It’s catch-22. As an in-house designer, you know the
brand inside and out because you work with it every
day. But that same familiarity—the fact that you’re
right down the hall—can often work against you in
the eyes of company decision makers. Too often, an
expert is defined as someone from the outside.
This mindset can make it difficult for in-house
designers to champion their own ideas for redesigns
and win the right to tackle major rebranding efforts
over outside firms. The reality, however, is that inhouse
departments head up stunning redesigns all the
time. Here’s a look at four different paths to success.
1. Become a partner
After he joined Rand McNally in 2004, Joerg
Metzner went to work repositioning his department
within the company. “Design was an afterthought,”
says the design director. “The general attitude was
that in-house designers were just there to ‘make it
pretty.’” He quickly moved his team out of a hidden,
windowless room and started promoting their
capabilities internally. The primary message: “We’re
partners in branding and problem solving. Bring us
into the process earlier.”
Today his eight-person department is a critical
part of the company’s push for positive change.
They’ve redesigned annual books, an effort that
helped boost sales. One key change was the addition
of local photography to map and guide covers.
These images help consumers make an immediate
connection with the product, and since many of the
photos come free from chambers of commerce and
tourist bureaus, it’s a low-cost solution. Metzner and
his team also worked to redesign and standardize the
company’s business cards and stationery, as well as
refresh its logo.
He believes in-house designers need to position
themselves as strategic thinkers rather than creative
services. One change he made, for example, was the
name of his department—from Art and Design to
simply Design, emphasizing that his team’s capabilities
reach far beyond looks. Another key, he says, is
getting in front of final decision makers, such as the
president, CEO, or chief marketing officer. They’re
the people who can really green-light your ideas.
Metzner has also made a change that routes all
design projects through his department. Previously,
each marketing team had its own chosen outside
designer or agency. The new approach promotes both
consistency and cost savings. It also lets the design
team decide what needs to be sent out. His final
words of wisdom: “Let your light shine and be bold.
Do multiple solutions. Really try to act like an outside