The design process that corporate and consultant design teams follow are really no different from each other, but there are many facets that make these two groups completely distinctive.
In-house teams typically can influence the organization’s brand better than a removed contacted consultant could, but these teams can sometimes struggle to find their mark in an organization. Consultancies, on the other hand, are specifically hired for their creative work and can seem a bit more focused in what they do. The ability to digest the brief, go away for a while, and return to present well rounded concepts comes across as a bit more clean and organized. There’s something nice about the appearance of a consultants work-flow and offers something in-house designers can be taught.
The problem is that corporate designers straddle a right brain / left brain world; one of creativity, freedom, and originality and the other of business plans, corporate politics, and repeatability. This disconnect can leave many creative teams feeling like they exist outside of the company culture. Many in-house designers don’t naturally seem to fit into (or want to fit into) these corporate norms, and consequently, the norm doesn’t really know how to handle the designer. Since most organizations are built on conformity and standardization and the designer is, well not, many times corporate co-workers simply can’t come to grip with a designer’s messy process.
Andy Epstein has some really great pointers in his book, The Corporate Creative. He suggest that in-house teams try viewing their corporate peers as clients just like any consultant would do. It is an effective way to draw the line in the sand, establishing a separate group that’s doesn’t have to follow the same mold, but exists to do work for the greater good of the organization. If established correctly an in-house team can help make the brief, go away, and return to knock their “clients” socks off.
As someone who leads in-house design teams this concept intrigues me and I’ve found myself thinking about it more and more. I’m starting to view interdepartmental staff as clients who have hired our group to help them with product development. Would these clients re-hire us for the next job? How do they appreciate our design process? Once you think about what you do in terms like that you put an entirely different outlook on the way you present your team and your work.
Bradley Derry is an industrial designer and creative team leader whose specialty is to strengthen a company’s capability to delight customers through product design and brand building. He currently leads a product development team at Innovative Office Products, a premier manufacture of furniture accessories in the Lehigh Valley, Pa. Follow on twitter @Derryest or visit his site BradleyDerry.com.