Get IN The Vote: Solo Innies Speak Out

Overall, for solo in-house designers, their challenges and opportunities vary little from their in-house peers who are part of a larger team. The challenges are amplified, though, by the lack of like-minded individuals who could give these teams of one moral, logistical, creative and political support.

The InHOWse blog will be setting up a separate section where solo innies can share war stories and advice. Stay tuned for further information.

The earnest level of commitment showcased in the responses below should give any upper manager pause regarding their own ignorance of the design process and the fact that they are most likely squandering a valuable resource.

What do you like best and least about your job and what is your greatest challenge?

1. I have two job functions: Proposals Writer and Graphic Designer. If I could pitch the proposal writer duties and focus on graphic design, I would be very happy.

2. Best is the rapport with everyone. Worst is the inherent inertia that rapport brings. Greatest challenge has more to do with the management styles than anything.

3. I like the freedom to be the only creative in the company. No one to undermine my ideas! However, it would be nice to have someone to brainstorm with and help grow creatively.

4. I feel I work best alone but it would be nice to have someone to brainstorm and share ideas with.

5. Best – That I have a job

Least – Deadlines from vendors or publications are always passed on to me about a week pass dues so I’m always have to make apologies. Since I am the only person here with the software to do projects the hours are insane. I get calls at home on off hours to do projects on my personal time and equipment as the firm will not provide a computer for me (not senior level despite 14 years of experience) Total lack of respect from some other employees because they don’t know/ understand what I do. “everything should only take a minute” Job is not creative at all (I work at a law firm) There is also no room for promotions here. This is pretty much it. Dead end job.

6. Until recently, I liked the autonomy I had to decide when to do what.

7. I like best that as the only designer, I get a wide variety of projects. I am never stuck doing the same thing repeatedly. I least like the stress of being the only person who can do design work; even if we do some out of house, I still end up managing files. My greatest challenge is that I don’t have a more experienced designer who can teach, mentor and challenge me.

8. best = some creativity

least = we charge and a newer in-house group doesn’t, so we’re losing a lot of work to them.

greatest challenge = getting people to use us instead of agencies.

9. My hours… for both. The new director made a deal with a local agency to provide pro-bono work so I went from well respected and listened to part of a team to a mostly forgotten 16 hrs a week schlep.

10. I enjoy the design freedom of being a solo graphic designer. The greatest challenge is the time constraints allowed for each project

11. I have a chance to affect bad design seen all over the country in small ways. If I have affect one thing, just make one improvement, I’ve done my job. I can’t change the world or even the whole of material my company puts out. But I can help win battle by battle.

12. At a low level I am given more responsibility and opportunity because I am the only in-house designer. But, being the only in-house designer is detrimental in that the company has always used an outside agency and doesn’t always see the in-house need.

13. I like best about my job the fact that I get to do a lot of different things like design and write the bimonthly magazine, the online newsletter, and the website. I don’t like that many people don’t yet really understand the importance of design so they do not put me in the planning meetings when we have big projects and instead just give me minimum specs a week before they need a 100 page document.

14. least: too much work and not enough time for visioning

best: autonomy and big budgets

greatest challenge: having time for visioning and improving

15. I like best the respect I get. As well as the freedom to present and execute methods to improve the company. I like least the amount of things I have to juggle daily and the lack of structure that is also a blessing.

16. Variety of projects.

Having enough time to do it all.

17. Best–variety and independence. Least–no peers. Challenge–teaching self how to do everything not related to design that I am not trained to do

18. Best: flexible hours and job security. While most people in my office work 8-5, I tend to work 9-5:30 and it doesn’t create any issues as long as I put in 40 hours each week and get my work done. I also have a steady workload.

Least: outsourcing more prestigious projects to agencies. I would really like to be challenged by these larger projects, but the bulk of my work continues to consist of boiler-plate coupons, sell sheets, etc. I would also love to be getting these larger projects so I have more interesting pieces for my portfolio. My chances of staying in my current position longer than 5 years is slim, and the pieces in my current workload don’t effectively contribute to a stellar portfolio.

Greatest challenge: conveying the importance of good design. I work in a department of marketers who believe successful marketing comes from using the data they collect from the field. While this is partially true, you can’t reach your market without effective design solutions. The importance of my role in the marketing department is at the bottom of the food chain.

19. variety… but with that comes never feeling like I’m giving 100% to something, I’m constantly being pulled

20. I work for a public research university, so using my creative skills to communicate about life changing research and innovations is very rewarding. That said, there is not enough respect for the insight I offer about the best way to reach our different audiences and how to properly (and efficiently) leverage new tools and media. Oh, and nobody wants to take the time to develop or follow a communications plan! Ah!

21. I am the single most important person that knows how to design in Adobe software. Today’s co’s only see these positions as pixel pushing.

