In-house Issues: Roadies & Rock Stars

Traditionally the design community has gravitated around individuals who, by virtue of their talent, intellect or personality, have captured the imagination of, and inspired, their peers. This is pretty typical of most groups of like-minded individuals and a productive behavior inasmuch as it keeps members engaged with the group.

The in-house community could certainly benefit from having its own select group of heroes and hopefully that will happen over time as we define and organize ourselves. Right now, though, rather than rock stars, we need the roadies that support the bands by engaging in the heavy lifting. AIGA’s INitiative is launching this week and is just the vehicle that any interested in-house roadie should consider jumping onto. If you’re ready to “reach out and join IN” please contact your local chapter’s programming chair or email me at There are real actionable volunteer opportunities for you to become involved in right now.

In addition to the call to arms I slipped into this post, I think it’s also important to note that in-house designers have generally eschewed the design rock star mindset. As inspiring as these individuals can be, they often don’t dig into the nuts and bolts of their practices. This works because they’re speaking to a competency that most designers already possess and are taught in school.

The problem, or rather need, for in-house designers, though, is how to get information, advice and support in areas where they need to be informed and competent but haven’t yet received organized formal, or even much informal training. These areas include, effective written and verbal communication expertise, powerful interpersonal skills, conflict management capabilities, the ability to navigate corporate politics, financial acumen, sales skills and organizational, people and project management competencies.

To be sure, independent designers and design firm principals need the more business focused support I’m referring to, but their experiences are nowhere near the “baptism by fire” situations that many in-house designers find themselves in when thrown into the left-brain, politically charged and labyrinthine corporate environment that is much less forgiving of a creative’s typical lack of business skills.

So we need more experts, teachers and coaches and less superstars, inspirational speakers and entertainers. This blog, the InHOWse conference and the AIGA INitiative are a start but, coming back to my original invitation, only the concerted effort of many individuals committed to our community will ultimately position us for success – making us all rock stars.