How a Big Biz Can Internalize Excellent Design Teams in 4 Steps

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One major trend on the creative production side of marketing recently is the wholesale purchase or construction from scratch of design studios by big companies with the goal of more constant, efficient access to their expertise. But for this kind of merger of corporate and design operations to be successful, designers and business leaders alike need to understand how to guide that talent in a new–and often very different corporate environment.

Brands are increasingly looking at alternatives to the traditional design agency, either as a way to (theoretically) reduce costs or to increase flexibility and responsiveness by removing the time and dollar markup of a third-party. Buying or building design teams for internal integration is one of those options gaining popularity.

But that’s easier said than done; many of the organizations attempting such a transition have little experience hiring and managing large amounts of creative talent and are finding the change a difficult one.

What kind of creative talent is best for this situation, and how can large corporations effectively hire and manage it? There’s no one solution for everyone. This trend is bringing both companies and designers of all levels into unknown territory. But since businesses are investing so heavily in design, they should be thinking hard about how talent in this area can best be acquired and cultivated.

Here are four steps large organizations should consider in order to establish a solid foundation for a successful, productive internal design team.

1. Create an Environment of Constant Learning and Training

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This doesn’t necessarily mean regular “training” classes (though those can be appropriate too), as much as consistent communication from management to discuss what’s expected within the domain of the various creative design and development roles.

How closely is the team following the aforementioned guidelines? If the group has drifted, why is that so? Working through change requires a continued commitment and focus, specifically when it comes to real-time processing. It’s essential to reevaluate and change tactics when a particular direction simply isn’t working.

Because design leadership is a term that may evolve as a business evolves, there’s an inherent need to revisit its meaning over time. In addition, it’s important for designers to reflect personally on how they will bring their unique skills to bear in an ever-changing business climate. Look for ways to bring in fresh perspectives and cutting-edge ideas, perhaps through a creative marketing consultant or other creative thought leadership.

2. Firmly Establish the Design Team’s Role in the Business

Financial institutions who figured out quickly that design was a way to differentiate their products and services in an increasingly commoditized space have built impressively large Customer Experience (CX) and User Experience (UX) teams.

For Mark McCormick, SVP of Customer Experience Strategy for Virtual Channels at Wells Fargo, design leadership today entails a focus on “deep involvement in understanding customer expectations and having empathy for their situation,” a significant change in methodology from previous design focuses.

While design and research teams may work together to bring the customer voice to a variety of brand touch points, it’s also important to think about how internal systems and structures need to mesh to promote an “outside-in” product and service approach.

Chris Whitlock, VP of Creative at Fidelity Investments, describes his internal take on hiring and managing designers in a corporate environment: “When you are a part of a business solution, you build a staff that has an appreciation of the business context. It’s not separate from the business, but is in the business.”

By understanding exactly how design impacts the business, you establish a baseline for evaluating your newly acquired design talent (and the people leading them).

3. Share Design Wins as Success Stories

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For a large organization with dynamic creative and marketing needs, both investing in design and focusing on how it faces consumers are key steps forward. But keeping up internal momentum and buy-in is perhaps one of the greatest challenges.

To do that, highlight and promote recent success stories where design and other parts of the business have worked together to create a solution in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Leah Buley, Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, references the powerful partnership between the user experience team and a corporate strategy group during her time at Intuit.

These “uncommon marriages” are becoming more common, especially in big brands, and ultimately will be required for customer-centric alignment and differentiating product strategies. Buley digs into the various engagement models that UX and CX groups experience within organizations, asking less about the “right model” and more about what shared success can look like when disparate groups come together with a common goal.

Watch Leah’s Full Presentation:

video from Adaptive Path

That strategy can be carried over to improve collaboration between new internal creative teams and established silos.

While many of today’s corporate reorganizations are intended to break down walls between various groups, it’s often necessary to look at what works at a human level: Specifically, what do teams have in common and how can disparate areas of expertise support mutual business goals? Sometimes these questions are best addressed and illustrated through sharing stories of fruitful collaborations.

4. Study, Test, Optimize, Improve

At present, there’s no specific roadmap for how to quickly integrate a wholescale design house into a 21st-century business, and every business is different. As such, it’s critical to generate a planning framework with clearly-stated goals.

Generate a statement that spells out what successful design production looks like for your organization: What does it look like when it is fully integrated? What does true cross-functional behavior look like? What KPIs need to be tracked and improved to ultimately grow ROI?

The spirit of design calls for keen observation and a willingness to creatively generate multiple potential solutions in the face of challenge.

Perhaps most importantly, don’t be afraid to shift your approach. The spirit of design calls for keen observation and a willingness to creatively generate multiple potential solutions in the face of challenge. Acknowledge honestly what’s working and what’s not.

From a management perspective, encourage the candid exchange of information from a variety of stakeholders. This internal design team will likely be building and maintaining the visual face of your brand, and that reflects on every other aspect of the business. The value of design needs to take into account its many masters: business, technology, and customer needs.

In short, for organizations invested in design as a differentiator, the time to think deeply about design leadership is now. After all, it doesn’t make good business sense to invest heavily in creative marketing recruitment without also investing in mechanisms that help the organization retain, cultivate, and capitalize on that talent.

Whether you bring in seasoned veterans through creative recruiters or mature your design talent and management in-house, develop a long-term plan that ensures you’ll have a strong stable of creative leadership to help guide your company’s brand forward.

Article source: Fast Company

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