In-house isn’t always a cost-effective solution

Reading Scott Billings’ article Insider Track (DW 18 September), I am struck by two thoughts that I have witnessed over and over again.

First thought: critical mass is crucial to the success of in-house design, but churning 10 000 stock-keeping units a year is pretty extreme.

When the requirement is significantly lower, a tipping point is reached and all of the very valid points about tightening design consistency and excellence fall by the wayside.

Having run a design and branding consultancy for 20 years, I have only ever seen design being brought in-house as a purely cost-saving exercise. If that is the prime mover in the process, then the downwards spiral is pretty inevitable and instant, beginning with the quality and number of people recruited.

On several occasions I have seen printing firms ‘absorb’ the design process (relating to some brands that you would be very familiar with) because it was economically very advantageous.

I am sure that I don’t really need to spell out the results.

Second thought: we all know the dangers of being the incumbent design group. Familiarity and thinking along predictable paths are why many clients change consultancies. A fresh approach will often breathe new life and insight into brands. This incumbent effect is magnified to career-draining proportions with small in-house teams. I have encountered many individuals desperately starved of the creative crossover, exposure and insights that are a daily part of consultancy life that never evolves within corporate teams. In the very same issue (Private View, DW 18 September), Jim Davies hits the nail on the head – a busy in-house production facility is not the ideal environment for inspiration.

Going in-house can be very cost-effective, but below a certain size – or for purely cost-saving reasons – the true implications may not be visible on the balance sheet for some time.

Marc Phelps, Creative director, The Edge Design and Marketing, by e-mail

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