In-house Issues: Exactly Right is Exactly Wrong

As designers, we often need to work with specifics. What exactly IS the deadline, the quantity and budget? What is the EXACT PMS color, paper stock and finishing? Unfortunately, this precise mindset can get in the way when we’re attempting to address the finer points of navigating corporate politics and bureaucracy.

The search for the holy grail of respect, resources and recognition won’t meet with success by following some cookie-cutter, one size-fits-all, silver bullet approach. Just because the in-house designer at one company was able to get new Macs for her team because she took her manager out to lunch at a local sports bar doesn’t mean that approach will work for you.

When you read this blog, attend presentations and connect with peers, the specifics of the anecdotes you hear about how others achieved a success may be entertaining and memorable, but they’re primarily helpful only as inspiration. You should look for the fundamentals behind the details and actions your fellow innies took.

More often than not, you’ll see the same basic principles show up as the underpinnings of a successful undertaking. Give the following action list a try by implementing tactics that take your unique circumstances into account.

  • Take risks – This tact of pushing forward with a plan without express approval from management can yield powerful results when done responsibly (read transparently).
  • Search for opportunities and act on them – Don’t wait for someone to bring a problem to you for a solution – go out and look for the opportunities that no one else even sees as needing to be addressed.
  • Build relationships – Look for interests and experiences that you have in common with your clients, non-design peers and managers and bond over them. You’ll gain trust and credibility.
  • Be a problem solver, not a problem pusher – Always look to solve your clients’ and managers’ problems. If it’s outside of your prescribed responsibilities, then help them find someone with the expertise and authority who can. Don’t push back.
  • Be flexible and adapt – Pay attention to what’s really going on (not what you want to be happening) and respond appropriately.
  • Communicate powerfully – A picture may be worth a thousand words but effective speaking and written skills are the tools you’ll need within the corporation.
  • Commit and persevere – Dig in for the long haul. Effecting meaningful change won’t be quick or easy – though giving up will.
  • Collaborate – As designers we can tend to act like lone rangers. This does not work in organizations where consensus needs to be built around most actions and resources may be needed from other departments.
  • Play with passion – if you don’t, nobody else will.
  • Look at the big picture and figure out where you fit in – It’s not just about making pretty pictures – are there areas where you can act as a consultant to your clients and managers? Where can you and your team have the greatest impact?

Follow a more nuanced approach to achieving your business goals and you’ll get exactly what you want.