A graphic designer has three career paths to follow, the freelancer, the agency designer and the in-house designer. Throughout your design career, you may get the opportunity to test out all three and hopefully find the right fit for you. Whichever design path you choose, you can bet there will be challenges as well as rewards. My in-house design experience has shown me that if you can see your challenges as opportunities, you’ll have fulfillment and success. But, isn’t that true about life in general.
Overcoming the Stigma
One challenge I have encountered throughout my in-house design career is a stigma that in-house designers are not as creative or on the cutting edge as agency or freelance designers. Well in my biased opinion, this is far from fact. This common misconception in the Graphic Design industry is one that I hope to dispel. Companies with internal design teams will often perpetuate this myth by handing off the “cool” projects to design firms instead of their own internal staff of creatives. And if I’m being perfectly honest, I have felt that disappointment on occasion. “Always a Bridesmaid, but never a Bride,” said best by Bugs Bunny really sums up the feeling. If it happens to you, don’t get discouraged, make the most of every project that comes your way and it will be noticed. The dollars spent on outsourcing creative talent will start to seem an unnecessary expense.
Another challenge in-house designers experience is… your client is just down the hall. That “just down the hall” access can be so convenient that it allows for pop in meetings and last minute revisions. On the flip side, the designer has that same access to the client. It can be a luxury to get answers and final approvals quickly when deadlines are tight. Another benefit to mention, internal clients are also your co-workers. You’re on the same team, reaching the same goals. Again, where one might see client access as a negative, I find it to be a real asset.
Keeping a Creative Edge
Maintaining a creative edge can be a challenge for designers everywhere. Agencies and freelancers both must push the creative boundaries visually and technically in order to stay competitive. The in-house designer may not feel as much pressure to compete outwardly. Their challenge exists internally: within the company who employs them and within themselves. It can be a hard sell for some in-house design departments to justify the expenses of maintaining a successful creative team. It requires an investment to keep a team trained and set up with the latest equipment and software. To stay ahead of the curve, it is imperative for each designer to fan that creative flame within themselves through training and engagement with other designers.
Lack of Variety
There are no doubt agencies and freelancers have more variation in their design portfolios. Creating for multiple brands versus designing for only one company’s brand can seem monotonous for a designer, who by nature is inspired by diversity. What these groups don’t have that in-house designers have is true brand awareness. A deep understanding of the brand that is entrusted to them with more opportunity to speak into the marketing plan. True creative growth happens when a designer must continually find new ways to successfully market their company’s brand.
A graphic designer, whether working in-house, at an agency, or freelancing, has a pretty awesome career. Challenges and rewards exist in every design path. The difficulties we face as in-house designers, I feel are far outweighed by the benefits. In-house designers get all the perks that come with working within a larger corporation. Health insurance, 401K matches, bonuses and a dedicated IT department just to name a few. More companies are seeing the value an internal creative team can bring to their marketing and sales endeavors. The in-house designer that develops a broader understanding of their company and its brand will quickly become a valued asset bringing them more creative freedom.