5 Advantages and Challenges of In-House Designers

When I moved from UK to the US, after meeting my future wife, I was struck by the similarities between our two countries: we listened to the same music, wore the same brands, and almost spoke the same language. Lugging my portfolio around Manhattan – and this was back in 1999 when your portfolio was a big, heavy case – I came across the New York offices of agencies I knew from London, such as Pentagram and Landor. It was obvious that there were some adjustments to be made: switching from the metric system to inches and feet and remembering that it is spelled “color” not “colour” were just some of my personal challenges.

After nearly 20 years of working in design agencies on both sides of the Atlantic, I took a job in-house. Like my move from the U.K., moving from an agency to in-house I saw many similarities and also the differences. Some of these differences were obvious advantages for a designer while some presented a challenge and were filed under “Opportunities for Personal Growth.” What follows are 5 of my observations:


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Advantage: Deeper Brand Knowledge

An in-house designer lives and breathes a company’s brand (and probably dreams about it, too). Grasp any opportunity you can to learn about every aspect of your brand from the vision that comes down from the C Suite to understanding how the sales process works. Built over time, this depth of knowledge is hard for agencies to attain since they’re typically hired for a short term projects. This knowledge can make you an brand expert and in business experts are valued and valuable.


Challenge: Client Perception

There can be a tendency for in-house groups to be seen as little more than production houses – quickly churning out product sheets and flyers while outside agencies are brought in to do the cool stuff. By building deep brand knowledge and proving your value, as mentioned above, you’ll begin to change perception and get some of the bigger, cooler projects. And when an agency is brought in, it will be to partner with you — not to leave you to do all the production work.


Advantage: The Bottom Line

The better your company does financially, the better you do, right? Stands to reason. If your company is successful then raises and bonuses tend to be more frequent and larger, asking for software upgrades is easier and the holy grail – increased headcount may be a possibility. I am NOT suggesting agencies do not want or do not contribute to a company’s success but they have their own bottom lines to think of first. Your company’s bottom line is also yours.


Advantage: Relationships Versus One Night Stands

On the agency side I’ve had client relationships that started less than cordial and went steadily downhill from there. As the job closes the client tells you (lying) how they enjoyed working with you and how you were so accommodating to their twenty rounds of revisions and you tell the client (lying) that the great work was the result of a bold and daring client. And like the end of a bad date you promise to call each other and never do.

In-house you have to build relationships with your clients and learn how to work with each one because at the end of the day you are stuck with each other. Take heart, if you nurture those relationships over time they will trust you more and allow you be bolder, go further and do some of your greatest work.


Challenge: No Charge Doesn’t Mean Free

Some in-house clients have a hard time grasping this, particularly when there isn’t a chargeback system in place. Without money changing hands the perception can be that there is no investment. The client literally has nothing to lose. It’s why agencies want a percentage of their fee upfront so the client is invested both financially and mentally. In-house you have to ways to get your client invested: clear briefs and kick off meetings, limit the rounds of revisions, only work with the decision maker, etc.




You’ve overcome challenges to create outstanding work, so enter it in the In-House Design Awards to get the attention you deserve. Hurry, the competition closes on July 18.