Pull together, internal and external designers

It was interesting to hear IDEO founder Bill Moggridge making the case for in-house design last week. Speaking at a Confederation of British Industry seminar on innovation and design, the celebrated product designer said the choice wasn’t really between design consultants and in-house teams, rather that “the future belongs to companies that use both”.

International experience has shown Moggridge that the tradition in the East is for big in-house design teams, while the external consultancy has been the thing of the West. Philips and Electrolux are the only European manufacturers to compare with Far Eastern firms on numbers of designers on the pay-roll, he says. And as the East now draws more on the skills of design consultants, so the West should reconsider its stance on in-house research and development.

Okay, that’s the product side, where designs can take an age to get on to the market and secrecy is the key. Ideas and processes need protection over time and an easy way of achieving this might be to “own” the designer.

But what about graphics, where ideas come from a varied input, the length of projects is shorter and the volume greater? Could in-house teams cope and stay fresh? And what about design groups’ workloads? These questions worry UK designers when we hear of the likes of Tesco and Hasbro building up their in-house graphics teams.

But Moggridge’s point was about using a combination of consultancy and in-house design. Perhaps one might spark the ideas the other develops, or maybe some projects could be handled in-house, others externally. Whatever, it could mean more work for designers and a better chance for design groups to act as true consultants.

If clients employ more designers of all disciplines they are surely boosting their commitment to design. Design becomes integral to the internal culture and not just an option for marketers. It’s a great thought, and should broaden the opportunities for design. Let’s hope Moggridge’s words hit their mark.

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