Designed to Succeed

by Janet Odgis on May 18, 2013

Ogdis, Janet

Whatever your firm’s marketing needs, in-house designers and outside contractors can play a complementary, not antagonistic, role — and everyone’s output will be the better for it. Here’s how to make it happen.

1. DETERMINE YOUR CORE NEEDS.

In general, are you likeliest to benefit from an outsider’s fresh perspective on a given project, or will an in-house design staff ultimately be more reliable — and do better work — thanks to its familiarity with your firm, its culture and its brand identity? Such considerations are not zero-sum; an internal team and an outside contractor will often complement each other nicely from project to project. But it’s important to determine ahead of time which is more likely to meet your needs better the bulk of the time.

2. PROMOTE YOUR FIRM’S VALUES WITHIN AND WITHOUT.

An in-house design team typically requires different oversight than other departments within your firm — they serve at your discretion, of course, but often their interests, workflow and schedule won’t align precisely with those of the rest of the firm. Give them as much free rein as your corporate culture permits, but be sure they’re imbued with that culture in the first place. Paradoxically, this is sometimes easier to accomplish with an outside design team: Vendors, whose relationship with your firm is by definition more formal, inherently recognize the need to toe your line.

3. FOR UNUSUAL PROJECTS, CAST A WIDE NET.

Design output that repeats and assumes a predictable schedule — a monthly newsletter, say, or an annual report — is most easily handled by an internal team, whose day-to-day exposure to your firm is unquestionably beneficial for such projects. For unorthodox initiatives, though, you might consider the fresh eye that an outside designer can bring. Are you pitching business to a new kind of client or industry? Looking to do some custom publishing — either print or digital — that will help your firm maintain full control of its message even as you expand your client base? Outside specialists can be an excellent source of innovative ideas that augment those of your in-house staff.

4. QUICK ACCESS OR CREATIVE DISTANCE: WHICH MATTERS MOST?

Need lightning-fast turnaround on an unexpectedly rush-ordered campaign? There’s no substitute for an in-house designer who is close at hand, whose rate is set in stone and who knows the firm better than any outsider ever could. Substantial long-term projects, though — those with deadlines that allow for creativity to come to a slow boil — can often benefit from outside perspective, even if the bulk of the work will be done internally. It’s possible to strike a balance, and to do so economically.

5. STIR THE POT AS OFTEN AS NEEDED.

Although routine jobs (episodic tasks like those newsletters and annual reports) are part of any designer’s professional life, anyone with even the most cursory experience would prefer not to do the same project over and over again. One way to alleviate “design fatigue” is to encourage your staffers — and, for that matter, any outside contractors you expect to work with periodically — to tap into professional organizations such as the Art Directors Club, AIGA (formerly the American Institute for Graphic Arts) and the Society of Publication Designers. They’ll get exposed to fresh ideas and trends, and be able to tap others’ expertise. Whether internal or external, designers are like anyone else: A mixed, balanced professional diet produces optimal results.

Janet Odgis, Creative Director and President of Odgis + Co. creates award-winning design and branding for some of the world’s most prestigious corporations, law firms and foundations.


 

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