The rise of in-house was in full evidence on Tuesday as the enormous ballroom hosting HOW Design Live’s In-House Management track filled with thousands of creative professionals.
The day started with Alex Center (of Coca-Cola nee Glaceau) who took the audience through his history as a team of one shaping the VitaminWater brand – a brand that has infiltrated pop culture and been mocked by the Simpsons – to one of 130,000 employees working for one the best known brands in the world.
With that perspective, Alex described how to position your corporate creative team for success in his presentation on The Future In-House. More than half of US designers work in-house, and design-led companies (like Apple and Nike) outperform their competition by 228%. So what do design-led companies do? They use design thinking to solve business problems. In-house teams have to think outside fonts, colors, and paperweight and learn how to deploy those skills to solve business problems. That’s how creatives become thought leaders and not simply craftsmen.
They act like politicians to connect cross-functional teams. They think about the experience people have with the product, not the product. Be a thought leader, not a craftsmen.
Future in-house teams need to be the brand. Alex shared a story of a new VitaminWater flavor that was set to go to market with the name “Mango Tango” – completely out of character for a brand with other flavors named “defense”, “focus”, and “energy.” Ever the defender of the brand, Alex was able to argue successfully for a much more on-brand (and less cheesy) name, “refresh.”
These kinds of stands can only be made by in-house teams that have the gained the respect and partnership of other brand stakeholders. At a certain point, you can’t get away with asking one person “is this cool?” and then sending it to the printer. Future in-house teams need to act like politicians, connecting cross-functional teams and building credibility.
Being the brand also means don’t wait for the brief. If you see an opportunity to improve your brand, take the initiative and propose a change. That’s what Alex did when he took over the Powerade brand, the packaging didn’t fit with the idea of a strong, self-made athlete. With a package redesign and the “Just a Kid From” campaign, the Powerade brand has gained a voice and advocates.
The power to make huge impacts like these are why designers belong in the boardroom. And with the role of Chief Design Officer gaining momentum, it’s clear that in the future all companies will be design companies.
In the next session, Lisa Colantuano of AAR Partners taught in-house teams How to Pitch Persuasively – a presentation that managed be cerebral while also driving many in the audience to tears. She shared how stories get around our crocodile brain, explaining how those Google ads manage to always get dust in your eyes. When you tell a story, particularly one that is emotional, visual, and concrete, people can’t help but fill in the story with their imaginations. This co-create triggers a powerful and memorable connection.
To get around the croc brain you need to make your pitch visual (the brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text and recalls it faster) and avoid too many details; a good pitch should be kept under the typical attention span length of 18 minutes. Begin with why you do what you do, then the how, then the what. Remember to pitch the gap between what is and what could be. Think of yourself not as the presenter but as the mentor, there to help them bridge that gap. Whatever you do, don’t do too much talking, be fuzzy or unclear, and definitely don’t seem needy.
After lunch, Glenn John Arnowitz put the sound technicians through their paces and proved one of Lisa’s point – music is memorable. Glenn’s session, Bossy Pants, is the “boss manual” on how to transition from a designer to a design leader. That manual has three chapters: people, projects, and process.
For managing people, Glenn encourages that you nurture your team by coaching them on what success looks like, training them on how to attain success, delegating work to them, and then recognizing and celebrating their successes. Avoid micromanaging by facilitating your team’s work, then backing off and focusing on results. And even the boss has a boss. Keep yours happy by communicating regularly with them about what’s going on in your department, anticipating their needs so you can better maintain autonomy, and appreciating their guidance and support.
Projects represent another challenges for the design leader. Glenn recommends being proactive – meet regularly with clients so you understand their needs and challenges. Get thorough briefs – these benefit the clients as much as your team. Tier projects so you can better scope work and prioritize workload. In order to efficiently manage your projects, you’ll want to make sure you have a streamline process in place. For that, you need to eliminate as many steps as possible, automate what’s left, and innovate new solutions for remaining bottlenecks.
At the end of the day, the happiest workers are not the ones who believe they’re cutting stones – the happiest workers are the ones who believe they’re building a cathedral. A boss needs to allocate the bulk of their time to innovation and strategy so they can keep their team focused on the larger goals. Ask yourself, would you like to work for you?
To wrap up Day 1, we got an inside look at that rebranding done by Pentagram for White & Case in the session Taking the Brand Outside from Pentagram Partner Michael Bierut and White and Case Global Director of Creative Services, Robin Colangelo. Their rules for a brand: make it consistent, beautiful, and distinctive. White & Case hired Pentagram because they wanted a team that could do research to build a strategy and then manage the rollout of that strategy. Pentagram did just that, translating White & Case’s brand values from phrases like “truly global” to concepts like “intelligence” that could inspire visual design why still telling customers, “Why YOUR business”. The finished brand elements included a more modern font color, a bolder typeface, and an ampersand icon that could be used to anchor text and tie concepts together. Combined with photography showing unique viewpoints in photojournalistic quality, the White & Case brand of today is beautiful, memorable, and meaningful.
What have you discovered at the 2015 HOW Design Live conference? Share it in the comments!