Thoughts & Ideas

Houston AIGA Inside Job

I was asked to lead a break-out session at this year’s Inside Job, put on by AIGA Houston. This was truly a case of not looking before I leapt when I agreed to take it on. My background is in design and branding. I couldn’t imagine doing a session on “how to make a better logo” or something like that for this audience. My hope was to do something beneficial, collaborative and maybe have a good conversation.

Another issue for me is that I’ve never worked “in-house”. I have, however, worked with several in-house design groups throughout my career – Shell, Dell, Tenaris, Marathon Oil, etc. As a matter of fact, I just recently had an experience with an internal team that helped shape the topic I’d choose to discuss. At Herring, we worked on an identity for an internal initiative. The items and artwork had been approved by our contact at the company but the CEO later asked if it could be changed to be a little more like one of their other internal initiatives. Their in-house design team was asked to look into it and when I was invited to review the logos developed by the in-house team and I was really impressed with them. I kind of wondered why we were brought into the process in the first place (I’ll probably get fired for saying that). I also felt it important to share my admiration (and a bit of jealousy) with the in-house designer.

And I think that’s where I felt I may be on to something worth talking about. If we’re truly supposed to be partners with our clients we have to be willing to put aside any ego or pre-conceived ideas about who does something “better” and think about the client together – as a team. What will work best for the client? How can we collaborate towards a common goal? Sounds hokey, I know.

So I wouldn’t have the burden of talking the entire time I thought I could “distribute the pain” a bit and have people from both sides come together and we could share some stories and we can learn from each, maybe identify a few pain points and come up with some answers. I rounded up experts for a panel that work for either an internal team or are an outside consultancy. Having both sides represented was key to having a balanced dialogue. The panel was made up of: Michael Ratcliff (Senior Art Director at Schlumberger), Wendy Burke (Director of Brand at Hoar Construction), Will Cunningham (Associate Creative Director at Brand Extract) and Marie Dort (Designer at Inventure Design).

How did the discussion go? I think it went really well. The panelists were open about the “pain points” that we all have when working towards a common goal, and recommendations were made about how we could alleviate some of these. Of course, one of the things that kept popping up was the need to be more open and honest in our discussions about the roles we all have, what we bring to them and make sure we set realistic expectations for the process and its results. Another reoccurring theme was that we all need to be in on the strategy first, then the execution. The end results will only be successful if we all are all aimed at the same goals.

I really enjoyed the Inside Job and look forward to seeing what next year’s conference brings. I also want to thank my panelists for their time and generosity. I couldn’t have done it without you guys.