Working as an in-house designer


Working as an in-house designer
There was a time when being an in-house designer was seen as a less aspirational role than being an agency designer. However the rise of companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter here in San Francisco the pendulum has definitely swung the other way. 

Having worked as both an agency and in-house creative I thought I would write about the pros and cons of the latter – everything mentioned below is something I have done at some point…


Hipsters now have more time to be hip
The Pros and Cons of in-house design teams
First let’s take a look at the to different worlds to see how they are both different:
Much closer to the decision making process and being relevant
Much better work/life balance (hence the rise of Hipster hobbies) 
– No need to work late nights and weekends on pitches 
– Closer to the brand with a more in-depth understanding of it
Often no need to track time/billable hours
Internal teams often ignore proper creative briefs and process 
Lack of variety in creative work
Google’s rebranding stayed in house and was driven by technology as much as design
Staying creative within established brand guidelines
When you line up the Pros like that it can be easy to see why in-house design teams are becoming increasingly popular as a career choice for designers. However with just one brand to work on your creative horizons can narrow very fast. So what should you do to keep the creative juices going?
Hire people with skills that complement your team’s skills
– Keep trying to push the brand in new ways yet stay true to its core principles
– Study other brands that have adapted in creative ways
Attend AIGA events, Meet-Ups and Creative Mornings
– Expose yourself to other designers and ideas
Enter your work into design competitions
Do volunteer design work for a non profit like as 826 Valencia

– Read design blogs (hey, what a great idea)


three hipsters
“We’re from the agency”
How to prevent creative work going outside the company
Unfortunately most in-house creative teams have experienced the anguish of design work, especially a brand redesign, going outside the company. This usually occurs because the internal team is repeatedly told to stay within the brand guidelines until everyone thinks that’s all they can do. 
To avoid this happening an in-house team needs to:
– Create great work from the start
Be prepared to go the extra mile as agencies work late nights and weekends
Know how your work will be measured as successful e.g. money, clicks, etc
– Wine and dine the various VPs who approve creative work or else agencies will
– Understand the various approvers’ needs first before yours
– Itemize the cost of sending work out to an agency as this may shock VPs
– Always make the CMO look good


Talk internally about your team’s design work as often as possible
How to make your in-house design team thrive 
The success or failure of any in-house design team may often rest on how good it’s members are at articulating how much business value it can bring to the rest of the company. It’s not just dollars saved but more intangible things like making the brand look good compared to competitors or delivering a beautiful keynote for the CEO to present. 
Making it work:
Find channels to advocate for your in-house team
– Do VPs/approvers design favors e.g. something for their non profit 
– Ask if other teams need design work done
– Get your work/team mentioned in the company all hands 
Ask to pitch against the agency if work is being sent outside the company

– Bottom line: do good work


Concept boards from Clorox Digital Labs
In-house agencies
Increasingly something halfway between being an in-house design team and an agency design team has been emerging: the in-house agency. A great example of which is the Clorox Digital Labs but there are many more in the appearing in larger companies.
How do you build your in-house agency:
Hire people who have worked in agencies
Make everyone follow a creative process with briefs (which meet resistance at first).
Provide good customer service: more important than the designs for approvers
Don’t get complacent about working on just one brand
– Bottom line: doing good work is still the most important part





With this new paradigm of in-house agencies being much more creative and cost effective it’s the best of both worlds for everyone involved. Even Apple has recently moved it’s ad campaigns internally – a big step for them after the groundbreaking Think Different and iPod campaigns. In fact the best example I experienced of an in-house agency in my career was when I worked at an online publisher which also had external clients. It was wonderfully ever changing.


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