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How do you build the best in-house design team?

“If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.” –David Ogilvy

So how do you attract and get the best talent for your in-house team ? The first thing to remember is that “best” is a relative term. You are looking for the designer that is best for you, and how you define that depends on a variety of factors. The designer with the best portfolio, may still not be a the best fit for your company.

What’s the perfect fit?

In trying to figure out what makes for a perfect fit for your organization, think about the characteristics that make your team function the best. A great new member of the team will have to work well within that construct.

For my own team, we often work collaboratively. Three designers may be working on the same project, to give the project owner a number of different choices. But there is often no”winner” and instead the decision might be made to use part of one person’s work and part of another’s work. Then one designers takes all the pieces and turns them into something cohesive. There also may be a situation in which a designer, due to time constraints, needs to pass their half completed project to another designer and start something new.

So for our team to work effectively, there can be little or no competitiveness, and very little possessiveness about one’s work. In addition, for this kind of collaboration to grow and develop, it is helpful if a designer is with us for a while. Part of the beauty of my current team is that they have been working together long enough that they know eachother’s strengths, and trust eachother’s work. They cover for eachother when someone needs to be out of the office, and the newer members of the team feel no loss of pride when they turn to the more seasoned members for help or guidance. This takes a very specific kind of personality, and isnt a perfect fit for everyone. This also may not be the best envirnment for someone who thrives under the pressure of the more competitive agency model. In a fast paced agency, you can make the argument that competitivenesss and disruption are important to creative development…not so much for an in-house team where collaboration and trust are primary drivers.

Curiosity is key

So, of course, a stellar portfolio will always intrigue me and make me want to meet a designer and talk to them more, but the kinds of questions that I ask them reach beyond their artistic talent and their technical skills. I always keep in my mind the dynamics of a collaborative team. I always try to ask questions that allow someone to tell me what they really want from their career, and that helps me to see if they are someone who might be comfortable withour kind of structure and want to stay in it.

And mostly, I am looking for someone who doesn’t necessarily need a new client periodically to keep them interested and curious about design and new technology. It is more difficult to stay creatively challenged in an in-house environment, and so a designer who can challenge themselves in that regard is a great asset to the team.

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