Hiring a designer? Read this first…

The challenge

As a designer with significant experience working in-house, I know how big of a challenge it can be to find, hire, and nurture the right creative talent. During my 15 year career as an in-house designer, I built two creative teams from scratch and experienced this first hand.

I have also worked as a single designer within a marketing team and I can say with confidence that designers do their best work when they are part of a collaborative team. Designers greatly benefit from receiving direction and getting feedback from fellow creatives, and junior designers benefit from guidance from senior designers and/or a creative director. Without this collaboration and direction, work is often poor and motivation low. While it’s understandable that a marketing team would be inclined to want a designer that they can communicate with in person, at the office, or meet with frequently at weekly meetings – the reality of this is quite different.

Unless you are committed to building a full in-house creative agency, the benefits of a single in-house designer fall apart pretty quickly. I am not against in-house teams at all. There are huge benefits to building out an in-house creative agency, BUT hiring one or two individual designers is not a good way to get what you need done. It boils down to three things: scale, capabilities, and of course, cost. ‍

Hiring a designer: Scale

  • A big selling point of hiring an internal designer is their ability to help with last minute edits and unexpected needs. However, this can often set up the entire team for failure. Fact of the matter is that from the second they are hired, this designer will be constantly busy. So, when an urgent request comes in, they drop everything and start on it. This means that other projects will be delayed. And what happens if there are TWO urgent requests — that happens more than you’d think. They can literally only work on one thing at a time.
  • This doesn’t even begin to address the issue of a sole in-house designer being treated like an assistant or a tool that anyone on the team can give orders too. I know first hand how hard it is as a designer to say no and push back. If they’re junior, forget about it. Quality will suffer, mistakes will be made, and problems will come up.
  • Time management can also be a big issue. Ideally, the designer will have someone helping them with direction and project management, but this will take away time from other team members. I’ve been down this road and I have to say that there are so many talented designers out there with amazing work … who take forever to design the simplest thing. You don’t just need a talented designer with the right eye—you need someone who can deliver in a reasonable amount of time.
  • Holiday/sickness coverage – what’s the plan for coverage when the designer is out?

Hiring a designer: Capabilities

  • An in-house designer would learn your brand intimately. However, they’d really only work on one brand. This limits the breadth, as well as the depth, of their skills.
  • They should have intimate knowledge of your business and its industry. This will come over time, but it will be difficult to hire someone with industry knowledge, especially if they’re a junior designer, right away. It’s hard to compete with a specialized agency when a designer is learning the needs of B2B marketing teams, let alone the specifics of the industry.
  • The skillset they bring will be limited. Even brilliant designers are better at some areas than others. Normally people lump designers into multiple categories—user interface, user experience, graphic design, and web design. But there are very few people who can do all of those things very well, so you need to be clear about your company’s needs, what you’re hiring for, and what you are trying to achieve through the design role.
  • Also, internal creatives can struggle to extract themselves from the brands that employ them. This creates a lack of perspective which can affect the creative outcome. Many of the best graphic designers are free thinkers, and that is part of their value—they don’t like to do the same thing every day. That is what makes them great creative thinkers. So, if you are hiring a designer to work on PowerPoint presentations and sales collateral all day, every day, you need to make sure you aren’t hiring somebody who will be bored after three months.

Hiring a designer: Cost

  • Salary: Starting salary for a JUNIOR designer is at least $55,000/yr (in New York City)
  • Benefits: Of course, if you hire a full-time employee, you also have to pay for their benefits – material and otherwise. If you hire an agency, it will handle all the benefits and perks. This easily adds 15-20% of the employees salary as cost to the business.
  • Hiring costs: With or without a recruiter these costs can escalate quickly.
  • Opportunity costs: Time you spend hiring full-time employees is time you can’t spend on more productive tasks. The time to onboard and train a new hire can stretch into several months. Then who will be managing them? Even after 30/60/90 days, they will still need continual guidance and management. This creates a substantial opportunity cost – something you don’t have to worry about when working with an agency.
  • Scalability: Agencies have scalability built-in. If you want additional resources, the agencies can tap into its wider employee pool. But with an internal team, you have to either find contractors (which has its own costs) or hire more full-time employees.
  • Flexibility: Creative requirements are seldom constant. You’ll have to expand or shrink your resources as necessary. An agency gives you the flexibility to reduce your exposure if you’re going through a lean phase. But with an internal team, you have to pay full-time salaries, regardless of how much work you have for them.

The best solution is to have a dedicated external resource that knows your needs, knows your industry, and takes the time to really learn your brand. Either partnering with internal resources, or acting as a fully managed service, an external partner will be able to handle a much wider range of needs, more requests at once, and do all of this at a much higher quality level with far less overhead. ‍

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