The whole idea that in-house designers need a competition separate from their agency/freelancer/design firm peers denigrates the in-house community and implicitly sets the design bar lower for in-house designers.
The primary distinction between in-house designers and their peers working in agencies is about the environment they work in, not the type of projects they work on nor the skills and talents needed to execute those projects.
It is true that in-house teams may face unique challenges that result from working in a corporation that independent studio teams may not have to deal with, making it harder to produce quality work, but there are 2 equally important points that should be considered to place those challenges into a broader context.
First, though corporate creative teams often have to deal with client biases and prejudices about the quality of their work which often results in those teams being passed over for plum assignments, they do have the advantage of rubbing elbows with those same clients on a daily basis. This affords them the opportunity to form strong working relationships with their clients in ways not available to outside designers. “Innies” also live, eat and breath their company’s brand and culture, positioning them for success and giving them an advantage over outside competition.
This leads into the second point that outside designers have a whole set of challenges that in-house designers don’t face. They include limited access to clients, poor direction without the opportunity to fill gaps in direction that in-house designers have, lack of understanding of corporate review processes, unfamiliarity with key internal project stakeholders and a lack of history with their client’s brand and culture. Design firms also often have to deal with the client-side assumption that, as an outside source, there will be an adversarial relationship based on the fact that the firm is a for-profit enterprise.
Assuming that in-house designers are so handicapped that they need to have their own competition is a subtle implication that they don’t have the same talent, aptitudes and skills as their independent designer colleagues. This perpetuates a disempowering and inaccurate mindset within the design community as a whole that everyone would be better off without.
There are certain difficult design hurdles faced by in-house designers that are so onerous and challenging, that they must be acknowledged by the design community when holding design competitions. Some of these challenges are subtle such as the bias, prevalent among corporate clients, that in-house creatives are not capable of producing the same quality work as outside designers. Others, like purchasing restrictions that limit in-house teams to preferred vendors when going to outside talent for photography, illustration etc., are more concrete and logistical. Additional obstacles include of lack staffing flexibility, time intensive bureaucratic procedures restricting access to resources, inadequate networking infrastructure, restrictive budgets and truncated timelines.
Though no single challenge would justify separating in-house design competitions from other design award events, when taken as a group of ongoing difficulties, there is ample justification for handicapping internal creative teams’ output in a competition.
Finally, an in-house awards event has benefits beyond creating parity with outside designers in a competitive setting. It helps promote solidarity among members of the in-house community and encourages dialogue, two things that are very important to the ongoing success of the profession.