time to be in-house designer. Did you know that 60% of the graphic design profession is made up of in-house positions? Designers are recognizing their power, and nothing will teach you how to navigate and thrive in the new intimacy that design and business now share better than working along side people from all trades and certifications towards a common goal.
Magen Raine Massey current serves the New Orleans creative community as the AIGA New Orleans Vice President and In-House Development Director. By day she works in-house as the Communications Design Manager at Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, a nationally-acclaimed architecture firm in New Orleans. She loves in-house design, both for the variety and challenges that come with it.