In House Design Vs Consultanies? What Corporations should do

Hi, I am working for a corporation as a designer. I have seen my company hring more consultanices for some design project recently. As an in-house designer, I dont mind it is a problem that sending out more projects to outside design firms. But the problems we are having now is we had spent quite a lot money on these firms. We haven’t seen many good stuff. For some projects, we just want some conceptual ideas to refresh our Marketing staffs. As most people think, consultancies are more good at conceptual works, but most of “ideas” are old concepts from our internal design group a few years ago. And that is the part that piss us off because Marketing sees those are wonderful ideas from them, and obviously they didn’t see we had come up those ideas before. Just for many reasons, those ideas were stocked back somewhere in the corner eventually. We also hired some design firms for real projects. But the problems are we spent more time to communicate back and forward than we just do it by ourselves. I am sure some of you working at corporation experience same problems - The CAD from design firms are all mixed up and we have to spend quite a while to fix it. Sometimes maybe it will be easier than we just rebuild the CAD. Also, as an designer in my company, we don’t have chance to work with consultancies directly for these projects. Mostly Product Managers ar in charge, maybe sometimes Design managers are invloved. So for us, I might not even know what it is going on until design manager asked you to fix the CAD or what we think about those fancy design sketches. So here I am. I would like to:

  1. Any in-house designers have same probelms as us ( I am sure alot), how can you handle this kind situation?
  2. Any consultancies that really work well with corporations, conceptual design or real product design?
  3. If our company decide to move most projects to consultancies, Do you designer should be in charge to manage the projects or Marketing? I guess if you say Marketing, then I should just go ahead to look for job, maybe I should post my portfolio here… :slight_smile:
    4.Or other thoughts?
    Thanks. Hope to get some responses.

Been there. It’s a pain in the ass.

Push your marketing team farther through your designs.

An easy way to accomplish this, from my experience.

For this example, think about the scale of the letters in the alphabet. “A” is the most like what marketing wants/expects (usually conservative). “Z” is way out on Mars. So “M” is right in the middle, still much more wild than marketing would normally expect.

Present marketing with three concepts.

First, present a concept Z. They will be shocked, crying, heart-attacks, vomiting, suicides, etc.
Second, present a concept A. Nodding and smiling to eachother, but in contrast, its quite boring compared to the Z. They’re a bit puzzled.
Third, present your somewhere in between J,K,L,M,N,O,P,Q,R,S… concept.
It’s a nice balance between the non-industrial designer mindset expectations, and innovation.

Of course, I can’t explain every step of this process in a short rant. But incorporate different and similar ideas into the three. And your delivery of your proposed concept is huge.

Well, thanks Taylor,
It is not about how we present to our Marketing group. We had done some awsome work and presentation to them. They were “Wow” of them, but of course after “woo” for a while, no one continues to push those concepts forward and they were just disappeared in somewhere. As designers, our powers are very limited, we can continue to push them, but on one really listens to us.

sounds like you guys need to work on building relationships within the organization. The more you work hand in hand with the marketeers, the more they will be invested in your work. The last place I was at was full of old school engies who didnt have much love for designers. Once I started working with them on projects and problems that all changed and was able to build mutual respect between the groups. Next time you need something from them, forget the email (downfall of communication IMO) and go talk face to face with someone.

true collaboration is hard to get running smoothly, but its almost always about including everyone so they have a stake in things.

I’d work more closely with your design manager if you want to be more engaged in the process of working with and being aware of the work from outside firms. I’m sure he or she would appreciate a hand in managing the process. Make your role what you want it to be.

It can be trouble when marketing runs outside programs without in house design being involved. It can be a symptom of larger disconnects between functions in the organization.

Some wise words from Yo. In my experience (consultancy) the best position for the in-house designers in a outsourcing corporation is in becoming the key contact for the outside partners.

The ID department should position itself to primarily manage the projects going to outside resources and act as communicator between them and the various internal departments. This not only elevates and solidifies the position of the ID department internally but also makes you the respected ‘client’ in the relationship with the consultancy.

If done correctly, this is also a great help for the outside consultancy too, as they don’t know about the internal politics and history of your corporation, and also don’t want to have to deal with it. You field their work for them and the project goes considerably smoother and the results are better.

Don’t worry if this doesn’t sound much like ‘designing’ but it is, and your design senses and drawing skills would never be more valuable than here.

This to me is the best strategy. I have been on both sides of the fence. The knife is still in my back from my corporate days being in exactly your position. Where Marketing has assumed too much control over the "P"roduct.

But getting into the position of Design Manager allows you visibility to it all going back and forth. It can be very frustrating because you still don’t hvae the authority over design you should have. But it allows you the strategy of visibility in the corporation. Everyone now has to go through you to see the design, and you are involved in every design meeting.


Sounds like you and possibly inhouse design is a little out of the loop on Marketing needs or desires. To avoid being circumvented, you and the design group should intimately know what is driving marketing needs and desires. This is key to the relationship building that asango mentioned.

You may want to ask yourself why (if) Marketing is taking things into their own hands:
1 - because they can?
2 - because inhouse design are not delivering?
3 - seeking new perspective?
4 - inhouse design group overload?
5 - other…

On the bright side, if , as you say outside design firms are not delivering (which is almost guaranteed, if in-house design is not involved), and assuming in-house typically delivers; it is one way to justify additional in-house designers, if the business need exists.

PS. Shame on the outside design firm(s) for not engaging the in-house group. Not a sustainable strategy for either party.

