Some people naturally flourish as in-house designers. They enjoy being part of a team, work best in a structured environment and prefer not having responsibility that extends beyond their part of the work. There are definitely strong benefits: security, steady pay, working with peers, more realistic deadlines. Other people genuinely struggle within that environment.
Through a portion of my career I worked in-house, and was one of those who had quite a bit of difficulty with it. However, along the way, I learned a couple of strategies that helped me immensely.
Within any office environment, there exists a culture of whinging. Complaining can be cathartic and form a sense of camaraderie. Although it feels good to purge, don't let it become a habit. All too quickly those snarky comments to co-workers imperceptibly sour you on your job; and excessive whinging poisons your peers as well, making the job worse for everyone.
Draw the line
Complaining can push you to the point where you can't see the good in a perfectly fine job. Learn where you need to draw the line. When it gets to the point of being overwhelming, just put your head down and get on with your job.
To a certain degree, as an in-house designer you are still multiple tiers removed from the people who are actually making the decisions, and this can be frustrating. Although we all react differently, I was getting so concerned with my work getting chosen by the final client that it was making me miserable. I finally stopped thinking about who we were designing for. Instead, I saw myself as a one-man agency within my workplace, with my direct superior as my client. As long as that person was happy, I had done my job correctly.
It probably sounds stupid, and it's a really small change, but you know what? It felt good. I started to enjoy what I was doing again and stopped worrying about things that were out of my control. By learning to compartmentalise your job, it becomes easier for you to accomplish your goals and to excel at what you are tasked with doing. It may even help to filter out some of the distractions that wind you up.
Ultimately - and this is tough to swallow - as an in-house designer you are a small part of a larger machine. If anything goes wrong at your end, it not only lets your team down, but trickles up and becomes a bigger problem. If you fulfil what is asked of you to the best of your ability, things really will run smoother for everyone, and you'll start succeeding.
The people above you will know who makes them look good, they'll begin to trust you, and you will start advancing. Don't worry about trying to show them how great and brilliant you are at every turn - just do your aspect of the project well and they will learn how great and brilliant you are for themselves.
Words: Corey Holms
Corey Holms studied graphic design at the California Institute of the Arts, and has been practising it for over 15 years. Although primarily working in entertainment design, he also specialises in type and identity.
This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 221.
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