Promoting your work, establishing yourself as an expert, and delivering on your promises are key characteristics of designers who survive and thrive in the corporate environment. This is the second article in a two part series.
Be Humble but Not Invisible
Sometimes the hardest part of making yourself visible is letting others know what an awesome job you just did on your last assignment. You might feel uncomfortable with the recognition and you feel embarrassed when anyone on your team sees what you've worked on because it’s not finished. Perhaps you're a perfectionist and you can't look at your own work without critiquing it to pieces. Or you prefer to be the quiet worker behind the scenes. Some humility is good, some self critiquing is helpful, but not when it stops you from showing off your latest success and building your reputation in the company.
Be A <Positive> Storyteller
One of our creative directors was exceptional at self promoting his work and his internal clients through stories. He loved to talk about the challenges of his work and how he was having a great time solving the problem, how the client didn't believe it would work in the beginning and then they were amazed at what his design team was doing. I always walked away from a conversation with him with a smile on my face. I felt good about the company and about having him work there. He had become an expert at telling a good story and showing someone how they would successfully get to the end, if they worked with him. He was careful to leave problems and negative thoughts behind closed doors. His attitude and self-messaging created a positive vibe with his work, his design team, and management. If there was a hard problem or a client who wasn't onboard with the creative process, I sent them to this creative director. Because of his self-promotion through storytelling, I had confidence in his skills.
Hang Your Work on the Walls
I had a team of talented designers, but not everyone in upper management or those making budget decisions knew who these individuals were or their contributions. When it was time to cut budgets or personnel, I was the one left to defend my employees. It made it much easier to do when I had tangible proof of their contributions because they had been self-promoting their work.
I came across this issue with one employee. His work was making a big difference in our social media campaigns, but no one knew he was the one working on it. It's easy to get lost in a corporation, especially if you're quiet. Upper management was reviewing employees and couldn't justify his position. As his direct manager, I knew we needed to do something to change the situation. I asked him to print out his work and hang them on his cubicle walls, completely covering the space. Soon, other designers were stopping by his desk to examine his work and learn from him. I heard someone mention in passing, "I always wondered who did those designs." He went from invisible to invaluable.
Hang your work on your walls for your coworkers to see. Hang your sketches or your finished work. Create a "Wall of Fame." Show pride in what you've done, and others will notice, too.
Show Off Your Design Book
As an internal designer, you need to remember to archive your work and add it to a portfolio just like you would as a freelancer. Often, work is confidential and under NDA so it can't be shown outside of the company, but it can be shown off inside your company. Amazingly, your internal clients don't always know what you're capable of and they have a hard time trusting you and your team. Finding a way to show off your work at the beginning of a project is a quick way to establish yourself as an expert in the field and gain trust with the internal client.
As a design manager, I'm not excluded from the need to self-promote what my team is doing, and also what a great job I'm doing managing and developing my team. It's a great idea to keep a design book for your entire team. Have your work showing on a big screen TV that other departments will see when they come visit your space. Show off your team's work when you’re pitching ideas to executives. Have an internal blog, Instagram, or team Dribbble account where designers can post pictures of their current work, comment, favorite, and share inspiration. This is a great place to build relationships and open opportunities for new work. It's also a great idea to have an external place to display your work, especially for recruiting. Show off your great company culture and design work. It will build your team's morale and bring in better candidates.
Working in a corporate environment is not much different from working as a freelancer or small design firm–you still have a need to promote your work and abilities. The difference in a large corporation is your audience. A freelancer needs to be promoting themselves with potential clients. As a designer in an in-house creative services team, your audience is your management, cross disciplined teams, and internal clients. Whether you're looking to increase your earning potential, or you would like to have greater influence on the direction of your company, gaining trust by delivering on your promises, becoming visible, and promoting your work is the key to thriving as a designer.