In-Quiry: Raising The Talent Bar

Dec 21, 2009 09:15:32 AM, Jasmine wrote:


Hello Mr. Epstein,

I read your February 2010 HOW article with extreme interest, especially your “Q Talent” section.

I came into a private institution as a new hire for a specific full-time project. Coming from the outside agency world, I was conditioned to do good work and be current or face the prospect of losing clients. When I looked around at the other design talent, I was disheartened. Half of them did not train in graphic design or even have any degree; they had been here 15-20 years and had fallen into design through departmental need. There was no urgency to be current, or even sound in basic design — or even production — principles.

I always try to use my passion for design to its greatest benefit for whatever organization I’m with. For the past two years, I have been trying to bring the other designers up to snuff, albeit in very passive ways like making a good example for them to follow and offering bits and pieces of constructive criticism (but not railing on their design because I still have to work with them every day and I don’t have the time or resources to take over all their projects!).

First off, we have to someday collect the disparate designers in the organization together into a cohesive team located in the same offices. But once we get the go-ahead for that, and even now while we try to build approval for that idea, how do you deal with untalented employees who have years of experience and history with the institution? I’m not sure it’s all complacency; I just don’t think they are very good critical thinkers or designers. Our company treats staff like members of a family, and keeps anyone around even through bad performance. After being here for two years, I now know them very well, too, and don’t necessarily want to see them fired personally, but professionally and for the benefit of the company, my opinion is that they need to be replaced with better talent.

Through your years of in-house experience, have you had to deal with a similar situation?

Thanks for your insight,


On Mon, Dec 21, 2009 at 9:09 AM, Andy Epstein  wrote:


Hi Jasmine,

First off, you should take pride in your efforts to improve your team – especially in the productive and diplomatic way you’ve chose to address the problem.

I have been in similar situations and spoken to many in-house designers who have faced the challenges you’re dealing with – so you should know you’re not alone. There are several short-term tactics that may improve the quality of work your team produces. First, if you have the ability to do so, steer the lower profile and more production oriented projects to your co-workers with lesser design skills and push the more creative highly visible jobs to yourself and other promising talent. Second, look at creating well designed templates for specific types of collateral that your problem talent can utilize when working on their assignments. While this may limit the variety of designs you produce at least they’ll be well designed. This leads to the broader solution of establishing branding standards that define the type, color, logo usage and layouts for your institution’s marketing materials. Many organizations establish image libraries as well which would further ensure better designed projects.

Long-term, your insight that a consolidated design team would best serve the organization is a goal I would recommend you doggedly pursue. It is a more efficient model for delivering good creative to an institution since it allows for greater depth in talent, an increased knowledge base (both institutional and design), the opportunity for a larger degree of specialization for individual staff where you can play to your designers’ strengths and a more coordinated voice in the university’s print and web executions. It’s important to make sure that a creative director position be established to guide the enhanced team and promote and defend the group within the larger organization.

I hope this helps.



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3 thoughts on “In-Quiry: Raising The Talent Bar

  1. RIRedinPA

    >>First, if you have the ability to do so, steer the lower profile and more production oriented projects to your co-workers with lesser design skills and push the more creative highly visible jobs to yourself and other promising talent.<<

    That is an awesome way to become the hated one in the office. Here, everyone else do these lousy projects, I'm going to take on the fun and high profile ones…I'm just saying, seen that done and seen the fallout from it, things can get ugly with that bit o' strategy

    1. Andy Epstein


      You’re bringing up a very important and valid point regarding my suggestion so I’d like to elaborate. I’ve noticed that many people in in-house design teams who did not come into their positions as designers prefer to have the more production oriented, templated work and are relieved when they don’t have to take on design intensive projects.

      That being said, you’re right that there are many people in a group who want to be challenged with the juicier projects and if senior designers hog them the more junior designers will resent it. I’m not at all advocating this – it’s unfair and, as you noted, is a great way to kill morale and also lose out on nurturing the talent of the more junior staff.

      In those instances where there are skilled but inexperienced designers who want to grow it’s incumbent on the senior designers to assign some of the more challenging projects to other staff and work closely with them to execute successfully on those projects. This kind of mentoring should be formalized, included in the senior designer’s position description and be encouraged at all levels and at every opportunity.

      The challenge is being sensitive to all of the designers in the group to determine who wants to be challenged and grow and who doesn’t. Thanks for bringing up this issue.


  2. RIRedinPA

    Just so as to not be critical without offering my own suggestion offering to lead some in-house round tables on design is a easy way to disseminate good design standards to co-workers that lack them. It also provides some good give and take on what people consider good design, allows you, as the leader, to present what you think is good design and fires up some creative juices.