I often hear about ID-ers being frustrated that the corporate culture they’re in just doesn’t allow the ID dept to fully function. In-house Politics, renegade Marketers, and Stubborn 5-o’clock-shutdown Engineers all work to create Corporate Hell for the creative person.
There are also a few good examples out there too where the designers get the respect they deserve and have great influence on the corporate culture as a whole.
So what can a designer in Corporate Hell do to improve things? What examples do you know of where things have turned around for the better?
Or should they just get the hell out of Dodge?
Depends on the company. Before our program was canned and I got laid off, I was making traction through the CEO. Educating him on the importance of allowing a “Designer to drive Design”. It took a power play to get around the, in your words, Renegade Marketer. But aside from making allies with the right people, I was this close to getting out of dodge…I am just glad I stuck around long enough to get the golden handshake.
It’s not about creativity. It’s about the willingness to step back or give way for the better solution, even cooperation.
I have seen engineers who are creative. They can innovate solutions that designers can refine, revise or provide an alternative solution. They understand that it is not about who gets the credit. It’s about the project making it to the market and do well out there.
I have also met engineers who are simply unwilling to do anything in the name of better solution. They want the credit. This happens more often when the process is not transparent enough, meaning that whatever goes on within their department is out of bounce to others. The result is disaster, but they are happy because they get their decisions made and meet the schedule. They feel that they are more important than designers in the PD process, and takes recommendation as a form of competition. Too bad for them, because they’ve created an environment where they have gotten themselves stuck in. However, designers can very well get themselves into such situation if they have similar mentality too.
I also think the corporate PD procedure can influence such behaviors. Those that are linear, meaning one department does its part then hand off to the next, often results in great mis alignment in project objective. Then you see the project manager having to trace back to see who’s fault it is.
I prefer an opened procedure in which both the designer and engineer start together and exchange information back and forth until they come to a common ground. This is definitely harder to manage. Progress reports will be more vague too, but the more transparent the process is, the easier for mistakes to surface.
I have worked in several corporate environments and I would have to agree with Cow in that the most successful companies are those that get design and engineering to “play together”. I’ve always preferred to work with an engineer right from the git-go on a project. The collaboration at the onset has helped tremendously reduce the nasty mistakes and oversights down the road.
But generally speaking, I’ve been all to aware that in many (not all) corporate environments, the design department does not carry the weight that I felt it should. I’ve personally ranted on that very topic here on the boards. However, after some pretty hard knocks, reality checks, and very humbling experiences, I am coming to the conclusion that maybe we really aren’t “all that” as designers. Every department has their own function to perform and from a “bigger picture” view, they are all equally important in getting the business done. What on earth makes designers think that they should given some kind of special place within the corporate hierarchy anyway? Do we really think that we should be given some kind of exalted status? Personally, I’m now of the mindset that you should be happy that you get paid to draw and bust out renderings all day and not worry about what the other departments are doing.
Thank you for your valuable input to this exchange of ideas and inspirations. Your thoughts will help hundreds.
For one, I don’t work in a corporation so it wasn’t a personal gripe.
And I do agree that We’d be up sh** creek without an ISO9000 Standard paddle if it wasn’t for (certain) engineers. I LOVE working with engineers that really want to make a difference, some projects just go like butter because of them. But there are a few engineers that harbor in corporations and just seem work against the in-house ID guys.
But this thread is about sharing thoughts about how a suffering in-house department can turn things around. It’ll be good to hear more from ip-Wirelessly and skyarrow about what lead to the perception change in their companies.
If that were a Jeopardy question the answer would be:
“What is money? Alex”
A company needs to see the relevance of design in terms of money. It doesn’t matter if the customer likes it better if it doesn’t increase sales. Doesn’t matter if it looks better or works better. At the end of the day the big wigs up top will either understand design, or they won’t – and money’s the only way to change that.
I’m currently in a corporate environment thats very heavy on both ID and engineering, and while nobody gets along perfectly the higher ups realized long ago that once the product is better, it will sell better. They realized if funding a $x design project can lead to 5x the sales, it was something they needed to invest in.
Many engineers are good at working against your case, because they’re good at convincing people that adding this feature will cost more money. The tooling becomes more expensive, the packaging needs to change, the current supplier doesn’t offer that part, etc. Getting over that hurdle seems to be the major issue, because unless your company realizes that people really want and will really buy the improved product, you’ll be swimming against the current.
I’ve been building up a corporate design team from scratch for the last few years and we’ve been successfully climbing the ladder.
With only a shoestring staff to start, I spent a lot of time building the value proposition and educating management. I put a time and effort into the research of benchmarking design successes in related industries. I took a cue from Chuck Jones at Whirlpool who did the same thing a few years back (captured in a FastCompany interview.)
I also laid out a vision and a series of steps to achieve it, year by year. So far, we’re right on target with some major steps that were taken last year having to do with positioning and authority.
Now management is looking to us to deliver on our promises–until we ship product, we’re a sunk cost. This can be tricky when the lead times are long (medical) and the portfolio in flux. So I try and celebrate milestones and am constantly socializing the results within the company. My goal is to get everyone in R&D and Marketing begging for our help. And sure enough, we’re turning away more work than we’re taking on.
Paul is right about the politics and renegades, but that exists everywhere. Navigating those waters is just another design problem to solve. And like skyarrow says, Design is just another leg on the stool. My company has done quite well in the past 30 years without a single designer!
I’ve never worked at a consultancy. The corporate departments I’ve worked in have both been open to what ID delivers, if not excited about it. It goes back to what’s already been discussed here, we need to show the value to management. Just telling them we are great is not enough.
I also hear far too many designers talk about making better products and too few talking about increasing profits. No VP wants his company associated with crap product, but if the alternative is a money loser, he will stick with the crap product.
I feel for cg. I’m in the same position. I’ve entered a company that is 26 years old and doing well, in fact, growing like mad. I’m the first designer they’ve hired and still the only one. Sometimes it is lonely and frustrating, but I’ve found allies.