By Emma Sexton
With 17 years experience as an in-house design expert, I have noticed how many of these teams face similar challenges from the very organisations they sit within. It can be a frustrating partnership where neither party communicates particularly well with each other. Designers don’t understand business. Internal clients don’t understand design. This leads to the design team requests often falling into the “make it look pretty” category. The design team becomes tired of fighting their corner, and falls into the trap of being service providers, instead of consultants. But it doesn’t have to be like this. Here are my top five steps for how you can transform your in-house design team into a powerful business division.
Step 1: Quit your design jibbajabba
Designers love design, and so they should. We talk about beautiful fonts, colour palettes and imagery. This is all great—if you are a designer or have a love for design. But do you think your internal clients are even remotely interested? When sharing your design work across the business, the learned instinct is to talk about your work as you would to a design audience. The problem with this is that your internal clients don’t really care! What they want to know is how did you make their content better? How did your hard work contribute financially to the business? What value did you add to their project? Being able to articulate these points will help you to see a positive shift in the way you and your team are perceived internally.
Step 2: Design has a job to do
The brief is the most important part of the process, yet so often it is overlooked. It becomes an admin chore and even designers get bored of it. But this is because the brief is not being used in the right way and often it doesn’t even ask the right questions. Design has a job to do—other than make things look “pretty.” Shift your internal client away from telling you the details and get them to tell you what they are trying to achieve. What do they want their audience to think, do and feel? Once you know the job that design has to do, you (and your client), will have a much better idea of knowing if you have been successful—or not.
Step 3: Act like a consultant—not a service provider
A lovely quote by the late Maya Angelou says “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” It is all too easy to show your frustration or annoyance at the change of a brief, or a client not knowing what they want, but this breaks down relationships. Although you are providing a service, being able to move yourself into the position of a consultant will ensure your team can gain the respect they deserve. It is YOUR job to steer clients through the design process and enable them to get better at working with you. Solve their problems with the same passion, enthusiasm and care that you would if you were running your own design business. In time, you will see how much more you are valued and included. It takes effort (like all great things) but the results are really worth it.
Step 4: Stop being a diva
The sooner you realise that no one appreciates what you do, the better your day will become! How often have your heard designers say that if they were a plumber or a lawyer no one would question them on what they have done or how long it takes. The trouble with design is that everyone comes into contact with visual expression several times a day. High speed Internet and smart phones have put beautiful visual design into the palm of everyone’s hands. When you come into contact with something on a regular basis you have a strong opinion about it. Consider how often people get involved with plumbing or law? You see my point. By continuing to have conversations about the aesthetics of design you run into difficult territory. Who is to say you have better taste than your client? Knowing the job that design has to do and working with a clear rationale behind all of your design decisions enables you to start having strategic conversations.
Step 5: Push for collaboration
Often a business will pull in more specialist external design agencies for some of the really lovely creative projects. For some reason the in-house design team always get excluded from these projects when they can add a huge amount of brand knowledge and perspective that an external agency just cannot ever get up to speed on. Push your organisations to allow your in-house design team to collaborate more. Ask the external agency if you can join their brainstorms so you can also learn, develop and gain a fresh perspective.
About InSource Content Contributor Emma Sexton
Emma Sexton is the founder and Creative Director of Make Your Words Work™, a design company based in the United Kingdom. She also has over 16 years of graphic design experience working with brands such as Barclays, Boots, Coke, Disney, L’Oréal and Unilever.
Emma has a proven track record of leading, building and transforming creative teams into profitable and highly respected design practices. Emma created Make Your Words Work™ to enable all of her clients to use design as a powerful force within their business. In 2013 she created the first UK design industry award to recognize in-house design teams as part of the nationwide Fresh Awards.
She holds an MA in Design Management from the London College of Communication, is a trained business coach and a Director of SheSays, the largest global creative network for women.
Emma has been a winner of the Kantar Inspiration Award, WPP WPPed Cream Award and the Future 100 Award. She is featured in Ian Wharton’s book ‘Spark for the fire’ published by Harriman and recently published Challengers Almanac. You will also find her as a regular speaker at industry events and conferences globally.
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