In-house Issues: The Coming Together

If there was one overarching theme I witnessed playing out at the AIGA Leadership Retreat and the HOW/InHOWse conferences it was that of convergence. The convergence of AIGA and HOW, the convergence of AIGA’s local chapters and the national organization, the convergence of the in-house and greater design community and the convergence of the business and in-house design communities.

Brazenly, but hopefully respectfully, I noted in my presentation at the AIGA Retreat that there were 3 primary expectations or needs the in-house community was looking for an industry organization to address – content, community and communication. Content, seems to me, to be an area that AIGA is addressing but is currently not the best equipped to deliver when compared with HOW, whose primary goal is to create and disseminate content (for profit, of course). But AIGA, I argued, was best positioned to address the community and communication needs given its robust vibrant network of local chapters. What a perfect marriage of 2 organizations committed to the in-house design community.

AIGA’s focus on empowering local chapters, through an enhanced partnership between the national and local groups, will only improve its ability to reach out to the local in-house communities. To take advantage of this shift, an in-house initiative was unveiled during the retreat. It will include the establishment of an in-house board member position on the local boards and infrastructure to support regular virtual meetings and knowledge sharing among those members. Also, individual chapters will be asked to take on projects for national initiatives such as an in-house recruitment toolkit, coaching systems for designers on how to articulate their value and the value of design to their upper management and various professional development programming.

The convergence of the HOW and InHOWse conferences allowed for unprecedented opportunities for in-house designers (especially at the management level) to mingle with and share best practices with their peers in the design studio and freelance communities. My personal experience included sitting in on a Creative Freelancer breakfast event and meeting Kevin Flores, who as an entrepreneurial designer with a small agency in Richmond, was providing strategies and insights that were completely applicable to small in-house teams attempting to offer themselves up as an alternative to big agencies.

Most importantly for the long-term, is the growing trend pushing the seemingly disparate worlds of business and design together in a convergence that, I believe, will radically alter our world.

Business leaders, and academics are slowly embracing the application of the design process and mindset to strategic business challenges and opportunities. Roger Martin, Grant McCracken, Bob Sutton, Daniel Pink and Tim Brown are just some of the more visible members of a growing cadre in the business community who advocate a shift towards a right-brain corporate culture.

Concurrent with the design thinking trend is the exploration and mastery of higher business considerations and practices by in-house designers. Witness the fact that 5 years ago HOW established the InHOWse conference and greatly expanded coverage of in-house issues in its publications. At the same time, AIGA, within the last few years, introduced an in-house section on its website and the inclusion of in-house specific session tracks at its national events.

All of these trends will create fertile ground for the important meetings that have already begun to occur in corporations around the country between business and design leaders. It’s appropriate that the AIGA Retreat’s theme was engagement because that is exactly what will be created by the convergences taking place in the world of in-house design.