22. like: a lot of variety, responsible for projects from start to finish, learn how to run a business/organization and how to talk to nondesigners

dislike: resources like software, equipment, staff, etc always on the bottom of the list; not a lot of respect–always have to fight the relative of a coworker or the coworker who thinks they can do your job; also have to fight to keep most creative projects in-house; have to fight to be the contact person overseeing out-of-house work when needed.

23. Best: Job security.

Least: Having other creatives to work with.

24. Like the work.

Not valued.

25. I like the autonomy of working on my own and touching every project. I am buried under the sheer volume of work. The greatest challenge is that lack of understanding about design in general, and the pitfalls of being spread too thin and how it affects end product.

26. -Go to person

-Big work load

27. My greatest challenge is dealing with the fact that accountants, writers, news directors, etc. think that they know design. Dealing with people that think they are designers because the own a copy of Photoshop and they took one graphic design class in college. And lastly, last minute requests (and by last minute I mean “I need a logo done by tomorrow”), which only reinforces the fact that most people don’t realize the amount of thought, time and work goes into what we do. They think we’re “doing our magic.”

28. I fear burnout. My company tries to do a lot, with a little.

29. Best-the variety and no one tries to micro manage me mostly because they don’t understand what I do exactly.

Least-No one understands what I do so they don’t understand the time or skills it takes to do some of my job. Very little creative collaboration available.

30. Like Best: the variety of work that I get to do each day is very rewarding as I see how my contribution enables the organization to succeed

Like Least: our tendency to “design by committee” is something that I can’t stand. I’m all for listening to the opinions of others but actually having those (non-designer) opinions trump mine at times does make we want to give up sometimes

Greatest Challenge: juggling it all and providing high-quality for everything

31. Greatest challenge writing copy

coming up with fresh ideas season after season

32. Visibility and recognition is my greatest challenge. I like the stability of the position and flexibility the company offers.

33. Best: the combination of left-brain and right-brain days. Some days the math of all the estimating and project coordination gives my creative juices time to rest for a bit.

Least: working on all facets of multiple projects at the same time is very draining and does not facilitate great creativity or allow sufficient time to explore design options for a project. So often it’s “here, this concept works, let’s just run with it.” No time to explore. “Good enough to get by” doesn’t leave me feeling proud of my work.

Challenge: there are so many overworked people and understaffed areas in my building who are not given enough time to do their jobs well, which keeps me from doing my job the best as well. I am not just the “misunderstood, unappreciated designer.” Everyone is being pushed too fast and given too much work to do their jobs with confidence and skill.

34. I like the variety of duties; having experience with all…

35. Best: Opportunity to work on so many different kinds of projects, which means constant learning and challenges.

Least: Having to do it all and being the only one able to do it within my department. Also, feels like I fall behind on the latest technologies/trends because I don’t have the time to catch up.

36. It gets lonely sometimes but the job security is great.

37. I like the ability to create without being hovered over by a manager but the down side is there is no one to fight for my needs of software or hardware, as well as no one determining my worth to the company. I am not included in the department head meetings and left to figure it out on my own. Because my cube is a “mystery” to others, I feel as though my compensation is not in the range of other in-house teams that have actual departments. The biggest challenge is getting the time to do it all. Everyone wants their stuff immediately and does not give necessary information to complete the task, causing delays.

38. What I like is the diversity of the projects that I’m given. What I don’t like is the stress of feeling overwhelmed at times & the personalities I have to deal with on a day-to-day basis that are less than “design friendly”.

Naming my biggest challenge is hard. I have no authority. Every job is a rush & I work on several jobs at the same time, which I feel lowers the quality of my work. Two or three jobs at once is good for me, but 6 or 7 is too many. I’m not permitted any “stress relief” work like I’ve read agencies & design houses get: Fun little projects at the end of a long or difficult job to ease the stress and refresh the creative juices. It’s all work and no play which often leaves me feeling burnt out and frustrated.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been a soloist with the same company for 5 years, but I feel I have a lot of challenges.

39. I like that I have complete control of the designs. I hate that I am forced into a constant template, that my company is to archaic to let me use a Mac, and that people refer to me as the “Poster Guy”.

40. I work for a medical device manufacturer our products greatly improve peoples standard of living, I like the fact that I work at a company that makes products that people need and not ones that people want, if that makes sense. My least favourite thing about the job seems to be the lack of respect and understanding that people within the organization have for my role. My talent and problem solving skills are not being fully utilized, they spend hundred of thousands of dollars on outsourcing certain design projects that could be better produced in-house by people who have a better understanding of the industry.

41. The thing I like best is the thing I also hate the most. Working in an office in my home has many perks, but also has a few downfalls – I never turn off, I can be lying in bed trying to sleep but instead I will pop into my office a a second, which will then turn into hours. I can’t do 9-5, even though I do, sometimes it is more like 9-eternity.