Consultants (any kind) enjoy more respect in general for several reasons:

  1. As a 3rd party perspective to confirm you’re doing the right things in the right ways.
  2. They’re costly so whoever is footing the bill needs to justify them (ie. they need THEM to succeed more than you.)
  3. They can teach you something new. As your “competition” this can be threatening if you’re not integrated. I personally find this to be one of the major perks of consultants.

Is this the marketing dept’s subtle way to express their lack of confidence in your department? If that is the reason I could see why the Marketing guys want to keep the in house design from interacting with the consultants because they dont want you to influence the consultants and result in the same old ideas from your department being delivered back again. Please dont take this as a criticism, but only one of many possible assesment of the situation.

The result might not be good, but have you study the consultants’ work to find what is the underlying theme or pattern that is exciting to the Marketing department? And is it something that your department is not delivering?

I agree with you two. And this is strategy what I am trying to push if outside consultancies is the direction the company wants to go. But other problem we have is we have two designe managers are in charge 3 designers. So managers are taking care all these consultacies projects now. For the designers, we are only able to comment the concepts if we get chances.

Answer your questions

  1. Yes, Because Marketing can. I think in most corporation, Marketing does have more control over other departments because product managers should be the leader of the whole product developement team as I assume. But in our case, I think Marketing is a little over power.
    2 & $ I could say in-House design team is delivering what Marketing needs, and even more. But it is true it is overload for us. We are only able to finish daily projects in a very tight schedule. Projects are always waiting on line. No break for us. So we are not able to do some conceptual projects or brainstrom sessions now.
  2. true. Marketing does want some fresh ideas from outside. I don’t complain this. I think it is good for all of us. But I just don’t like how the way the Marketing and the company handle this situation. I think ID team should be invloved more in this process. That’s why if ID team is able to be involved in the process, we can, at least from design persepetive view, make sure the deliveries and collabrate well with outside consultancies and internal team.

Document your work. Plot large posters of your concept ideas. Bind a book of your brainstorm ideas to distribute to Marketing…gold.

So the problem really is not that the department is not given an oppirtunity for input instead it is that you want to participate too. If that is the heart of the issue unfortunately it is just a matter of putting in your time until you are promoted into the position where you can excercise that authority. How much input does your manager exert into the design process with the consultants, could the unsatisfactory result be because of poor direction that your manager is providing? And when you are given the oppirtunity to give inputs is your manager a good at communicating that to the consultants?

Is the role of corporate design to DO design, or to FACILITATE it’s getting done?

Ask your boss what he/she thinks.

I dont think lacking of confidence in our in-house team is the reason. In fact, looking for fresh ideas maybe is what some product managers want. However, some recent hired product managers do try to push using outside consultancies just because they never work with in-house team before. So they are more comfortable working with consultancies.

We did study a little bit about the firm before we hired them and tried to choose them carefully. And I understand it will take time to find the right niche. Some did well, but most of them are just OK. There is a well-known firm does a very bad job, at least not lives up to what we have paid them and their well-known name.

So the problem really is not that the department is not given an oppirtunity for input instead it is that you want to participate too. If that is the heart of the issue unfortunately it is just a matter of putting in your time until you are promoted into the position where you can excercise that authority. How much input does your manager exert into the design process with the consultants, could the unsatisfactory result be because of poor direction that your manager is providing? And when you are given the oppirtunity to give inputs is your manager a good at communicating that to the consultants?

Maybe you are right. I do like to particpate more into this process. However, I mentioned before, althought design managers are in charge of most of consultancies projects, but there are some consultancies projects were sent out without noticing ID department. What I meant by that is product manager work with outside consultancies directly without our team being involved. When we notice it, it would be the time when product manager handed to us some paper and asked us what you think about these concepts. I think it is really about the construction of our managerment. I think it would be better if both Marketing and ID can take advantage of each other and work together to manage the outside consultancies projects.

:smiley: I dont know other corporation, but in ours the reality is “To Get It Done”. But here I am. Trying to push “Do Design” rather just “Get it Done”.

It is interesting to hear the rest of the story starting to come out.

It is so easy to provide the answers you want to hear when the information is a bit lacking.

It sounds as though you’re not happy with your POSITION in the company. You are lower on the totem pole than you desire. Ambition is good, but from the way this story seems to be flushing out, it isn’t Marketing who you need to be talking to. It is your Design Managers. It is their responsibility to utilize the design team in the most efficient manner.

If your company’s MO is to facilitate design getting done, which is a very common and legit strategy, that company may not be for you. You are very unlikely to change that culture until you get a Design Manager title.

you might be right. That is why I am here trying to get some inputs from your guys and hopefully it would help me to find a way to talk to higher up people. we have talked to design managers. They have no control and idea about what the company will go. So that is why we have to be as a team to solve out this situation first.

I’ve been through this as well, several years ago, and it still burns me up.
Interesting thing, however, is that with time my attitude about this episode has changed.
I worked for a sporting goods brand as an in-house footwear designer, and helped the business grow from a small operation all the way to major league sports. When the time finally came to design for pro-level, I was so proud and excited. My boss decided to hire a consultant to do the job instead, and I ended up doing most of the legwork to simply develop their design. I felt like I’d been demoted.
I was the point man for the relationship, but instead of realizing the opportunities I think my tension over the situation ultimately became obvious to all parties involved!
My regret now, after several years, is that I left the consultant with the wrong impression about me personally. I worry now that I will ultimately meet this consultant again…at a job interview!
My point is: don’t fight them, audition for them.