The Future of In-House Design Departments

This summer, The Creative Group partnered with Graphic Design USA and polled hundreds of GDUSA’s American In-House Design Awards winners, gathering perspectives on what lies on the horizon for this group of creatives. Respondents to The Creative Group Survey of 230 Graphic Design USA American In-house Design Awards Winners provides valuable insight on a wide range of topics, including the implementation and influence of technology in the workplace, collaboration and also how in-house designers are influencing organizations’ business decisions and directions. Here are some findings from the survey:

In-house Design Teams are going high-tech

Presently, while not every office and its employees may be equipped with state-of-the-art tablets, smart phones and videoconferencing systems, as these technological tools are shown to boost productivity, businesses will undoubtedly adopt them once they become more affordable. Considering the flexibility this newer technology affords employees, it’s not a far-flung notion to believe that very soon, creative departments will have the choice to work and communicate from any location they choose with a myriad of devices at their disposal. In fact, 72 percent of respondents said that they expect the number of in-house designers working remotely will increase over the next three to five years.

According to the survey’s findings, in-house designers expect to use social & professional networking sites, mobile/smart phones, videoconferencing software (Skype, Facetime), tablet computers and laptops all on a more frequent basis in the next three to five years. 90 percent of in-house creatives surveyed said that they expect their use sites like Facebook and LinkedIn to increase. 86 percent of these creatives also expect their use of tablet computers to increase as well. While 87 percent of respondents expect their use of a mobile phone/smart phone to increase, nearly 60 percent of respondents expect a decrease in their use of a land line. 90 percent of respondents expect to see an increase in their use of videoconferencing as well.

In-house design departments should be aware that the freedom to work and communicate remotely won’t come without drawbacks. Despite the rise in these new technologies, nearly 80 percent of in-house designers surveyed said they expect these changes will make their jobs more challenging. Counteracting the drawbacks of being perpetually connected to the office may be increasingly difficult for in-house designers. Over 80 percent of those surveyed said they expect to be increasingly connected to the office outside of business hours over the next three to five years.

In-house Designers are expanding mobile and social media skill sets

As technology evolves, in-house designers are continually called on to expand their skill sets. Presently, in-house designers must provide for an integrated experience of print and digital media. At larger firms in particular, executing projects across multiple platforms (print, online and mobile) will increasingly become a priority. Furthermore, as social media is continues to evolve as a primary means of communication, in-house designers will be expected to design for these platforms. According to the survey, nearly 50 percent of in-house designers said they expect to be responsible for many more social media-related tasks over the next three to five years. Managing corporate image/branding on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, designing page backgrounds and avatars are just a few instances where in-house designers will be called on to lend support. Additionally, as businesses pursue additional social media outlets, in-house teams will be expected to demonstrate an ability to quickly establish an understanding of and presence in these new areas.

In-house Designers are becoming more influential

As business become more aware of the role creative thinking plays in business decisions, in-house design departments will become more influential as well. Company leaders are beginning to recognize that their in-house creative teams can dramatically help with business problems – and the two are collaborating more.

“We’re looked at as a respected group who can strategize, conceptualize and design, (Robin Colangelo, director of brand and design, White & Case LLP)

According to the survey, nearly 60 percent of survey respondents expect in-house designers to have more influence on company business decisions in the next three to five years. As these departments become more influential, they are also expected to grow. 56 percent of survey respondents said they expect in-house design teams (including both full-time employees and freelancers) to increase in size over the next three to five years.

In-house design departments will be expected to collaborate with more people – both internally and externally – than ever before. 70 percent of survey respondents said they expect to collaborate more with IT Departments and 76 percent expect to collaborate more with their company’s Public Relations/Corporate Communications Departments. Collaboration with Business Operations and Training/Staff Development departments is also expected to increase in the next three to five years.

In summary, The Creative Group’s Survey of 230 Graphic Design USA American In-house Design Awards Winners shows us that the influence, role and expectations for in-house design departments are all expected to rapidly increase in the next three to five years. In addition, as technology continues to change the face of communication, marketing and advertising, in-house design departments will be expected to stay ahead of the curve while also lending valuable insight and problem-solving skills to the decision-making process.

Download the complete report here.

5 Ways Creatives can Deal with Non-Paying Clients

Freelance designers have serious problems when it comes to collecting payment from clients. As a follow up to another post that deals with some steps being taken to give creatives some defense against clients who refuse to pay, I wanted to know more about the experiences other creatives have had in dealing with such clients or what design professionals have done to successfully collect on what they’re owed.

The range and variety of solutions offered up by members of the LinkedIn group, Creative Dilemmas, came as a pleasant surprise, shedding some brilliant and practical solutions to creative professionals’ invoicing woes as well as steps other creatives can take to avoid getting burnt.

Below is a list of five ways creatives can prevent getting burnt by non-paying clients.

I.  Collect a deposit before any work begins.

“We collect a deposit up front and then invoice the balance at the end. This way we are covered for at least half of the total cost.”

Having to deal with a non-paying client can be easier to manage — or completely avoided — if some preventive strategies are put in place from the very start. Making payment on a project deposit a necessity of every project you take on protects you in two key ways. First, it ensures you get paid for at least a portion of your total projected time and/or expenses. I’ve found my own clients to be comfortable with 25% of the total projected cost of the project, though it’s common for creatives to ask for at least half of the total cost.

