Agency or in-house designer; which one is better? Are you the kind of graphic designer who enjoys working on multiple projects for different brands? Maybe you find your passion focusing all your creative efforts on one brand? Perhaps a better question is: do you thrive working with other designers and creatives or can you create brilliant work within an atmosphere where you might be the only creative?
Overall, either type of design job might be perfect for you; it depends on a lot of factors. In general, a less experienced designer would get more out of an agency job where they’re exposed to more clients and more types of design, where a more experienced designer might like the brand stability of an in-house job.
If you’re new to the design industry it’s good to know the types of design jobs that are out there. There are three basic job categories all design jobs fit into: Agency designers, in-house designers, and freelance designers. Since my experience lies in the first two, that’s what I’ll focus on here. Here’s more about each job type.
What is An Agency Designer?
As an agency designer you would typically work at a design studio or a marketing/advertising agency. You would have a number of jobs on your plate from many different clients at a time. You might spend all of Monday and Tuesday working on a magazine ad for a law firm, then spend the rest of the week on a logo design for a café.
Then you might take project breaks to work on illustrations for a bank’s annual report that don’t need to be completed until the end of the month. There’s a lot of variety in the job and a ton of opportunity to get your hands dirty designing for clients in all types of industries.
Working As An Agency Designer
Working at an agency can be great if you’re a newbie. You’re surrounded by other creatives who you can constantly learn from and get design help from whenever you’re faced with a creative obstacle. If you find something amazing the latest issue of Applied Arts magazine you’ll have people to share it with while you sip your morning coffee.
Working at an agency is by far the best experience you can get to learn the industry and hone your skills as a designer. It also gives you the opportunity to quickly discover the types of projects you enjoy working on the most.
If you’re just starting out, one of the drawbacks is that you might feel a bit intimidated by the talent around you. You could be working with people who’ve been in the industry for 20+ years so your work might not stand up so well next to theirs. You might spend days on a poster design, and when you proudly show your work to the creative director she sends it to a senior designer to tweak. It’s a blow to your ego, but fortunately, it’s also part of what will make you a better designer.
What is an In-House Designer?
As an in-house designer, you won’t be working at an agency or marketing firm. Instead, you’d be employed by a company with an entirely different product. You’ll spend your time working on one brand. You produce the business cards, update the company website graphics, create the web ads, etc. Any company that needs design work done on an ongoing basis (and doesn’t want to outsource everything to a design firm) will hire an in-house designer to do all their design work.
Working As An In-House Designer
Working as an in-house designer can be great. You’ll get more praise on the work you do because you work with so many non-designers. This also means your co-workers won’t always understand how long it takes to get a job done. You’ll be faced with many “I need this in 30 minutes” projects. There are opportunities to get in with a large company like Lululemon or IKEA, and learn all the ins and outs of those brands.
If you do end up at a larger company, you’re likely to be working with other designers. If you get a job at a smaller company, you might be the only creative head there. Working as an in-house designer at a smaller company is something I would recommend for more experienced designers. If you’re not working with other designers and you’re faced with a problem you’ll be left to your own devices.
In addition, when you don’t work at an agency, the amount of creative materials at your disposal might be minimal. There might not be a high-end printer you can proof your work on and you probably won’t have access to a cutting table or somewhere to spray glue your projects. Even requesting a second monitor can be a nightmare.
When you’re not in a purely creative atmosphere, the company doesn’t know what you to need to do the best work you can. Make sure your voice is heard and that you get whatever it is you need to do the best design work you can do.
Agency or In-House Designer: In Conclusion
Wherever you work, it’s not the type of job that is going to make the difference. Rather, it’s the people you work with and the opportunities for creative and professional growth that will make all the difference.
Which type of job do you prefer? Agency or in-house designer? Are there any other big differences between agency or in-house designers? Let me know in the comments below!
Regardless of whether you work in an agency or in-house setting, you need to know the practical day-to-day stuff that goes on in a creative atmosphere. Check out Burn Your Portfolio: Stuff they Don’t Teach You in Design School, But Should by Michael Janda. It goes over everything you need to know and more.
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