In-house Issues: False Choices



Working in-house is not an either/or proposition as is often believed in the design community. There is an assumption that working in a corporate environment involves trade-offs that are simply untrue. A few are noted and debunked below.


Your choice is to either work in an agency where you’ll work your keister off or go in-house and give up any chance of being creative.

If you take a look at the various in-house design competition winners, it quickly becomes very obvious that there is a lot of creative best-in-class design being generated by in-house design teams. In addition, what in-house teams may lose in the way of a wide variety of products or services to work on, they often gain by having an opportunity to work in a wide variety of media and communication vehicles. It’s not unusual to find groups that work on intranets, extranets, POP, packaging, brochures, ads, signage etc. and etc. In the more siloed agency environment these opportunities are much more rare.

Either you aggressively assert your creativity and self-expression or sell out to the suits and become a “short order cook”.

Some passionate, but misguided, designers believe that they have to “dress like a designer” by wearing t-shirts, jeans and lots of black, “act like a designer” by exhibiting an excessive amount of emotion and push-back on client suggestions and “write like a designer” in all lower case lest they sell their soul to the corporate devil.

But there is a middle ground here that many in-house designers have staked a claim in. These enlightened creatives have discovered that style does not equate to substance. That they can better achieve the principles of innovation, creativity and objective problem solving by adapting their communication style to that of their non-design peers without sacrificing even an iota of integrity.

You can buck the system and get fired or keep your head down and resign yourself to the status quo.

While it’s true that there is risk involved when a designer pushes back on inane or counterproductive policies and bureaucracy, if it is done within the corporate structures put in place and persistently but respectfully escalated, change can be effected. The other route of “It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission” can also work if your motives are pure and the intended outcome is beneficial to the company. You have to be politically savvy which can require energy you may rather put towards other pursuits but it beats resignation and alienation.

The bottom line is that there is no bottom line when it comes to the trade offs and sacrifices of working in-house. What is true, though, is that there are opportunities should you take the time and make the effort to discover and nurture them.

2 thoughts on “In-house Issues: False Choices

  1. edr3


    There are so many truths in your “False Choices” post. Thank you for working so hard to give in-house designers a clear voice and a forum to express ourselves and debunk misconceptions.


  2. Tammy Dekel

    Thanks for writing about this. The actual advantages to working in-house are always overlooked in favor of the negative aspects, even though the future for designers in fact lies more and more in working as an integral part of a company or product. In in-house work I find that applying design principles within the boundaries of so-called “creative limitations”, design guidelines, and time constraints to be no less of a profound creative experience at times, not to mention the fact that this work is invaluable to others.
    The guidelines serve as an anchor, a “visual reference”, and building tools with which the boundaries of the “corporate look” should always be pushed. Still, creative statism can happen and should be shunned away from – within reasonable limits of course. In-house work can also be used also as a learning tool and a basis for more creative and challenging ventures.