When designing is no longer enough

Nina Brown

New Member

I wonder if some other professionals could help me with some challenges that I am facing. Some of the examples are a little vague but this is because I work for a high profile client.

I work as their only in-house designer. I am also the first designer that they have employed (previously used agencies) but I am facing some serious challenges in what exactly I should be doing, other than designing the campaign materials.

I feel perfectly competent in my design skills, to talk to my in-house clients and figure out their key message, to deliver and problem solve visually, create briefs and timelines etc. This work has also received praise so feel that I am fulfilling this part of my role. However much more is expected from me, for instance I often attend meetings in which I'm expected to contribute not to the design, but how we campaign, what our affiliate groups should be doing nationally and events etc not directly related to design.

In regards to this part of the role, I am out of my depth. I'm not sure if it's a poor cultural fit, perhaps I'm not that conceptual or, they are not utilizing their designer properly. I have suggested 'leave behinds' that employees can take or leaflets targeting specific groups or how to sub-brand but this resulted in bored colleagues "we want more from you than nice graphics" "it's about more than colour" but I have no idea what else to suggest, if it's not design related.

Are there any other sole in-house designers anywhere that can advise me on their job roles and what I should 'realistically' be expected to do? In my previous roles (3 years experience) this was all I did and I had an audience regarding typography and design. The role may not be for me but I would appreciate feedback before I move on to another employer.

Thanks in advance.
I can sympathise with you here. My first step up the design ladder was an in-house 'Graphic Designer' role that I was over the moon to have secured off the basis of two interviews where my portfolio of the time was well received and the working conditions and job expectations outlined to me in a way that seemed ideal. Very quickly after starting it became apparent that I would be required to manage the print department in part as well due to the print manager's aversion to computers and other people for that matter. I had to quote all the jobs, order paper stock and print supplies, place orders on their systems and process invoices, run out films and maintain the image setter, create the printing plates and store them as well as a million other menial tasks such as sweeping the warehouse and stacking palettes. When I queried it I was told "well, you get out what you put in" which was brilliant. The fact is that any employer will try to get as much value from you as they can - they'll bleed you dry and if you work in-house often ignorance will lead your colleagues or superiors to expect you to provide services that you are not really skilled in, knowing they have you over a barrel. Sadly you usually don't have much choice, you either get clued up and participate as they expect or ship out somewhere that you feel suits you better. I don't think this is unique to design positions at all - but that won't help you really I guess.
They sound as though they expect you to help with marketing/social marketing - have I got that right? Use it as a learning experience - can you get them to pay for a marketing course for you? Or any other suitable courses!

When I employed designers I always encouraged them to be hands-on in the business (we were a litho/digital printers) and they would readily do photocopying, wirobinding, answer the phone, collating or other such tasks. Not actual printing but had they asked we would have let them have a go on the machines (under supervision). It's not 'bleeding you dry' - my designers had a firm knowledge and experience of papers, printing, folding binding etc which has stood them in good stead.
Further to what Kate has said, it's worth thinking whether or not you would actually like to get more involved with these things. If you do, then trying to get onto a course that can further your ability to contribute more could be great; you'll find your job more interesting and enjoyable as well as becoming more rounded as an employee for the future.

If it doesn't interest you much to do that and it's not for you though, then it's not for you I guess.
I can see where they are coming from as when they used an agency they were using a team of people with a pool of skills including design and marketing. Now they are using you they want the same. It does represent a career opportunity for you as it entails greater responsibility and ultimately, if not with your current agency, you would be more likely to get a better paid job.

Just recently, I asked my designer to do a business card for us and I said I wanted a snappy line to go on it and gave a few examples. Yesterday, he then asked me if I had come up with a snappy line yet and I was a bit disappointed. I don't necessarily expect it, but I'd sure like to see some of the design creativity being applied to marketing too.

If you are sure you haven't got it in you I guess you just need to let them know what your strengths are.
Some excellent advice here, thanks to all. As the only designer in this company I definitely felt the need to reach out to other professionals.

my designers had a firm knowledge and experience of papers, printing, folding binding etc which has stood them in good stead.

I agree completely, if you encourage this from designers the knowledge and expertise will only help to iron out problems at printing stage. And make the designer more competent. If they suggested I spend a day at the printers I would readily do so :)

I don't necessarily expect it, but I'd sure like to see some of the design creativity being applied to marketing too.

This is something I learnt in the last year working professionally too, after a while "copy goes here" just won't do!

However what my employers want me to get involved with just doesn't interest me, I have had to be honest with myself, that's why I'm resisting. Not so much because it's marketing (I would love to learn as it's makes you a more rounded employee as already mentioned). It's more the nature of the business doesn't really interest me. I have made the hard decision to move on to somewhere else, where my heart is in it!

Thanks for all the advice, it has certainly helped to open my eyes to the importance of marketing as well as design.

From my own personal experience this is a growing trend that I don't think there will be any escape from. I've work in house for a few design firms and people do start to look to you for input into other areas of projects on top of standard design. I work as a freelancer now and pretty much every client I work with looks for some sort of input into their marketing and product or service placement from me. I now provide digital marketing as part of my services and it is very popular, I don't necessarily think of it as a bad thing, its just something that my clients expect from me and I'm happy to provide, you can still be creative with marketing and if you have a great marketing idea, this can give you design a lot more weight.

Something that used to bother me quite a lot was my designs being taken by a marketing department then used completely out of context because they did not understand the design concept, now I control the marketing and design so this never happens. Yes is more work and can be a bit tedious but I think it's worth it in the long run.
i've worked as a 'in-house' designer, albeit as a junior at the time, you either need to get involved or look for something else

in my experience a 'proper' design agencies are more tuned in to the industry and you will work creatively for 40 hours
I see no need for a designer to have any deep knowledge of the sector their working in or any other, specialist part of the business in-house. I've worked in-house in a health, a management consulting and an educational setting and, although there were certain assumptions made about how much I knew in the broader sense, I was quick to dispel them. In short, I made people clear on my position and it came down to this: "you carry on with the great work you're doing and I'll make sure it gets presented in a manner that befits - hopefully surpasses - the professional standards you expect."

The flipside, for those who are interested, is that engagement with other areas can throw up unexpected opportunitites; I worked with a web developers and a database geek who ultimately avoided the redundancy bullet I had to bite as they'd taken the chance to develop as a business analyst and a project manager respectively - not my bag at all but there you go...