Let’s face it, many people think what we do, as in-house designers, is magic and based on our personal moods or whims. If you can develop relationships, though, and show people that there are reasons that you do the things you do, your job may become a lot easier and more rewarding. Here are some things I have done in my career to foster good relationships, help build brand awareness and educate my co-workers, clients and managers about what I do.
Talk: When I worked for a larger company I would walk around every morning and talk to people – see how it was going, what my co-workers were working on and offer to help where I could. This was hard because as an in-house designer I had a full schedule but I thought it was important. Another advantage I noticed was that sometimes I could see projects coming up that I needed to get ready for and spot possible problems up front such as branding conflicts. I would have liked nothing more than to crawl into my cubicle, put my iPod on and zone out but sometimes grabbing a cup of coffee and heading down the cubicle rows proved to be rewarding.
Cheerlead: I’d love to claim this idea as mine but it was our HR manager’s. Our department got an old monitor and computer and set it up in the main hall. I sent emails out asking what people were doing outside of work. I also asked for sales info and new deals that the sales team was working on. Using all the responses I received, I created a looping PowerPoint show that played on the monitor all day. People would stop and check it out. I also created slides about proper logo and font usage and I made sure the presentation fit the company brand. This gave me visibility to all the other departments and helped reinforce the company’s brand standards.
Market: A weekly newsletter is another powerful way to get information out and have a reason to make contact with other departments. In one issue I included a story about a new fountain in front of our building that looked like a satellite dish. I retouched a photo of the fountain by putting aliens next to it and wrote that they were placing a communications device in front of the office. People loved it stopped by to ask how I did it. It was fun, got people to talk to me and gave me the opportunity to show off some of my Photoshop skills.
Communicate: Whenever possible tell people what you’re working on and, if you can, explain the strategy and thought behind it. Design rationales might include; color psychology, why you placed an image facing in a certain direction (to lead the reader’s eye in a specific direction), how fonts reflect specific moods and personalities. You might share articles about why a strong brand is so important. The point is to make your clients and managers understand that what you do is not based on your whims or subjective preferences. You want to show them the method behind your “madness”.
Pro-Bono: Help co-workers with a garage sale flyer, or side business – you might even get a freelance customer out of it. I did a logo for a fellow employee who was starting an online storage business. In trade he gave me some storage space. The real benefit was that people came by and commented on how they liked the logo. It afforded me another opportunity to share my design rationale and expertise. Of course you should check with your managers to make sure they’re okay with what I’m suggesting and don’t feel as if you’re undermining them or neglecting your job.
As difficult as it is, designers have to deal with the reality of office politics in order to gain visibility and respect. Reaching out to your peers, clients and managers in positive ways to communicate a little bit about what you do and how you do it goes a long way towards establishing your credibility. Have fun making new friends and explaining your skills.
Kenton Smith is a seasoned graphic designer. Kenton began his career in Santa Monica, California as a paste-up artist in a small print shop. While attending college, Kenton’s professors were so impressed by his skill and creativity that they hired him to work in their design studio – the only student given this opportunity. Over his career Kenton has worked exclusively as an in-house designer. During his career Kenton has worked in a wide variety of industries including hobby and craft, high-performance computing and signal processing, sportswear and entertainment. Kenton freelances, blogs and Twitters as Your Art Director and runs a LinkedIn group called In-House Designers.
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