In-house team or external design agency?

Posted on 28.11.12 by

Internal vs External Design Agency

As budgets and waste have been cut over recent years, the need for intelligent design that does more with less is in greater demand than ever, but how do you achieve this on a regular basis? Should design teams be part of an in-house team or on the supplier list?

There are currently as many designers employed as part of in-house teams in non-design businesses as there are employed in design agencies across the UK (Around 80,000 in both). Both methods have their merits and pitfalls.

For many years working as part of an in-house team was perceived as a bit second rate compared to being part of an equivalent team working in a design agency. This view has changed dramatically with the surge in creative output from in house teams at the likes of Apple. Businesses are more aware than ever of the importance of design and much more able to manage in house design teams and the work they produce.

In-house teams who know their colleagues, go to the weekly meetings and socialise with other staff, will of course end up knowing the business better than those from the outside looking in. This close proximity to the business also creates an air of accountability with in-house design teams, as people know who have made certain decisions. This air of accountability can also create teams that become too aware of the risks and instigate safer, less innovative design, capping business growth.

An external design agency however, offer something totally different, bringing knowledge and best practice from other industries. Along with this wider industry experience they also bring a ‘clean slate’ feel, free from internal politics and preconceptions. Without the politics and preconceptions external design agencies are best placed to drive change and deliver new ideas.

The discussion of cost inevitably comes up and this is a difficult one, as it really depends on individual businesses. However with such a range of choice available, the idea that in-house teams are more cost effective doesn’t always ring true. Outsourcing to external design agencies can be an instant way to reduce overheads and become more flexible when purchasing design.

Environment is also key to producing creative work on a regular basis and the corporate environment may not be the best place to ‘be creative’, clear distinctions of creative and non-creative space needs to be made.

Having worked on both sides of the fence I believe the best way to work is with a mix of in-house teams and external agencies. Having somebody in house who will manage the design and identity usage with an in-depth knowledge of terminology and management structure and who has good working relationships with preferred agencies is vital for organisations and businesses of a certain size.