I have been an in-house designer for 13 years. I have worked for giant corporations like the Walt Disney Company with thousands of cast members all the way down to tiny one-room nonprofits with a staff of less than 20, and everything in between. I have a pretty well rounded view of what is expected of in-house designers in all sorts of work environments. In-house designers are very common but they don't often get the spotlight in the design industry that they deserve for the immense impact their positions make. They tend to give less keynote presentations at design conferences, their work isn't often considered groundbreaking or industry-leading, and they get a bad wrap for being an undesirable position that is hindered by corporate/bureaucratic red tape. But what isn't seen is the innovation, passion, and the ability to fulfill needs that come up everyday. They keep the businesses and nonprofits they work for professional looking to the public every single day. That is a HUGE impact for every single industry in existence. No matter how thorough a branding campaign is, there are always new needs that have to be fulfilled daily. I would love every design student and emerging designer to seriously consider going the in-house route with their career and here is why:
1. Necessity Is The Mother Of All Invention
So often the greatest use of creativity is being resourceful not extravagant. Limitations can prove just how creative you really are. When you work in-house, very often, there is limited time, budget, and resources on a scale that creative agencies refuse to even work with. If you don't have a huge agency to back you up, you know your accomplishments relied on your own ability. It is truly satisfying to know what you are capable of. Not what an entire agency is capable of.
2. You're A Jack Of All Trades
When you work as an in-house designer you often get 'other duties as assigned.’ Meaning you will most likely get to fill gaps where you can be helpful. It can recharge your creative juices to do something completely unrelated to design such as event setup, budgeting, and more. You might also get to try your hands at skills that directly relate to design, such as copywriting, social media, podcasting, photography, website management, content creation, and more. Also, in many cases, you control your own budget, bid your own projects, and take projects from start to completion working with vendors on file preparation and specification. You will have a broader skill-set than someone who does one specific design position such as web design, production design, or another focused area. You have experience doing it all. This broader skill set makes you a very desirable candidate for design positions you may apply to in the future. If you are someone who loves to learn new skills, and always loves to be doing new things, being in-house might be perfect for you.
3. Industry Knowledge
Agencies certainly do research on their clients, but there is nothing better than living in an industry to truly understand it. Industry specific associations, working with different individuals in the industry, and understanding how other positions at the company contribute are invaluable sources of knowledge. This kind of information can only be gained by being immersed in it. Your knowledge-base will become far more in-depth by working in-house. I can't tell you how many times this has been extremely valuable to me across different industries.
4. You Work For What You Care About
Working on big flashy projects is the dream of many designers. But in an agency it can take years to get your top choice of clients and you will inevitably have to work on 'not so flashy' projects. Doing a Super Bowl commercial may be amazing and look good on the resume but you may not have any real passion for the brand or they might even represent something contrary to your personal beliefs.
We all have passions. Do you want to help childhood cancer research? Would you love to help the homeless? Would you love to be surrounded by fashion all day? You can work for a hospital paving the way for childhood cancer research, a nonprofit focused on urban homelessness, or work for a retail designer. When you are an in-house designer you know that everything you do directly impacts something you care about. Even if you are doing 'other duties as assigned.' Everyday you can come to work knowing you are supporting something bigger than yourself.
It is generally known that jobs at creative agencies aren't the most stable. Not only do design positions come and go with the number of clients an agency has, but the lack of constancy on assignments can create an extremely competitive environment. When you are the only designer, you aren't fighting against others to try to get the best jobs. It really helps with personal morale and creates a far less competitive daily work environment. When you and your coworkers all have a common goal more meaningful than 'I want to work on the flashy project,' there tends to be more satisfaction with everything you do. Even if some projects aren't that 'flashy.' For me stability isn't just a paycheck and benefits, it is also being in a work environment that is collaborative and where my expertise doesn't feel like a commodity.
I hope this helps you take a second look at in-house design and how valuable it can be for your employers and for you. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me!