The internet is bursting at the seams with graphic designers who have started their careers from a whole heap of different backgrounds – tertiary education, self-taught, big corporates, and advertising agencies.
As the client, you need to find someone who ‘gets’ you and your business. Industry design experience is where we learn our trade and skills, so it is definitely worth knowing a bit more about the background of your designer.
So, what is the difference between corporate and agency design, and why should it matter to you?
Why you should hire a graphic designer with agency experience
The agency environment is a tough and competitive niche, in which only the best will thrive. It’s a bit like a Darwinian contest for survival, where only the creative and nimble survive – and the super-tough will flourish.
If your designer is ex-agency, chances are they will be:
Agency working life is about working on and juggling lots of different projects for different clients. Coming up with new ideas is the agency designer’s job, day in and day out. Solid agency experience will produce a graphic designer who will bring lots of creative richness to projects for your business.
Advertising agencies are not for the faint hearted. Deadlines constantly loom, and often meeting these deadlines requires working long hours while being super-focused. If you work with a designer with an agency background, they will understand the importance of setting clear expectations with you and meeting your agreed deadlines.
A team player
The design process in an agency is a collaborative one. From the client, to the creative director, account managers and designers – lots of brains and (sometimes clashing!) personalities go into creating the final product. An agency designer knows how to listen to you, take on board your feedback, and cleverly incorporate it into their creative process.
Working in an agency can be tough. With so much input from different team members, graphic designers need to learn how to roll with the punches and not take criticism personally. Ultimately, the design process is a collaboration. The designer wants what you want – to create a visual piece that fits in with your business and brand.
Remember though, that you are hiring a designer for their expertise. Learning how to stand up for their ideas is also part of the game, and a good graphic designer will not be afraid to challenge you when they feel it’s appropriate.
Bringing design concepts to life is a slippery mix of pre-visualisation, and exceptional working knowledge of your tools. Knowing Photoshop does not a designer make, but without the right software skills the best ideas quickly slip away.
In an agency, designers will fall over themselves to show off to each other the best and quickest way to achieve an outcome. It’s a funny sort of competitiveness that’s not always pretty! However, this sharing of knowledge produces designers who can massage your idea into visual shape quick smart.
Why you should hire a graphic designer with corporate experience
Corporate design departments can be as high-octane and stressful as their agency counterparts. Sure, you’re dealing in only one brand, but the nuances and creative twists that apply to that brand require their own set of finely tuned skills.
If your designer is ex-corporate, chances are they will:
Be expert at brand management
When you work in the design department of a corporation, brand is everything. Corporations spend thousands and millions of dollars getting their brand image just right, and one role of the design department is ensuring that the brand doesn’t get diluted.
Whether working on pitches to potential clients, creating marketing collateral, or rolling out reports and presentations, ensuring that not only the design team, but also other departments, are sticking to the brand guidelines, is paramount.
It does give rise to the ‘brand nazi’ (I think every corporate design department has at least one), but there is no better background for learning the importance of brand management .
Have a keen eye for detail
Keeping all documentation and collateral ‘to brand’ means that you have to have a super keen eye for detail. Alignment of text, positioning and size of logos, using approved colours. Knowing how to scan and spot discrepancies becomes second nature. This translates to consistent design on your projects.
Know how to juggle massive workloads
Corporations often have brand refreshes or other big design rollouts. Working on these projects can be very time intensive and stressful. Like agency work, deadlines need to be met and multiple projects juggled. Your designer will know how to work fast and furiously to meet your deadlines, while keeping all the key details in place.
Be confident and skilled
The design department often works across all levels of the business – working on projects for a Director or MD, or dealing directly with a client of the business. Good people skills are very important, as well as having deep confidence in their abilities.
Having this background means that your graphic designer will have learned diplomacy and how to manage people and their expectations. They will bring this to your project, and help you to navigate your ideas through their creative process.
Also, they will really know their stuff, and know how to communicate clearly and effectively with you.
When picking a freelance graphic designer to work on your next project, it is worth asking some questions about their industry background. It doesn’t need to be a full-on job interview, but knowing a bit more about their professional journey may give you some insight into how confident you can feel in hiring them to work with you.
On another note, I’d like to thank Kate Toon for the inspiration behind this blog post, and her kind permission to borrow the spirit of her post – “Why should you choose an ex-agency copywriter”.