What makes a good In-house design team – Tips #1 to #5

Posted by on Feb 11, 2016 in articles, in-house design, leadership | No Comments

Most of my design career has been spent in-house, and by in-house I mean working as the sole designer or with a team of designers and digital professionals, in an environment where the key product is not primarily a creative one.

My experiences have varied from: Custom Printed Merchandise, Electronic Smart-Meters, Insurance, Financial liability/Diligence Software and Student Accommodation.

Every workplace has operated in a different way and not only due to annual turn-around.

I’ve compiled 10 key points from my years in the field that can apply to in-house design teams and those that manage or work with them.

I’ve split this post into two separate, ‘digestable’ ones. 5 points in each.

#1 – Have more than one designer (or the freedom for your sole designer to reach out to other design-peers for feedback)

I’ve not met many designers that don’t want to reach out to others in their profession at least some of the time, even if it’s not everyday. The back and forth and trading of ideas and opinions is valuable in developing a broad understanding let alone exercising the ability to talk about your work in a way that others can understand. Alas, if you’re a sole designer within a company or a freelance sans-community office then I can highly recommend finding an places where you feel comfortable and your peers gather. The UK based Design Stuff Slack Group is a great starter.

#2 – Help the wider business understand what design is and how it benefits the whole business to rely on the experts

I’ve bent the ear of many a friend/colleague (designer or otherwise) getting out my frustrations around different departments not quite getting the purpose of design or even a specific design detail. So I greatly advocate everyone who has contact with designers to develop an understanding of why it’s important and what rewards are reaped by all when design does its job well. Q&A, Open studios and encouraging people to go to design related events are just three suggestions.

#3 – Variety (if asked for) or stability (if desired)

All designers operate differently, some thrive with well-defined boundaries of what work they are expected to produce. Some grind their teeth at the thought of an aspect of design being forever out of their reach.
I’m met more of the latter than the former and I’ve found variation between types of design have meant that designers almost ‘re-charge’ the previously exercised section of their brain. Imagine working on a digital product intensely for a period of weeks. While you’re flexing the same muscles you be solving any visual problem the sphere of thought that inhabits a specific design genre can be daunting if repeated over an over. The changing of speed could be as simple as a smaller scale project, different brand or project premise/goals but the shift is needed and it gives the brains that need it, time to rest.

#4 – The trust of stakeholders in the business

If a colleague or stakeholder can’t help but make their dubious feelings about your expertise known to the designer then moral can be known to take a tumble. Especially prevalent in situations where a collaborative approach to projects and design has not been known, a dictatorial approach to what you want designed is never the best strategy to adopt if you want fully-bought in design staff that have the ability to explore different ways and ideas for solving a problem. Providing a formula which reads much like ‘This text + this image + this colour / by this exact orientation = an uninspired design solution’
That’s not to say challenge when you think something’s not quite right or an aspect hasn’t been considered fully but don’t provide your solution in terms that read ‘Move x 100 pixels to the right’
Your designers are in post because they are experts in their field, whether fresh out of uni or 10 years industry veteran they know this subject well and given the right environment the ‘veteran’ or ‘Uni-fresh’ can still produce amazing solutions. That’s why you hired them right? Design robots don’t exist and nobody wants to fill that role.

#5 – Chances to prove themselves

Designers will surprise you with their abilities to innovate and create very different ways of approaching your creative needs and problems given the chance to. However, too often designers are either at capacity for work that they already do well that the room to expand and prove themselves competent in a new skill or a different kind of project is slim. Try to plan time for designers to learn completely new skills and ways of doing projects an clearly state this this the chance to prove themselves as individuals or as team, able to take on that new piece of work or that new need of the business.