Corporate Life vs. Design Firm Life

Thanks to Core77 designers have great access to information about design firms. You can find out where they’re located, what awards they have won, contact info…and so forth. But what about corporate companies? It’s hard to find out what companies are hiring designers, and if they even have “in-house” design. Navigating through corporate websites for design jobs is much harder than finding out info about design firms. Is there a easy to find corporate design jobs? Also, which lifestyle/work do you prefer? Corporate or Design Firm? What’s the pros and cons?

Well I’ll start this off I guess. From what I heard corporate provides more benifits, but the work environment is boring and it gets old fast. As for as design firms go, its face paced, different projects, but the pay isn’t as well. This is all from what I’ve heard, not experienced though. :confused:

The best way to find them is to join IDSA. Their membership directory gives you pretty much the complete list of corporations that employ Industrial Designers, and the contact info of the designers themselves.

But don’t forget about Coroflot! Probably the best place to find corporate design jobs.

I advise recent graduates to start in consulting. It’s a faster paced environment with more exposure to more things. From there you can decide to specialize and go corporate.

Seems to me that there is a false glorification of design firms. True, at a design firm, you have possibly more diverse projects but many of them never, ever reach production. All that work for nothing. It’s fast-paced, but I’ve found corporate to be about the same speed. With corporate, you get to be really good at what you do, and I’ve never really found a lack of interesting projects to work on.

In general, I think designers go through school thinking that working at a firm is the end-all, be-all. It’s not. It’s crappy pay, long hours, and you’re surrounded by huge ego’s. Corporate need not be a derogatory term.

I would have to say that working in a design firm does have its benifits of working on many differant projects. And 90% of the projects do go into production. The pay isn’t bad depending on how good you are, and the hours are a little long. But I remember a corporate gig I worked demanded about the same hours and less pay. Egos can be put in check, try dealing with the pain in the a$$ maketing guy down the hall. But hey some people love designing the same thing day after day.

Also meant to mention that with corporate, you typically get to learn about the REAL processes involved in bringing something into production. You’re surrounded by all of the little details that make or break a product’s quality in manufacturing. I don’t think you see that level of detail in a consultancy. When you work with production engineers, you learn about the little things that matter and you end up with more control over your designs, rather than just handing off some pretty pictures.

Very subjective, but it sure can feel like that sometimes, especially when clients’ timelines are long and drawn out after you are involved (especially with medical) can seem like ages. But I’ve also witnessed corporate environments where development is stopped, paused, etc. after tons of time and work.

At least in corp you are involved and have a first hand understanding of what is going on, whereas at a firm some projects just seem to disappear into a black hole…So it happen regardless, I’ve come to terms with the reality that some of the really cool work I create will die a lonely moldy death in someones’ file cabinet. :laughing:

Variety is the spice of life, dudes, tis better to try it both ways, methinks.

From my experience in the corporate world, after seeing what we put consultants through, I don’t know if I envy that world anymore.

There definately can be more diversity of work, but the flip side is if you’re an in house consultant or do a lot of work with a specific company, you may still be limited to the same type of work anyways.

I also think consultants are expected to get work done much faster than in a corporate world, where a lot of your time is taken up with meetings and not actual ID work. If “the man” says he wants X deliverable by Monday - you’d better believe there will be times where you’re gonna have to huck it all weekend to get the work done.

There certianly are downsides to corporate culture though…the man gets you down sometimes.

Like everyone has mentioned both have there upsides and downsides. When working in corporate you do get to see first hand what is going on and you generally have a better understanding of the environment, brands, equipment, and everything else that is needed to make the product work.

I would have to disagree that a firm is higher paced. There are two Industrial Designers working in our Packaging group of 22 packaging engineers. We get pulled in numerous different directions and are expected to deliver yesterday.

Some of the downsides of corporate aside from usual budget constraints and everything revolving around price points and sales is that the agency is always going to be smarter than you. You can tell marketing that their concept will not work, or that the consumer is looking for this until the cows come home, but sometimes they will not listen until an agency comes in and tells them the something. This is a battle I struggle with everyday.

Another is that there are a lot of activities going on at one given time. This can cause you not to be able to spend as much time as you would like on them. This can get really old as some of these projects are putting together concepts to pass off to a firm and letting them finish them up. The upside to this is that you then get to manage the firm and still have your hand in the pot.

I’m very glad I started in a firm on the ground floor. Working for a small firm had me doing everything from cutting boards to sweeping the shop, to presenting to clients. No better way to cut your teeth.

After 4.5 years of that, I had a culture shock dropping into a huge global corporation with 350+ designers, but I knew how to get things done when the “print center” went dow… oh no…

Working for a small firm you learn how to be entrepreneurial and scrappy and get it done… take that to a corporation and get dangerous is my advice.

Though I am sure there are exceptions, I agree that consulting work is generally faster paced and sometime more hectic. Corporate customers tend to wait until the last minute to drop things in a consultants lap with the expectation that they can meet a tight deadline, so there are times when long hours are required with very little notice. It is not that in-house corporate designers are not busy, but in my experience the work schedule is more predictable and consistent.

As others have stated, there are certainly advantages and disadvantages to both. I enjoyed the frantic pace and flexible schedule of consulting when I was younger (and didn’t have kids), but these days I prefer the more consistent work schedule of a corporate position.

more on the original topic - i’ll be graduating and looking for work soon, If i can’t get work in a firm, should i try to go corporate? IF so, how?

