The Speakers Speak: Jim Woods On Positioning Your Team For Strategic Success

The Speakers Speak is a series of insightful interviews with the 2011 InHOWse Conference presenters. This week, Jim Woods, design director at United Pet Group, offers some thoughts on repositioning your team as a strategic partner.

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I know you’ve worked as an in-house design team manager for a number of years. From your perspective, what are some of the biggest opportunities available to designers working in corporations today that they may not be taking advantage of?

Every corporation is looking for ways to cut spending and become more efficient. This is the perfect opportunity for in-house managers and designers to reinforce the value they provide their company. We have been able to expand our department and get some new equipment based on our explanation of our team has been saving the company money. Before it would have been acceptable to spend money on outside vendors and we would not have been able to get these resources.

How about the biggest challenges?

Spending and budget cuts can lead to opportunities, but they can also put a lot of in-house design teams in jeopardy.   No one is ever completely safe from budget cuts, but the more your management team understands what you do and your value, the less likely your team will have to suffer cuts.

Could you talk about some of your recent successes at United Pet Group?

We just launched a new packaging line look that is a fairly bold departure from our existing product lines.  The new product is getting a lot of buzz in the aquarium industry because of the package design. This success has allowed us to create support material that marketing would have killed for being too “edgy”. Seven years ago we would not have been given this opportunity. Being able to deliver on a key product launch with a design that has been so well received has been a huge win for us.

If there is one piece of advice you’d give to an in-house designer, what would it be?

Do not let day-to-day frustrations make you bitter. It will only get better if you make it so.

What books, conferences, blogs and periodicals would you recommend to the innie community?

I have been attending HOW conferences since 2005 and find them extremely informative and inspiring.  I follow as many blogs as I can, including InHOWse and Creative Execs. Locally we are members of our AdFed that holds monthly meetings and events with very interesting speakers. We subscribe to many design publications, but I don’t have enough money to subscribe to everything I feel is relevant. As a compromise we try to go to the bookstore once a month to sit down, relax, and pull everything off the shelf that we find inspiring. I also think it is important to follow Industry pubs and blogs that tie in with my company’s products. I feel as the creative director it is my job to not only be up to speed on the design industry, but on the aquarium industry as well.

Could you give us a hint about what you’ll be presenting at the InHOWse Conference?

The title of my presentation “From Firefighter to Strategic Partner” really sums it up. I plan on walking everyone through the process I used to turn my department from a group of production designers putting out fires, to being considered true strategic partners. In-house designers have unique ideas and in-depth knowledge of their company and its products. Getting the decision makers in your company to realize this and allow you to leverage it is a difficult task. I feel that the attendees will be able to use some of my tactics within their own departments that will allow them to showcase their talents.

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