This month we debut a new category on the InSource website titled “Reading List”, where we will present to our members books that can help manage in-house businesses and lead creative teams.
The following article was excerpted and adapted from the book “The Corporate Creative: Tips and Tactics for Thriving as an In-House Designer” by Andy Epstein.
It’s All About U
Who you are, how you choose to perceive and then consequently behave in your working environment, is more important to your in-house professional success than your design skills. As a matter of fact, those attributes directly impact the quality of your design projects. If you act in a way that disrupts or subverts the collaborative process, causes your clients and managers to distrust you or your peers to avoid you, your designs will suffer.
1. It’s not good enough to be a good designer when working in-house.
As an in-house designer, you need skills that your peers in agencies and studios don’t. Given that you will most likely be frequently interfacing with non-designers on a daily basis, there are interpersonal and business communication competencies and habits that are essential to your success. Some include decent writing skills, the ability to articulate your thoughts in meetings, project management expertise and infinite patience.
2. It’s not good enough to satisfy your creative muse through the practice of design.
Don’t look to your job as a source of creative expression and fulfillment. Your job is not about being self-expressed, it is about solving problems using your craft and insights. That doesn’t mean it won’t be enjoyable, but designing certainly doesn’t scratch the same itch as painting, drawing or sculpting does.
3. It’s not good enough to coast through your job.
When your job beats you down, your clients disrespect you, you get little support from upper management and all your peers are constantly complaining, it’s easy to throw in the towel and become just another apathetic disaffected in-house designer. If you’re unfortunate enough to get to that point either quit or start taking positive action to improve your environment, otherwise you’ll end up far worse professionally, creatively and personally. There are many suggestions in this book on how to do that. There are other books, magazines and organizations poised to support you. If you act like a victim, guess what – you’ll be a victim.
4. And it’s definitely not beneficial for you to skirt the big issues regarding your career and blow off taking the time to really dig down and determine what you want in your professional life.
Most importantly, take time to figure out what your priorities are. If they’re creative freedom, peer recognition, money, flexibility and self-employment or owning your own business then the agency/studio world may be the best choice for you. If you enjoy working with multidisciplinary teams, you like financial stability, strive for a work/life balance and find fulfillment in making significant but incremental changes to an organization then in-house is for you. Don’t go through this process alone. Besides the obvious choice of working this through with your significant other it’s good to go through this exercise with a peer designer and an older experienced creative for additional perspective and insights.
There’s not a lot to elaborate on unique in-house skills you need beyond the list below. Of course different in-house teams have different staffing structures and mandates regarding services and deliverables so not all on this list may apply depending on where you work.
- You should possess:
- Strong writing skills
- Good verbal and presentation skills
- Ability to multitask
- A hide as thick as a rhino’s
- Additional digits – 12 to 15 fingers preferred to enhance keyboard skills
- An excellent, slightly sardonic, sense of humor
- Excellent organizational skills
- Ability to interface with vendors
- Ability to interface with clients (without resorting to violence)
- Infinite patience for bureaucratic exchanges
- A backbone to challenge inane or destructive corporate policies and procedures
- The perseverance of a madman
- The ability to be creative under severe compliance and marketing restraints
- A love, passion and respect for design so strong, people get caught up in your enthusiasm
Andy Epstein started his career as a freelance designer and illustrator before jumping into the world of in-house in 1992, when, as creative director, he created and grew in-house design teams for Commonwealth Toy and Gund. Later, Epstein restructured and expanded the hundred-person creative team at Bristol Myers-Squibb and consulted at Johnson & Johnson. He currently leads an in-house design team at Designer Greetings which is responsible for developing the company’s greeting card and gift wrap lines and Point Of Sale materials.
Epstein has written and spoken extensively on in-house issues, and was the co-founder of InSource, an association dedicated to providing support to in-house designers and design team managers. As head of AIGA In-house Design and editor of the HOW InHOWse blog, he is continuing his efforts to empower in-house teams and raise their stature in the design and business communities.