Jeni Sez: Take a Good Hard Look

by Jeni Herberger

Gaining respect for what you do as an in-house designer may seem difficult but the reality is that it starts with you, how you promote yourself and the respect and expertise you offer. Far too often in-house designers blame their organizations for the lack of respect they feel as professionals. Not only is this the wrong place to put the blame, it’s a battle you just can’t win.

You can’t win because you don’t have control. It’s a loosing battle trying to break through corporate bureaucracy and will do nothing but increase frustration and decrease the likelihood of establishing yourself as the brand expert. Instead look to change the things you do have control of… essentially, YOU!

Start with your attitude. No really! Look in the mirror and ask yourself – do I look like someone who commands respect, like a design expert, like a business partner or do I look like a victim, like someone who doesn’t care and doesn’t have the confidence to stretch the boundaries. If you (or in this case your department) feel you are not seen as you wish to be seen then I must ask you, “Have YOU looked at you?”

Let’s move on assuming you are the perfect picture of confidence and expertise. Do you promote yourself AND your department that way? I’m sad to say I’ve yet to walk into a design department to help them ‘do business better’ and see a department that overtly promotes themselves as the brand experts and as top-level designers. Put yourself in the shoes of your corporate client and imagine what they are experiencing and the assumptions they are formulating as they walk into your design department. Do they see evidence of your design expertise? Do they see an environment that reflects your abilities to create outstanding business solutions? Do they see a process that commands respect? I’m not talking about life-size Storm Trooper cutouts or pokemon posters hanging from the wall. These are for your designers to express their inner creativity (or nerdiness). I’m talking about degrees and certificates, displays of work both for the company and outside the company. Is there a reception area where the client immediately gets the sense that you know what you are talking about? Is there a conference room where the client can sit, meet with your team and know instantly that you’re the man (or woman) for the job? How about a brainstorming area where your team can come alive and collaborate?

Do you understand that if your client does not perceive you as the experts you are BEFORE they begin a project with you, you will be fighting an uphill battle? Do you understand that if your team does not feel a sense of pride for how they present themselves that all is lost? Call it a ‘corporate makeover’. Come on, we’ve all seen the extreme makeovers on TV. You take a homely person, give them the tools to FEEL more beautiful and they instantly act more beautiful. That confidence comes across and works with the external elements that create an attractive individual. Do this with your department. Here’s just a few real world suggestion to get you and your group on a path towards greater respect within and outside:

  • Visit a few of your favorite design firms – what do you EXPERIENCE when you walk in?
  • Set up a brainstorming meeting with your team – how can your group emulate those experiences in your existing environment? Know your resource limitations then BE CREATIVE!
  • Display the work your team has created OUTSIDE of the company whenever possible.
  • Display with prominence work done for the organization, preferably in a story format that leads the client through your strategy and thus illustrating your expertise.
  • Create a conference room that makes your client feel at ease and confident will your abilities.
  • Hire entry/low-level designers to work on recurring projects such as imprints and forms. This will allow you to continue to offer this service but separate the initiation and communication of low-level work.
  • Offer SUPERIOR customer service and follow-up with the client to determine the level of success in a given project.

Remember this when working towards greater respect within your department: you will be treated as you are perceived. How you are perceived is a direct reflection on your attitude and your ability to promote yourself.

© Jeni Herberger