How to prove your worth as an in-house designer

As part of a panel discussion series hosted by RGD, design leaders Jordan Bamforth (Beau's Brewing Co.), Caroline Bruckner RGD (Deloitte Canada), Matt Coyle RGD (MLSE), Michael Lejeune (LA Metro) and Kelly Nicholl (PwC Canada) discussed how creative teams find ways to educate the rest of their organizations about the value of design, and about how much an in-house team's time is worth.


1. Know what projects are priorities for the organization, and show how your team can make them better.


"We identified a high profile project within the company and winning it is what put the design studio on the map. After that we still had to pursue projects, and we continue to be ever-vigilant about knowing when outside consultants are being brought in, but we are now much more at the table. We're now brought in at the beginning of a consultant relationship, so we are running the design from the start, as opposed to cleaning up later." Michael Lejeune


"We take the initiative to show the possible executions of projects that we know are on the horizon before the brief actually comes in and proactively answer the question,' what does next season look like?' We present our ideas / concepts in presentations, the same way an agency would, showing the problem, the objective, the solution and the roll-out, not just the design itself but the whole thinking behind it. The brand teams we work with share these presentations with their colleagues, and they get people excited about the upcoming year." Matt Coyle RGD


2. Highlight how the creative team's work impacts business results. 


"People who approve budgets like numbers. To get budget for additional resources, you need to show how those resources will improve efficiency and get more done in less time." Matt Coyle RGD


"By showing how the creative work is part of a bigger strategy toward achieving business objectives, we can help in-house clients see our role in the big picture. They understand effects on the bottom line more than they do subtle shifts in a colour palette. It is important to emphasize how our execution supports the bigger business strategy." Kelly Nicholl 


3. Submit to awards for industry recognition and share them in-house 


"We've submitted our projects for a number of creative awards and have communicated our wins to show the value of what we create." Matt Coyle RGD 


"We've got a strong focus on package design and by submitting to awards and being recognized for it, we're proving our worth. Being recognized for our design focus makes it easy to show what our team brings to the table." Jordan Bamforth 


4. Work closely with leaders within the organization and make sure to have a gatekeeper for incoming requests.  


"It is important to set priorities and boundaries for the key things that need to be worked on. When we get requests that don't fit with our team's mandate, we know we have the support of the people at the top who are in a position to say 'no'. Engaging with the leadership gives us a better sense of what to focus on and respond to requests strategically as they come in." Caroline Bruckner RGD


"We have an organized system of roles, so the creative team is left to focus on our job, which is to think creatively. Designers get to be designers and can count on other team members to track projects and budgets." Michael Lejeune 


5. Track your time in a meaningful way. 

"We don't want to 'big brother' people but we do want to know how much time went into a significant project, and if we were to do it again, what would that mean and how would it impact our team. When other departments assume that we will take on additional work, we need to be able to communicate how many resources will be required going forward and avoid underestimating how much time our team will need to spend on certain projects." Matt Coyle RGD


"The key to keeping it from being burdensome is to have a time tracking system built into the everyday process. Going back and trying to reconstruct it can just end up being an extra administrative task." Kelly Nicholl   


6. Maintain open communication with colleagues to help them understand the process, and what you need from them. 

"Deadlines are the key to taking control of the approval process. The client has to know that if they don't give us a timely answer, we can't get the project to the suppliers in time to post it, print it, etc. and they won't get what they need when they need it. Having colleagues who understand the importance of getting things done on time is hugely helpful for maintaining a smooth process." Matt Coyle RGD


"Communicating and being honest with your coworkers will help them understand what it is you're working on and why it is important. Often we'll have the creative part of a project done but will need a specific piece of information before it can be finished (ingredients list, etc.). Not having the information we need will affect deadline, which will affect when the product is available, and that affects the bottom line. Having visibility at the senior management level makes it easier to communicate how this issue can affect the business." Jordan Bamforth 


"A marketing brief includes the target audience, but often does not include the depth or background information that a creative team needs when executing a large scale project. I encourage our designers to take the lead on developing a creative brief rather than hand off a form for someone else to fill out. It's important for designers to be an active part of the process, to ask the questions and help put together the brief ourselves. The brief document itself is very helpful, but the process of putting it together is where you really start to understand the nuances of what the project requires. We can get to the right creative solution so much faster when we have the opportunity to take the lead in gathering feedback." Caroline Bruckner RGD 


To watch the full panel discussion, visit RGD's Video Archive.


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