42. Best: Am encouraged to propose ideas and develop designs as I see fit. Anything I put forward is usually given a chance to be heard.

Least: The opportunity to do design work is few and far between. I do a bit of everything, and quite often, design work is not a priority.

Greatest challenge: Moving ideas forward – is nice that they are heard, but quite often, it is next to impossible to move anything beyond a conceptual phase.

43. I love the product my company provides and working for them is a dream job. I dislike the fact that I’m not really involved in the development of our projects and am essentially handed things as a production artist who then has to figure out how to best produce someone else’s ideas. My greatest challenge is getting people to understand design is a process and there is actually NOT an “easy” button to make something (like a concepted, revised, and polished logo) magically appear in 2 hours.

44. treated by some colleagues as no more than a trained monkey.

45. Too much work and not enough people to do it so we outsource a lot.

46. going home!

I am not really set challenging work as I have got used to conforming all designs to our corporate identity (which I helped to create). The greatest challenge is probably remaining calm while my design concepts are ruined by too many (non designer) cooks!

47. Im fairly low level. I had about 2 years experience when I started, now Im in my second year on the job. One of the biggest challanges, is that this is a brand new position. They NEVER had a in-house designer before. So combine that fact with the fact that Im still a “green” designer. I have made some headway, but people still forget to/dont understand that I NEED to be in meetings involving Design direction, planning for next year’s look, etc. Trying to get my voice heard is a huge challenge.

48. BEST would be that I get to apply my design know-how to short-term projects of similar nature, and I get to use InDesign to design them.

LEAST would be that I’m the only graphic designer at this 10-15 persons company, so no backup support; and there’s no training provided or educational benefits like paid attendance at workshops (this is not ideal even though it’s my first full-time graphic design job).

GREATEST CHALLENGE would be interpreting corporalese (corporate language as coined by Andy Epstein) of all my coworkers, trying to push the creative boundary of coworkers’ set ideas/wants (a.k.a. limited creative freedom), and getting the finances needed for equipment.

49. Best: I have a lot of autonomy to do my job well, hire freelancers/agency as needed, and a lot of variety in the projects. Great boss, easy commute, great benefits. Love my job!!

Least: No budget input. Too much to handle on my own so I turn to freelancers for help too.

50. I like the creative freedom they give within the boundaries of our field of business, since it is heavily regulated. However, our strategies aren’t well planned and never have as much punch as they should. My biggest challenge is getting the rest of the marketing staff (marketing manager and COO) to implement a well rounded marketing plan and strategically scheduled/timed blog posts, email and social media promos, along with our other marketing and sales efforts. They’re not tech savvy enough and keep hindering my efforts to get the plan off the ground.

51. Best: Small team with specialists in writing, marketing and social media

Least: Lack of perspective from other creatives as only designer

Great challenge: Resistance to change; design-by-committee

52. Best: making art. Worst: dealing with others’ bad taste.

53. Best: Freedom. I make the job what I want it to be.

Least: Freedom. Sometimes I suffer from a lack of direction.

Challenge: Being better than the last design.

54. Best: when I get to design or get to weigh in on designs.

Least: when my time is filled doing things like order business cards OR when a non-creative determines what things should look like to get their message across

55. What I like best is that I get to express creativity while also maintaining standards that support the strategic goals of the organization. What I like least is my colleagues thinking that anything can be done in a day. My greatest challenge is changing that perception.

56. The best part about my job is also the worst – being the sole subject matter expert for visual communications.

57. The teaching part…the rest is not even considered or rewarded.

3 thoughts on “Get IN The Vote: Solo Innies Speak Out

  1. Donna

    Wow. I’m reading these and thinking “I swear I only answered this once”

    Andy, Thank you. Just knowing that others out there feel exactly as I do is such a comfort & takes such a weight off my shoulders… Thank you.

  2. Paul

    Thank you thank you for including a section for single in-house designers!

    I am in the Architectural Engineering industry now after many years working in large in-house department for large corps.

    The A/E industry is truly behind the curve in converting their admin staff to a professional staff of marketing and graphic design pros.

    For years, the culture has centered its design decisions on, gulp, admin staff and architects to make typography choices, ads, visual identity etc.

    The competition for RFP’s for firms that have lived off the “good times” locally are now facing stiff competition from interstate firms and large 300 plus employee orgs.

    So, the inclusion of single in-house designers is welcomed.


  3. Diana

    Thank You sooooooo much Andy for creating a portal where other solo inhouse designers can express themselves. It definitely is very clear that we all have similar challenges we face on a daily basis. One of the ones that seems to ring louder than most.. RESPECT, or more lack of it.

    I think one of the ways to attack this dilemma is informing them what it is that we do. I know I have tried, and it doesn’t always work, but maybe repetition is key? It is frustrating at times…