By Jim Woods
How often do you find you or your team drooling over the latest design technologies? Are outdated software, tired hardware and lack of training holding you back from your true potential? The latest hardware, software and design techniques are key items to keep any design team motivated, yet these items are often the last thing design managers think about when it comes to motivating their team.
With the end of the year quickly approaching it is time to start planning on how to get these resources for next year. Many of these items, though, may not be covered under a budget you control. To gain some say in the matter, try starting a conversation with the person who does control that budget. Find out when they typically begin working on the numbers and when they have to submit them. What information do they need to give in order to validate the money for which they are asking? Make their job as easy as possible by doing as much of the grunt work as you can. It may not seem like it should be your responsibility, but it shows your level of commitment.
Updating design software can look like a huge expense that the beancounters may feel is not necessary, so you’ll need a powerful rationale. One important point to make is that your team has to work with files from multiple sources. If you receive a file you cannot review or correct due to outdated software, it is then up to the printer or the originator of the file to fix the issue. If the printer fixes the art, there is almost always a charge. If the originator fixes it, time is almost always lost. As an in-house team, having the ability to step in and fix a problem that could otherwise be very costly and time prohibitive gives you a distinct advantage. Nobody enjoys cleaning up someone else’s work, but having that ability and leveraging it shows that you are an expert who wants to deliver the best product possible. Quantifying the time and money your team saves, or would save, will more than justify the expense of the software.
When the company can replace 3 PC’s for the price of one Mac, getting an equipment update might seem close to impossible. Once again it comes down to justification. How much time is wasted waiting on an older machine to complete your command? Track the minutes lost each day as your machine crunches your request. It may not seem like much at the end of the day, but once you calculate the time per day, then multiply it by days per week, per month and per year, you will show significant time lost. Realizing that a new machine will not account for all the lost time, make a conservative estimate of the time you will save based on current time lost. Even if you get agreement to order new machines, understand you might not get more than one or two at a time. Be flexible and develop a plan that will replace all your machines over several years.
Software and equipment are not the only things that need to be kept up to date. Keeping your design team in touch with trends and changes in technology should be a high priority on your wish list. Knowing the ins and outs of your software greatly increases your team’s productivity and creativity. If you don’t have any money budgeted for professional development, it will be extremely difficult to get funding to train your entire team. If you’re faced with a tight budget, try getting funding for one member of your team and have them train the rest of the team on the items that would benefit everyone. Online training is another cost effective option to keep your employees current on graphics apps. Design conferences are a great resource for ongoing design education, but these are much more costly requiring you to be very creative in your fundraising activities. Most conference sites, though, include business rationales to justify funding attendance. Also, in lieu of large raises and promotions, many companies look for ways to reward employees. Setting up a trip to a design conference gives the company a way to reward top performers and creates an incentive for your team to perform at a higher level.
Design publications are a great way to keep up with the trends and help inspire your team. It might seem that asking for money for subscriptions would be considered frivolous, but you might be surprised at how many other departments in the company are paying for trade and industry publications. Stalk the mailroom and pay attention to what other departments are receiving. Research what these pubs are costing them and use this info towards justifying the purchase of magazines for your department. Once you start receiving them, make sure that they are prominently displayed and target the area where you keep them as an obvious destination. This not only helps the designers feel like they are being encouraged to read the pubs, but also helps management to recognize the importance of this literature.
Once you receive your gear, it’s important that you track and document all time and money saved. By the end of the year, present these numbers to your manager. If you were conservative with your numbers, you will have hopefully exceeded what you promised in increased efficiencies. Keep good records of your money and cost savings year after year, and you will have a much higher probability of getting a permanent budget line to address your needs. Even if you only get one thing you asked for, it is still a win and shows the company’s commitment to your department that you can build upon. Software, hardware and training are all key items to keep your team motivated and, let’s be honest – everyone loves new toys!
Jim Woods is the creative director for United Pet Group, the global leader of home aquariums and outdoor ponds. He oversees an award winning in-house creative team as well as third party Agencies, Photographers and Freelance designers for the Tetra, Marineland, Instant Ocean, Jungle, and AquaTech Brands. Jim manages creative projects from concept to completion, translating marketing objectives into creative strategies, and directing the creative team in the production of packaging, advertising and marketing collateral. Prior to working with United Pet Group, Jim worked for the Baltimore and Washington D.C. division of Clear Channel Communications and has over eleven years of in-house design experience.