I’m in Australia ( or will be back soon)

That’s the same question I’m seeking…after looking at a bunch of corporate websites, sometimes they don’t list our profession as “industrial design” but something else (Design Engineer for example). I tend to think its more of a connections-based way of finding work in corporate. Corporate is too huge to list a field where they might only hire 1 or 2 people…wish I could go to Australia by the way.

The answer is go where you can. I don’t know how many time we as a community have to keep saying this. In times like these you can not hold out for the better offer. If you want to work in a firm than go for it, but you better also be looking in corporate as they are the ones with the big budgets and can afford to hire people at the moment.

I think it depends on the consulting firm. Being in the thick of things, I’m happy where I am. I like being busy and having different things to work on. From what I can tell, some firms are more specialized than others, but where I am, we get some good variety in there.

I think we’ve been fortunate as well to have the experience to bring things close enough to production ready that our clients don’t have to change much, as well as generating exciting enough concepts that help push them to work towards preserving the original visions for concepts. Alot of that has to do with the types of clients you get to work with and who’s on the other end of the pipe - i.e. designer vs. marketing guy.

I’ve never had to pull an all-nighter (knock on wood), but we have our mad rushes now and then.

Just thought I’d share my 2¢. I think it depends alot on the culture of the company you’re at. Some will sap you bone dry and pay you peanuts. Others take care of you. Again, I feel lucky. We have good benefits and good compensation where I am currently working. Where that is, will remain undisclosed :sunglasses:

Oh, and right now, if you’re graduating and looking for a job, I wouldn’t be too picky. Any experience is good at this point.

It really depends on who the company is and what industry they are in. Different industries require different design services. Most large corporate organizations don’t have in house design teams(usually because they are in a service based industry), many leaving the design thinking up to product managers who don’t have any design experience. The product mangers job is simply to handball requirements documentation to outsourced design agencies.
What you will probably find is that companies who do have in house design teams are in manufacturing and construction industries. But to remain cost effective even these in house design teams have different roles, some teams are structured to deliver product concepts, others play more of a moderator project management role where they work with external agencies and get them to do the heavy design lifting because it’s a lot more cost effective.
What you will find is that at the large corporate level you are at the top of the pecking order and you will usually make the most money there in comparison, but the work various as well, typically corporate work is pretty bland and can be boring, not all of it mind you every so often you get dropped really interesting projects.
Also the design process in a corporate organization is different, it’s not too different but the larger the company the more complex the process gets and the greater paperwork becomes, so if you land a corporate job be prepared for a culture shock especially of they do not have a very strong internal design culture.

I’ve freelanced at both ‘creative’ companies and international corporates. First, on balance, ‘creative’ companies such as large and small marketing agencies, studios and print shops just give you a lot more variety. True, one international manufacturer had a broad and busy workload, promoted creativity and saw nearly all jobs through to production. Against that, big financial and legal companies had me wrangling the same tired templates week in week out, while dealing with a raft of people who didn’t understand the design process, print terminology, how the kit worked or deadlines.
Secondly, it is also true that up to 80% of the work put through the creative companies did at some point make it to print, screen or broadcast. Maybe things are different in the UK, but the I find the idea of a 50% drop out odd.
Third - pay. As a freelance I got the same (fairly good) rate no matter where I worked. Some companies did try to push the price down, but on both sides of the divide.
Finally, just to echo comments above, if your just starting to look for a job, right now get what you can. In the golden age just past, it would have been great to start in some small creative outfit, loose all the bad habits just picked up in education, learn something about the actual workflow then more on to whatever sector appeals. Now, make a plan get some income and try to be enterprising.

Just to show healthy disagreement, my advice is for new designers to start in a corporation then move to a consultancy years later if opportunity presents. Here’s why:

Corporate design, engineering, research and development, creative, whatever name, departments are involved from beginning to end, and in my experience a majority of projects are completed. You will learn immense amounts from other disciplines: engineers, financial, manufacturing, etc. Extremely valuable, and only makes you a better, competent designer.

Consultancies, freelancers, are infamous for producing unmanufacturable, expensive designs, often an over hyped stereotype, sometimes true. It’s because some of them don’t have enough direct design for manufacture experience.

Consultancies are ruled by what’s billable: can’t charge the client, don’t buy it. Corporations are ruled by departmental and project budgets that usually have more flexibility: shop tools, new computers, conferences.

Some previous points: it’s true that most corporations have official processes, often are no fun extra paper work. But these corporations will require any consultancy they hire to also comply with their processes. The consultancies benefit is that it’s only for that project, but also learning companies different processes. Sometimes a company will actually have an excellent process that you can learn and copy. Very few consultancies follow any established or documented design process, usually just a best methods approach maximizing billable hours.

Overall, a new designer can learn more in a corporate department directly applicable to the design and manufacturing of products. In a consultancy one can learn the business of managing multiple design projects, valuable information, but second priority for a new designer.

Of course it depends on the company but here are some stereotypes

design consultancies:
More Creative office
Small business atmosphere (process can be similar to what you learned at UNiv)
Always changing products
More individual power
Less input into the final product vs inhouse
Less old school skills like surfacing and details
Less global
And less ind. Designers to learn from since many are young
(btw in the us there are very few inhouse firms left)

No way, it’s the opposite, there’s been a huge growth in corporate design as companies increasingly view design as strategic to their business.

Anyone have statistics that’ll prove one of us wrong?