Anyone listening in early July to the NPR coverage of the space shuttle’s final launch probably felt a twinge of nostalgia and sadness over the end of an era of manned space flight. I was struck, though, by a part of the story that should serve as a cautionary tale for in-house designers. In the course of the coverage, it was reported that many of the NASA staff had been working on the missions for up to 30 years. In a program whose focus is on space flight and all the innovation and creative thinking and problem solving that this venture must require – a group of 30-year veterans may just have been the kiss of death.
The same may be true for in-house design teams whose mission is to provide innovative design solutions and departmental process enhancements for their companies. It’s no secret that corporate creative teams are usually focused on a narrow group of products or services that their businesses produce or provide. There are advantages to working on limited product offerings. Designers can gain an intimate and deep understanding of their clients’ business and target audience and provide spot-on solutions as a result. They can also respond more quickly and efficiently to new urgent requests for design deliverables and adapt their project management processes and procedures to the unique needs of their business.
The obvious downside to the limited project scopes in-house teams are presented with is that they can become stale and burnt out over time. After a while, even the most passionate and inspired creative can become complacent, tapped out or both when working on the same product with the same clients for a number of years. While company loyalty and familiarity with its culture and business are virtues, at some point it may be in both the designer’s and the company’s best interests for the said designer to move on as difficult, risky and frightening as that prospect may be.
When making this move, it may be wise to consider looking for opportunities in a different industry than the one you are leaving. We all know that the practice of design we’ve been taught and developed can apply to any type of business but companies don’t understand this and if they see on your resume that you’ve been in an industry different from their own for a decade or more they very well may pass you over.
The current economic climate may not make this the best time for a career move but that doesn’t mean you can’t begin to research future opportunities by researching other industries to see which appeal to you, targeting companies that you’d like to join or updating your portfolio, resume and business contacts. When the economy perks up, you’ll be in an excellent position to move on to new challenges and experience the creative rush and reignited passion and excitement such a move will surely inspire. As corny as it may sound - Prepare for takeoff!