“If [clients] don’t want to pay a deposit, then they have no intentions of paying [later

Many creatives have also found collecting a project deposit to be a useful tool for separating good clients from the bad. If you choose not to collect a deposit, you may never get paid — no one likes to work for free.

II.  If You Don’t Trust Them, Don’t Work with Them

“The two times in my 22-year career that I felt uncomfortable about a client were the two times I got stiffed.”

In our day to day lives, we choose to associate with people we can trust. This mindset should also apply to the way we conduct business. A client that’s in a rush to get work done or makes promises that sound too good to be true are signals that you should reevaluate the relationship. Trust your instincts. Ending a relationship with a client that displays warning signs like these could save you a lot of time and energy later down the road.

“I only deal with companies who I feel are trustworthy from the very start. Life’s too short to be chasing invoices.”

III.  Be Professional, Be Assertive

“Perception is everything. To many, ‘freelancer’ means ‘pushover’. If they think you’re a pushover, that’s the treatment you’ll receive.”

Freelancers have to make themselves crystal clear in the way they conduct business. Otherwise, we run the risk of being walked all over, or misunderstood. Let your clients and prospects know that you’re running your business on your terms – not theirs. It might come as a shock, but people don’t want to work with a quirky, egotistical designer that’s difficult to work with: they’re looking for a reliable, honest professional that is as concerned about their business as they are about theirs.

IV.  Get Creative When It’s Time to Collect

“I have a photo of my dog looking extremely sad by an empty dog bowl with a headline that reads “Time to Feed the Dog”… it has invariably caused my invoices to be found and processed.”

While this may be proof that even funny, good-humored approaches to collecting payment can work, it also proves that there’s no single approach to invoicing that guarantees you’ll be paid on time. Every invoice I send out consists of one copy delivered to the client in the mail, one via email and a phone call to letting the client know that they’ve been invoiced. This may be annoying to the client, but it shows them that I’m serious about what I do and that I want to be paid in a timely manner. A client can’t say that an invoice was lost in the mail if they have it sitting in their inbox, or vice versa. If I think a client may be dodging me in hopes that I’ll just forget about their invoice, that’s when I send another one – this time as a certified letter. Resourceful professionals will demonstrate that sometimes you’re going to have to get creative.

“I was once contacted by the president of a design firm who was owed a fair amount of money… I told her to go to the client’s office and sit in the waiting room until someone came out with a check. It worked.”

V.  Explore Your Other Options

“I have only had one instance where I turned a client over to a collection agency… much to my shock, I actually got the money.”

You do have options available to you if a client absolutely refuses to pay. Collection agencies, the better business bureau and small claims courts are a few of the options available to designers in such events. It’s best to weigh the cost and effectiveness of these and any other options available to you to find the one that is best suited to your needs.

Small claims court is a great tool for small businesses. When you get a judgement in your favor, the sheriff goes over and collects the money for you plus all expenses.”

What have you found to be an effective way of dealing with non-paying clients or your own invoicing troubles? Suggestions?

Name That Font

the Font Game as it appears on the iPhone & iPod Touch

The Font Game challenges players to correctly identify 34 fonts as quickly as they can.

Being a designer myself, my hope is that I could name more fonts than someone who doesn’t share my profession, or at the very least name as many as the digits on each hand. Comes with the job, right? That’s not to say there isn’t a myriad of people out there that simply have a love of type and want to prove their dedication to themselves – or someone else.
Maybe you’re like me and occasionally build on your knowledge of the ever-increasing library of fonts out there; maybe you’re interested in just learning a little more about typography in an unobtrusive way; maybe you’re already a sucker for all things type related; whatever the case may be, now there’s a game for you. The aptly titled Font Game, an application for the iPhone and iPod touch, which can also be played online, challenges players to identify 34 fonts in as little time as possible – your score depends on it.

Go ahead; try it out and add at least a few more fonts to your ‘typographic repertoire’ – you’ll find there’s a lot more out there than Times, Arial and Courier… you want me to keep going?

Poll Results: Have You Ever Worked with a Freelance Designer, Studio or Agency?

In early December, I posted a new poll on my LinkedIn profile page. It raised the question Have you or the company you work for ever hired out work to a freelance graphic designer, studio or agency? While there wasn’t as much participation in this poll as I had hoped for, I was still able to gather some good information from the results.
The Predictions:

  • Participants from larger business/organization will most likely answer that they have worked with a design studio/agency.
  • Participants from smaller business/organizations will be somewhat split: some may have worked with a freelancer, some may have worked with a design studio/agency.
  • Most participants will reply that they have never worked with a freelance designer.

The Findings:

  • A majority of the respondents, ages 25-34, are women in a management position with a background in sales.
  • Half of the participants represent mid-size businesses and have never hired out work to a freelancer, studio or agency.
  • One quarter of the participants have hired out work to a design studio or agency in the past.

While the number of the participants in this poll wasn’t as large as I had hoped, it did point out some things worth mentioning and did reflect some of my predictions. I was surprised to find that a majority of participants had never worked with either a freelancer, design studio or larger agency. I wasn’t surprised to find that most of the participants hadn’t worked with a freelance designer, and that makes me wonder why. Is it because these businesses don’t feel comfortable working with a freelancer?, Is it because they’ve never been approached by one?, Did the thought ever cross their mind? Maybe it’s a combination of a variety of reasons.

Keep an eye out in the days ahead for more information about the advantages of working with freelancers as well as the value it can bring to your business.

Poll Results Here