Pros and Cons of Having an In-house versus External Design Team
With so many possible ways to structure a business, it can be a challenge to know which path is the right one to follow. With the costs and responsibility associated with employing full-time staff, many businesses opt to outsource projects to specialist freelancers. Becoming successful has become a careful balance between minimizing your exposure to financial risk and delivering the best possible results for your client.
In this article we look specifically at the design industry and discuss the pros and cons of both structures in delivering outstanding creative results.
What do you need?
The first step is to establish exactly what kind of design competency you require. If creativity is the driving force behind your service offering, then a wide breadth of mindsets and backgrounds is likely to add most value. Conversely, if a detailed understanding of specific design problems would be more useful, a focused team structure may be the better option. In either case, both of these approaches can be delivered by an in-house team or through outside manpower. But how do you decide what to do?
The decision as to whether you bring your design services in-house or choose to outsource them will usually be driven by 3 key factors:
- The need to improve cost efficiency
- The need to have more immediate access to specific skills and resources
- The desire to establish skills as a strategic asset for your brand
Below are the pros and cons of both options together with some key considerations for following either path.
Internal design team
When it comes to the broad term of ‘design team’, the first big decision is what type of design capability do you want to grow? Design covers a plethora of individual areas, from product to service, creative to technical, so being clear on the focus is crucial.
If you do choose to recruit, the next step is deciding on the team structure – will there be a lead role or would a flatter, more collaborative style, where the team is managed from outside, be more beneficial?
- Often lower initial cost per day vs a freelancer
- Opportunity to generate exponential return over time
- It’s easier to maintain, manage and control time, activity and quality
- Build long-term staff retention and nurture designers to work to your brand ethos thus providing consistency in meeting client expectations
- Knowing a business better: “There are some types of projects where you can design responding to the user voice, but if you don’t have a deep understanding of the industry and all the factors, players, and subtleties of the stakeholders, you’re going to design something that’s really naïve and that won’t work in the industry environment.” Source
- “Close proximity to the business also creates an air of accountability with in-house design teams.” Source
- Can typically take up to 6 months to fully integrate a new member
- Requires infrastructure and processes to be in place
- Maintaining interest for creative and design minds is often said to be harder than most other sectors
- Designer development can require a complex mix of ingredients
- Measuring internal individual and team development is not always a simple process – it can be easier to quantify the success of an ad-hoc, external project
- “Teams become too aware of the risks and instigate safer, less innovative design, capping business growth” Source
- You are not free from internal politics and preconceptions Source
- Team members accustomed to in-house environments can possess a lack of a knowledge and best practice from other industries Source
External design team
When looking to source external manpower, it’s important to employ rigorous recruitment criteria to ensure you get the right people who can deliver from the off-set.
It’s advisable to do some research using established, effective platforms, from sites like e-lancer to individual agents, to help ensure you find someone who understands your chemistry and what you stand for. An understanding of cultural differences can also assist in the accuracy of your selection.
- There is an abundance of external resources out there, be it an agency or even a crowd challenge site such as Logo Tournament
- You can recruit on demand therefore minimizing the risk of overhead wastage
- Reduced HR requirements due to a smaller salaried team
- The ability to recruit specific skills rather than adapting existing ones
- Intensive and repetitious briefings required on every new project due to lack of immersion
- Repeat access to the same individual is often difficult; a nuisance when you find someone particularly good!
- The designer becomes a tactical resource rather than a strategic asset
- May need more creative direction and increased project management to ensure budgets, creative brief and deadlines are adhered to
- Can be more expensive that using an in-house resource
As with any business decision there is an element of risk. The key is to find the perfect balance that enables you to successfully fulfil client briefs, remain profitable and contribute to the long-term growth of your business and brand.