Taking design inhouse

Taking design inhouse

My business has changed/evolved/pivoted in the last two years. I am actively moving from the day-to-day client work to more of a producing, project based design management role. This has meant working with existing clients to solve how best they replace me.

I’ve grasped the opportunity to revise my services with some long-term clients as my contacts moved on to other positions. That’s taken time but it worked well for most. It’s one of my favourite clients that has caused the most reflection and head scratching.

I’ve worked with this firm for over 20 years. Infact, apart from the Chairman and Managing Director, I am their longest serving employee. (If I was an employee.)

Their product has grown and pivoted in the past two decades, as has my relationship with them. What started with a transactional relationship: ‘Please supply a DL brochure using this copy’ has evolved to me working on retainer as an out-of-state, inhouse Communications/Marketing manager. I know their business inside and out.

It’s a great job working with lovely people in an interesting business, but it’s no longer what I want to do, so I need a succession plan.

The succession plan

My suggestion is to replace me with two roles. Firstly, we’re training up an inhouse person for the Marketing Manager role. They have someone with the perfect skillset: a marketing background but more recently, experience working in another part of the industry, which means they have great product and industry knowledge.

The second position is an inhouse designer. I’ve worked hard to introduce design to every facet of their business, merging the line between inhouse Word templates and external Indesign files. Regardless of where the files are generated, they communicate well and add value to the business. Maintaining those, as well as rolling out new products and supporting BDMs means there is more than enough work for a designer. And the existing budget of buying it externally could transfer to an attractive salary.

Moving towards my end goal of replacing me, I proactively uploaded all my native Indesign files into a cloud platform.

It’s not something I have every done for any other client, but these guys have paid me handsomely for over 20 years. Infact they never quibbled over an invoice and never paid later than 30 days, more often within seven days. They are really the perfect client. (At this stage I am questioning my sanity in moving on, but everyone needs change.)

I want my role to morph into a consultant. I’ve written strategy for past products and I can see further opportunity there, so it’s in my interest for the firm to prosper. Besides, I want them to build on the work we have done together.

Apart from all of that, I feel more like an employee than a supplier. If I was an employee I would be leaving all my files behind, so uploading my native files is just doing the same thing.

Sweet. So that was sorted. Until today.

A new challenge

Today I received an email explaining that one of their onsellers would like to rebrand a product completely and has requested the native files.

My client hasn’t replied yet – they asked my advice. What do I think.

My first reaction is to remember the adage: once you hand over ownership you no longer have a say on how it’s used.

So I don’t really have a say, but I do have an opinion.

I replied saying that I think it would be a mistake for them to handover the files.

Firstly because the files are an asset. My client has invested a lot of time and money in the evolution of those files, in the writing we did together, the collaboration in the design, and then investing in the build. To ‘share’ that intellectual property doesn’t seem good business.

Secondly, because there seems to be no iron-clad guarantee of where the files will end up. The analogy I supplied was of a builder handing over house plans to an associate for a one-off build. Could be a one-off build, could be an estate. It seems a lot of confidence for a new partnership.

Thirdly, native files are easily editable. So are PDF’s but it takes a bit more skill and software than the ability to change what is directly onscreen. In my mind handing over the Indesign files will make it much harder to protect the integrity of the information.

All that said, the decision is in their hands. They’ve taken my advice and are conferring at board level. I’ll be interested to hear their thoughts…

SUBSCRIBE: Subscribe to get Design Business Review, Australia’s only online design management magazine.

Carol Mackay

Carol is the owner of Mackay Branson, a design studio currently celebrating 32 years in business.  Her expertise is in the use of design to package complex content into bite-sized chunks of information that are easy to understand and digest. She does that with clients in the corporate, cultural, government and not-for-profit sectors. Connect in LinkedIn, or read more at mbdesign.com.au.