How Professional Growth Can Increase Your Relevance

For designers, and all creative folks for that matter, lack of growth can lead to a fate worse than death – it can lead to irrelevance. As famed football coach Lou Holtz said, “In this world you’re either growing or you’re dying so get in motion and grow.” Professional growth is a good way to increase your relevance within your organization and can be tackled from a variety of angles.

But first, what exactly is in-house irrelevance? One definition of irrelevance is defined as not relating to what is being discussed right now or not being important. I once had a client tell me the strategy and planning for a new project was complete and he was now ready for me to “put the pretty on it.” (The fact that I refrained from extreme physical violence was, I think, due more to my dumbfoundedness than to restraint). My client saw design as cosmetic and my skills as irrelevant in the planning stages of his project.


Photo from Shutterstock

Design, as a practice, is still not well understood by much of corporate America and we, as designers, aren’t always the best advocates for increasing the relevance of design in business. Design is often an afterthought where we’re brought in at the last minute to, well … put the pretty on something. Don’t get me wrong, the aesthetic side of what we do is really important, and you can do some good work and make a solid living putting the pretty on things (OK I swear that was the last time I will use that phrase) but you won’t increase your relevance in the eyes of your employer.

Paul Rand said “Design is everything.” So as designers, we have more to offer the organization we work for than putting the pretty making things look good. Here are some ways to increase your relevance in your company:

Be curious.

From the vision of the C Suite to the understanding what makes the guys in the mail room tick, a deeper understanding of how all aspects of your organization function will lead, not only, to more targeted graphic solutions but you may also uncover problems in the organization people are not aware of.

Since Creative Services are often used by many areas of the company, you already have a wealth of contacts to tap into so be curious and ask questions. Solve problems with design, don’t just solve design problems.

Be resourceful and be a resource.

Stay current with technology trends, not just the technology itself but how your audience interacts with it. Does your organization’s primary audience read their email on a phone, tablet or a desktop? Which social media channels are right for your company? The larger the organization your work for the slower moving they are more likely to be and so keep an eye on what technologies are losing relevance – are your clients aware that Flash isn’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to animation on the web?

Communicate your value.

It may sound obvious but have you communicated clearly to your clients what you can do for them? I’m not talking in terms of deliverables but how your knowledge can help make their projects more successful: Do your clients understand the value of A/B testing, could making a brochure half an inch smaller result in a smaller print costs? Effecting the bottom line is a great way to gain relevance.

Gaining relevance in your organization can be slow, especially if your team is currently viewed as a production shop, so keep in mind this is a long-term strategy that requires persistence and patience. Growth through new skills, a more holistic organizational knowledge and deeper relationships will increase your relevance to your clients.


2014_inhouse_logo_web_200x200Want another way to show your company how important you are? Enter your work in the In-House Design Awards for your chance to see your work in HOW magazine and online.


One thought on “How Professional Growth Can Increase Your Relevance

  1. steph.jordan

    Great article, for once it felt like someone understood my team’s challenges! Would love more on dealing struggles for in house designers, marketing and creative staff – communicating to other departments on procedures, getting other departments to understand how your creative team works together, dealing with criticism, etc.