No Stupid Questions: Advice for In-House Designers from Ed Roberts

Last chance! Show off your design superpowers in HOW’s In-House Design Awards by 11:59pm ET on July 5. This is the final deadline, friends!

Are you an in-house graphic designer looking to move your career forward? If so, don’t miss this advice from award-winning in-house creative lead Ed Roberts.

advice for the in house graphic designer

Having worked on both the client and agency sides of the business for more than 20 years, Roberts is the perfect person to impart some wisdom. In fact, he answered questions like the ones you’ll find below during his fantastic HOW Design Live session last month, when creatives just like you bravely raised their hands and spoke up.

Send us a message to let us know how the advice below helps you, or to share any other questions you’d like answered.

Advice for the In House Graphic Designer: A Q+A with Ed Roberts

Q: I’m early in my career and would like to learn as much as possible in my current position. How can I ensure that I learn what I need to from my in-house leaders?

A: I’m sensing that you aren’t planning to sit back and wait for someone to hand-deliver your career growth on a silver platter. Good! Too many people do that. You must be proactive and manage up. This concept may seem counterintuitive, but it is very effective in getting what you need and, most importantly, want from the person leading your in-house team.

Volunteer to take small tasks off your team leader’s plate. These are opportunities to learn the nuances of the organization and department as well as gain insight from your manager. Over time, your responsibilities and knowledge will grow as well as your reputation as a team player.

Truth be told, in-house managers are burning the candle at both ends and are incredibly busy—more than you can truly imagine. I have personally appreciated when both newbies and seasoned professionals come to me with a well-thought-out career-development plan. With those individuals, I was able to collaborate with them on breathing life into their plans and creating actionable steps for them to accomplish their goals.

Figure out want you want to learn, determine the resources needed to facilitate your learning, and estimate the time it will take you to complete your education. Connect the dots of how this knowledge will support and enhance the objectives of the department and the clients. Set an appointment with your manager and pitch your plan in a measured and thoughtful way. This is serious. Your career is depending on it. You’ve got to take the initiative and make the first step to learn as much as possible.


Q: I’m bored with both the projects I’m assigned to and the work I’m producing. What can I do?

A: Become a miner. Embrace the challenge by searching for opportunities to make those mundane assignments extraordinary. Look for new and interesting ways to solve old problems by creating solutions that enable you to use updated or emerging tools.

While doing so, expand your personal network by joining and/or regularly attending programs offered by the local chapters of AIGA, AAF, PRSA and AMA. Make it known within these networks that you are interested in exploring new opportunities. Then consider taking on freelance projects that coincide with your personal passions.


Q: How can I prepare now to become a creative director someday when I don’t currently have any management duties?

A: Ask your creative director for opportunities to lead a creative brainstorming session, manage some aspect of the workflow process, or organize a team-building exercise. Also remember that leadership skills may be noticed when you are doing the work of being a team player. View your journey to leading a creative team as a series of steps, and look for ways you can contribute to your team by taking on new projects or assisting your supervisor to achieve your organization and department’s goals.

I also recommend that you consider registering for HOW University’s In-house Management Certification program. If there are not staff-development funds allocated in your department’s budget, invest in yourself by personally funding the training.


Q: I’ve always worked in-house but can’t help wondering if I’d be happier freelancing. Any advice?

A: Follow your heart and do so with integrity. It’s that simple. You have to do those things that you’re most passionate about both personally and professionally. If you plan to continue working in-house during the day while freelancing after work, avoid taking on projects from clients who are counterparts or competitors within the same or related industry as your employer.

New freelance work will afford you the opportunity to expand your skills and enable your professional growth exponentially. I suggest that you accept freelance projects that are different from those projects assigned to you in-house. Take the new skills you learned freelancing and leverage that knowledge to enhance the work you create in-house.

Now, speaking as an in-house manager, please refrain from working on outside projects while working on your day job. The projects you produce in-house will suffer. Plus, it’s a pretty shady practice as well as highly disrespectful to your employer and the team that depends on you for collaboration.

If you find that you can sustain yourself with the work and that is where your passion remains, make a plan for yourself to make the leap into freelance full-time.

Related: Agency, Freelance or In-HouseWhich of these three design career paths is for you?


Q: What do I do if my creative director and I don’t see eye-to-eye/have very different stylistic opinions?

A: I would embrace the difference of stylistic opinion if the second solution presented were well-thought-out, adhered to brand standards, and aligned with the objectives set forth in the client brief. Notice I mentioned the “second solution.” It is very important for a creative director to see not only your great ideas, but also concepts incorporating their directives, too.

My suggestion is to present at least two concepts objectively and be open to receiving your creative director’s constructive feedback. The rub comes when differences of opinion become personal. Avoid this by separating your personal feelings from your professional work. Once you make your case and defend the concept, if the two of you can’t agree, be professional and move on to the next assignment.


Q: What should I do if I feel overworked because we don’t have enough staff?

A: Reach out to your manager and ask for their help in assisting you with prioritizing your assignments. It’s also important to remember to take care of yourself, especially when you are feeling overworked. Get in the habit of physically leaving the office for an hour to have lunch with friends. If that is not realistic every day, at least go outside to clear your head by taking a fifteen-minute walk around your company’s campus. I’d also recommend that you schedule those moments of decompression onto your calendar in advance.


Q: How do I make a case for our company to update our design tools and software?

A: Honestly, it is a fairly simple answer: Connect the need to a business strategy. Be able to explain to your superiors how the hardware and software upgrades can better support and realize those business goals. Create and a present a document that outlines the expected costs as well as the expected efficiencies that could occur by upgrading.


Q: How can I start a conversation about what I see as the need for a corporate rebrand?

A: The best place to start the conversation is with your manager. Let him or her know that you are keenly interested in learning more about the business. Ask how well the organization is performing toward meeting or exceeding its strategic goals. Dig deeper and find out if the current communication strategies and tactics are effectively penetrating the targeted audiences. Finally, ask your manager if he or she would be willing to share the data that supports their feedback with you.

Keep in mind that a corporate rebrand is always done with intention backed by solid data and feedback from both internal business units and the audiences served. If the brand is not keeping its promise, then it is probably time to consider all options to course correct, including a rebrand.

Roberts also has some advice for in-house creative directors or a soon-to-be CDs, so if you know some people who could benefit, be sure to share this article with them:

No Stupid Questions: Advice for In-House Creative Directors from Ed Roberts


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