If you work in the creative industry, one of the hardest questions to answer may be, “So, what do you do?” This is especially tough if you are talking to a friend or relative who knows very little about the creative trade. But another question that often gets asked is “Where do graphic designers work?”
The good news is designers have multiple options. Here are a few of the most common:
Working in-house refers to being employed with an established organization or brand. In-house designers often have the ability to invest themselves in the company they work for and see the messaging of its brand develop from start to finish.
Freelancing is quite simply a self-employed business. Freelance graphic designers have the option of picking and choosing which types of projects they work on, but are also responsible for a lot of duties above and beyond the actual design work.
An agency is an environment usually employed with several graphic designers. Often more fast-paced, it is not uncommon for a designer to work on multiple projects for multiple types of clients at any given time.
So you ask: “Which is better?” To be honest, they all have their ups and their downs. During my career as a graphic designer I’ve tasted the differences between working in-house, freelancing and most recently and currently, working in a creative agency at 1dea Design + Media Inc.
I took some time to reflect on the dynamic of agency life and how, in my experience, it compares to freelancing and in-house design.
Hands down, the variety of ways and places to freelance goes on and on. Depending on the type of designer you are, the flexibility and freedom to work in a coffee shop or while soaking up the sun at a park may draw inspiration into your projects. In addition, the ability to control your own schedule and workload may be a perk for your lifestyle.
For me, it is nice to have a designated place to go to work. In an agency I have the opportunity to feed off people’s energy and presence without having to seek it out. Additionally, being permanent means forming close friendships with the people I’m surrounded by and really feeling like part of a team.
An agency has a consistent stream of varied work coming in. The palette of projects is vast and ever-changing, the pace is usually faster, and the diversity of clients result in two days never being identical. It’s both a challenge and a thrill to know that every morning I go to work I can never anticipate how my day will unfold.
For the in-house designer, many projects you are assigned follow the same creative guidelines and brand messaging. For some designers, this has the potential of getting stale. Now…this isn’t to say there will never be any boundary-pushing projects coming your way. But as I mentioned before, in-house design represents an established organization or brand, so the creative process doesn’t usually veer from the guidelines that have already been put in place.
Freelancers usually face the greatest challenge in this area. Keeping a steady stream of work coming in can be a challenge. However, you control the entire experience with the client and are responsible for delivering the end result. This is a great way to build up your creative portfolio.
Working in-house or freelancing you may likely be part of a small team and in many cases the only graphic designer. One of the biggest advantages I’ve experienced while working at an agency is designing under the guidance of a creative director and collaborating with other team members and graphic artists. Although we all have different skill sets and backgrounds, we have a common thread of creativity and passion.
Overall, it’s a great time to be in design. The industry is rapidly changing and bringing exciting new heights to what once use to be traditional graphic design. Whether you prefer the structure and predictability of in-house design, the flexibility and freedom of freelancing or the creativity and collaboration of agency life, it comes down to the type of person you are. The key is finding the perfect work environment that will draw energy and inspiration into your work.