How to make the most of your in-house design teams and design consultants
Laurence Honderick (head of design at BBC Creative), the broadcaster’s inhouse creative team, says, “Be aware that you both possess something the other does not have.”
The sheer variety of briefs that BBC Creative generates – which Honderick has previously spoken with Design Week about – means that the team often works with external studios to get the job done. These projects can range from full identities to campaigns.
Honderick states that working with outside teams allows projects to benefit from expertise and talent “outside our usual scope”. He says that it is a delicate process and requires special care. Both sides must be on the same page. Honderick says that expectations about how the collaboration will progress must be clear before the actual work begins.
It is important to strike the right balance. Neither team should feel forced. How can studios and in-house teams get the most out of one another?
“Fully engaged in creative process at ground-level and in real time”
Honderick states that the BBC Creative team is “very hands-on” when it comes to collaborations. For example, when it joined forces with Superunion to create a suite of idents for BBC Two, design director Josh Moore was embedded at the studio’s offices for the duration of the project.
Moore was seconded to Superunion, where he worked several days per week. Honderick states that this allowed Moore, and the BBC Creative team in general, to be “fully engaged” in the creative process at ground-level and in real time. This was crucial, given the speed at which the project progressed, he says.
Honderick believes that setting expectations is as important as the work ahead. He says that the agency might arrive at its destination with an assumption and a crew, geared towards providing a fully independent, full-service solution. It would be unfair, and inefficient, to try to unravel this in real time.
“Open and frequent communication are key”
DixonBaxi co-founder and executive director Aporva Baxi recognizes the importance of upfront communication. His studio meets with in-house teams to establish a relationship. He says that the first step in working with them is to meet “on their home turf”. This is to gain a “sense” of their world.
Every project is unique. But this initial meeting allows you to “listen and learn as many as possible.” Baxi explains. Baxi explains that after the initial meeting, the next step is to discuss the practicalities. He says it’s similar to the BBC Creative process. A newly united team must define their overlapping areas of expertise, align on phases, deliverables, and the ways they will work together.
It’s all about communication from there. For the studio’s recent rebrand of Hulu, DixonBaxi set up multiple communication channels between itself and the streaming service’s in-house team, Greenhouse. He says that the two groups met on Thursdays for different aspects of Hulu’s project, and they did so on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
He says that there was also an open Slack channel, and live Google documents for each aspect of the work. “We believe that communication should be open and frequent. We use every technology available to make this as seamless as possible.”
“It’s not worth thinking that you know everything”
According to True North’s creative director Steve Royle and Victoria Pinnington, communication is not enough. It is important that the client understands how the work will be used after delivery. Pinnington states, “At the end the day it’s the internal team that will be utilising our design work.”
She continues, “It’s not a good idea to think you know best and create an identity, set assets, or other design system that doesn’t fit for purpose.” Pinnington cites the studio’s recent rebranding with Timco as an example. Pinnington says that the building trade supplier has its own design team. This is responsible for creating communications and assets, as well designing packaging for various products.
She says that elements such as colour palettes and typography must be considered carefully. They should not be difficult to use. This would make it harder for the in-house team to do their job. Royle says that it is important to keep the work alive after the project is completed by playing with the design rules and systems created in collaboration.
Royle explained that as part of the “handover” process for the project, Royle said that Royle met with both halves of his team to discuss example briefs. He says that there are always things to be done in practice. Royle says that they acted as a sounding board to help shape their work. It can be a bit like a school art lesson, but it is beneficial for both parties to work together to determine how these assets and systems will look in real life.
“It’s always refreshing for your paradigms to be rewritten”
Pinnington and Royle, as well as Baxi, all agree that it is important to not force ideas onto internal teams. Baxi states that people who feel forced upon others can create friction. “Agencies must remember that they are part of a proactive partnership.”
Honderick believes studios should not be afraid to challenge their in-house counterparts. He says that his personal favorite thing about working with an outside studio is the challenge that he brings to the table. It’s refreshing to see someone else’s point of view.
He says that BBC Creative selects its external team based on their relevance to the project. Honderick said that desirable traits could include a variety of craft skills, scale, perspectives, or relevant strategic experience. Honderick says that no matter what it is, teams must be able to support each other to “push the work further”.
“We are all part of the same team.”
The studio side can also offer opportunities for learning new skills and challenging yourself. Taxi Studio operations director Ellie Wilson says the nature of working “designer-to-designer” can make constructive challenges helpful for everyone. She says, “Be open-minded. You can always learn something from working with other teams. So listening and keeping an open head will almost always lead you to the best creative.”
Baxi states that the overall experience of working with an in-house team can be a rewarding one. He explains that you get “instant expertise and immersion in the brand.”
Wilson believes that knowing that the partnership takes design seriously is an additional benefit. Wilson believes that knowing the brand values design as a discipline or craft is a good start.
She says, “We don’t allow egos. We’re all on one team.”