While I was still in college, I started to appreciate the different ways of thinking that my buddies had. While some of them were dreaming on getting a work in a prestigious design agency, others were planning on starting their own businesses, finally, there was another group who wanted to design for firms that have nothing to do with design, this with the purpose of guarantying that their opinions were going to be respected as the only designer in the house.
Pros and cons
Now that it’s been more than 2 years since I graduated from college, I can see how all my friends ended up in diverse places but somehow all of them are still working in design; this made me start wondering about the difference between working for a major design agency, flying solo and/or to work for an in-house department. On this article I’d like to give you some insights on how is like working on these different sectors and what are the pros and cons.
Let’s begin with in-house teams, the one that’s becoming more popular nowadays and that is also taking away some terrain to design agencies. An in-house department has the plus of being an actual part of the company, which gives the designers a chance to know the real needs of other departments as well as the strategies that should be implemented during the next months and even years. The in-house designer knows well the company’s product and how to sell it while sticking to the company’s goals and vision.
Being part of an in-house department takes away the pressure of trying to stand out from the rest (something very common in design agencies) and instead invites the designer to become part of the group in order to team up in the chase of a common goal. As part on an in-house team, you will be in touch with people from other divisions, which can help you obtain a global vision of how the business works; you will also enjoy the fact of having normal working hours, so you don’t need to worry about your client reaching you at 2 in the morning to ask you for some edits on a website for the next day, hence you can say that working in-house gives you more stability.
Then we have the money part, which is probably the main reason why in-house design departments have increased 10% since 2005 according to Design Council. Having an in-house team can reduce the company expenses (design-related costs) up to 40%, the reason for this is that in-house teams can speed up most of the processes that are typically outsourced; with in-house teams, the people from other departments don’t need to plan meetings with the agency or freelancers to talk over the next step in the process, instead they just give the design department a visit or give the designers a call, something that takes less time than exchanging emails and having several video conferences. Also, the communication with an in-house team is more straightforward, which gives less room for misunderstandings that may sabotage the whole design process. Designers can also become part of the company’s structure by helping colleagues from other sections to make decisions and approach their tasks from another point of view.
But there are cons in working for/in an in-house group. In-house teams are usually made out of few people that join forces to create products and keep the company’s image fresh, the problem comes when very precise tasks show up such as 3D animations or special prints. Design agencies often count with a larger staff so they can be prepared to do any kind of work that is requested, they also understand the fact that designers don’t need the same hardware than the rest of the company, because large companies usually buy the same equipment and software for all the employees, in-house departments can end up working in an old PC with Office 97 and Photoshop CS2. Another problem of working with in-house teams is that you have less creative freedom than in design agencies, so you will be sacrificing your creative growth for a financial stability, as a result, once you decide to leave the firm, your portfolio will be filled up with tons of works looking all alike because they were all completed following the company’s design guidelines.
On the other side of the coin we have design agencies, the place where the majority of young students are eager to enter to fulfill their wishes of glory and acknowledgment within the field. An advertising agency is the ideal place for new graduates; you will be exposed to different kinds of clients and assignments, so you will be using many of the things you have learned about branding, print media, web design, animation and more. Design agencies tend to encourage their designers to let their creativity go so they never get bored with a single project. You will also meet talented people that will teach you many things and will also make you part of the winning squad. Don’t worry about having to work in a small cubicle because agencies often strive to provide their employees with inspiring and comfortable spaces where they can put their ideas to roll.
Unlike in-house designers, agency people will usually come with fresh and innovative ideas, so even if a company has an in-house department, they might rely in an agency at some point in which they would like to change how things are being done. Another benefit of working in a design agency is that you have better odds of getting promoted or receive a better paycheck at the end of the month, it only depends on how well your projects are doing and how much income is your work providing to the company. If you are into gadgets and you also like to be updated with the latest trends in technology, then be prepared to enjoy the newest software and all the gears you could need to get your creations done.
But then we have the cons. While in-house departments have shorter verticals that are usually composed by them and the person asking for a product, working for an agency means having to report to an Art Director, his superiors, then the clients and even in-house departments that are in charge of approving a design, this means that you will possibly receive a smaller slice of the cake while doing the same or even more work than the one an in-house designer has to do. Working for an agency also implies being ready to give up your social life, it’s very common to hear that in a design agency “you know at what time you get in but you never know at what time you get out”.
Design agencies tend to hire young designers as they’re easily controllable, they usually don’t have children or major responsibilities, so it’s not a big deal for them to stay extra hours working on a final proposal for a client.
Now the question is: “Should you pursue a career in a design agency or play safe and join an in-house team?” We can start by saying that if you not only have great talent but also have some business knowledge, then an in-house team may be a better option for you. The road to success is harder but more satisfactory in a design agency as you could end up as Art Director or even as CEO, this is an opportunity that an in-house job will hardly ever give you, yet you can still receive a better payment throughout the years and become a key element in the company.
You should begin your working life in an agency to prove yourself against other designers; you will also learn how to tackle several projects simultaneously, which is something that’s going to teach you a lot about organization and time optimization. Don’t stay for too long in the same agency, it will consume too much of your time and energy, this added to the uncertainty of maintaining your job can even affect your health issues at long term. Once you’re done with the agency, you can move on to an in-house department where you will have a more peaceful and constant life while contributing with all the things you learned during your days at the agency.
The in-house work is ideal for people with a family or other things in mind rather than just professional success. Of course you could also harness your experience and business contacts earned at an agency to mount your own business; however, you need to remember that starting a self-owned agency from zero is something that not all the people are ready for.
My opinion might have gotten a little biased as I personally consider in-house teams to be a better option. Nevertheless, I have to admit that there are several advantages in working freelance or for a design agency, so if you consider that my thoughts are too biased, feel free to share your opinion in the comments section, I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and we will see you in our next article.