The danger of taking design in-house-Part 1

by | Mar 21, 2017 | Uncategorized

What’s the danger of taking your design in-house?

What are the pro’s and cons, the dangers of taking your packaging design, or any commercial design in-house? “Why pay a design agency the big bucks when you can take it in-house and save thousands?” a marketer may ask.

Well different horses for different courses an. This article may either help you in your decision or … hey it may even throw more mud into the Frey.

Read this article to discover the best solution for you?

If you’re reading this article then chances are you are either asking yourself the above question. If you haven’t already then potentially you may be asking it soon. So what are the pro’s and cons of taking our packaging design, or any commercial design in-house?

So maybe you are a Business Owner, a CEO, or Marketing Director and you’re struggling to decide whether or not to keep partnering with your packaging/graphic design agency (or to change it) or bring your design in-house and take control of it yourself.

In this article we’ll take a quick look at:

  • what design really is and all that goes into it (so there is no confusion).
  • and we’ll also look at what an effective design process really requires to ensure successful on shelf sales.

This article will look at the pro’s and cons of both approaches and look at the two key areas impacting your decision.

  1. Time
  2. Money.

BTW. Let me say outright that obviously I am likely to be biased somewhat toward agency side because I am a partner at Jam&Co which is a branding and packaging design agency. That said, for the purposes of this article, I’ll be taking off my agency hat and will do my best to provide you with my best objective opinion. That way you’ll be able to judge for yourself what’s best for you and your business.

This article will be split up over 2 blog posts for easier consumption.

Part 1 (This one) = “It’s a no brainer or is it?” and…

Part 2 = “So what does it actually take“.

Part 1 – It’s a no brainer or is it?

On the surface bringing the design in-house seems like a no brainer. A smart business decision. “I look at how much we pay our design agency over a year and if I bring it all in-house I can save hundreds of thousands off my cost of design. It’s a no brainer business case!” But is it?

The ubiquity of design tools – Design tools have become so that anyone can pick up and use them at a basic or even in some instances, at an intermediate level. Take the ubiquity of Photoshop for example. For less than $50 bucks you can take an online Photoshop course and learn how to quickly change a background of an image, remove unwanted objects in images, alter colours and create eye-catching, attractive marketing material for yourself and your business. So it’s no wonder you may have the notion that you don’t need to pay the big dollars to get this done. Meaning, surely one could set up a low cost in-house option and provide them with the tools to deliver the same or similar quality work delivered by the agency. It cant be that hard?

Well, there is a world of difference between using Photoshop and design. So really then, what is design?

What really is design – Most “non-designers” would know very little about the “work of design”.

When one considers the chasm of differences in both the day-to-day work and the success metrics of designers and non-designers in the work force, it’s no surprise that the vast majority of non-designers don’t actually understand what a designer’s real role is and what it takes to achieve a successful design. The truth is non designers really have very little clue as to what designers need to do to achieve what they achieve. This lack of understanding and appreciation for their efforts creates a large disconnect between each group.

This disconnect also creates a false economy with false expectations about what can and can’t be done. “Surely a junior designer can create the same as what a senior may do? Why pay for a senior creative when a junior or mid-weight can suffice?”

BTW. It must be noted that this divide between designers and non-designers usually has nothing at all to do with a lack of appreciation for the actual work that designers do. On the contrary. Most often, a non-designer can be authentically complimentary when describing the designers work as, “beautiful or pretty” or even “simply stunning” or “gorgeous”. However there is still a cavernous disconnect between the way a non-designer thinks about design and how a designer thinks and what they go through when developing a successful design .

The disconnect

The disconnect between designers and on-designers centers around the general misconception of exactly what a designer really does. The misconception is that design is all about artistry. WRONG! Designers are not artists!  Sure, whilst there are likely to be many designers that are indeed artists in their spare time, and in their own right, design itself design serves a very different master. The purpose of design is very different to artistry.

Designers solve problems. -Designers are here to help you create the most successful (not necessarily the most beautiful) solutions to your needs. An example of this could be a beautiful eye-catching pack on a retail shelf that does not convert customers into buyers. You want converted buyers, not pretty packs. Do you want sales or do you want Packaging design awards?

Designers create solutions

Leo Tolstoy said: “Art is the activity by which a person, having experienced an emotion, intentionally transmits it to others.”. Zig Ziglar said that “Selling is essentially a transfer of feelings.” – So whilst an artist may focus primarily on form or expression, the main purpose of design is all about solving problems and creating an emotional connection between the pack and the product and it’s target audience.

Designers are trained and uniquely skilled at taking ideas or abstractions from rough concept to successful conclusion. They address whatever the issue was that needed a solution. If the design itself turns out to be aesthetically pleasing and a beautiful “work of art”, all well and good. However “pretty” is not the primary objective. The primary goal of the designer is to solve a problem or satisfy a need. Designers are ultimately responsible for improving the overall quality of a consumer’s experience with your content. They are responsible for creating emotional connection so that the target consumer buys.

The difference between art and science

The difference between art and science is the main reason why one would take one’s requirement to an external agency. As a marketer you really need your efforts to convert on the retail shelf. A professional design agency will have the resources, know-how, experience and skills to really understand how to convert the “issue” into deliverable’s that will connect to the target audience and sell on shelf.

When you bring a designer “in-house”, in most cases the designer being hired will be either a junior or maybe a “mid-weight.”  Both of these lack the experience and know-how to convert strategy into a design that will sell. Subsequently they become reliant on the marketer for direction. This means that they rely on you for art direction. This may work when you have had experience in this arena, however in the instances when marketers art direct, this is akin to having the dentist taking dental advice from the patient. Really!


In part 2 of this article – “So what does it actually take” we’ll look at whats required and the processes involved in the development of a successful design.

We’ll look at :

  • Understanding how to develop designs that both attract and convert consumers to buy at the shelf.
  • Process involved in the development of a successful design.
  • The 40 pro’s and cons of taking your design in-house.

You can read  Part 2 Here.