The Secret Sauce

How we partner with in-house teams
When I moved to Toronto 25 years ago, there was a very different belief about in-house designers than exists today.

When I moved to Toronto 25 years ago, there was a very different belief about in-house designers than exists today. At that time, an in-house position was often looked at with a certain sense of snobbishness by studio-based designers. It was considered to be an easy 9-to-5 job, leading to an early retirement. Fast forward to today and that condescending attitude has been flipped on its head. Now, in-house designers and design teams are helping their companies with very large and complex strategic questions. These teams have become deeper in their skill sets and are often multi-disciplinary in their make-up. I meet students who have their eyes set on working for an in-house team, rather than the somewhat traditional path of beginning in a studio setting. The dream is to be part of an Apple, Google, or Facebook. But there are also many exciting possibilities within consultancies, tech start-ups and expansive institutes like universities or financial firms.

This shift has presented Hambly & Woolley with one of our most important relationship opportunities. More and more we are being asked to work with organizations that have an established in-house design team. Recently, we were hired to develop numerous visual brands that, at the end of the process, will become the responsibility and property of an in-house team. Meeting, understanding and building empathy around the objectives of these in-house teams has become a huge part of our engagement with these clients. This process enables us to know a company from the ground up and gives the in-house team a sounding board to build respect and champion the work we are about to partner on. It is important that these teams have a place at the table from the start. They may not be the decision makers, but they are the day-to-day tacticians who help shape a brand’s story.

Eight years ago Hambly & Woolley was hired by Quadrangle Architects to help redesign their website. This project quickly turned into a larger branding exercise and resulted in a refreshing of their visual identity and development of new brand guidelines. Quadrangle had recently gone through a year-long strategic revisioning and it was imperative that this project become a pillar in their future growth. In the early days of this assignment we spent a lot of time meeting with the in-house team. We had worked with other in-house designers previously, but during this process it became apparent how close the relationship between ourselves and this group needed to be. The more we worked together, the more we realized that this partnership would create better results. The development of a brand narrative empowered the marketing and communication team to tackle their new web and brand activation. Eight years on, we are now basically able to read each other’s thoughts. The trust that comes with that level of understanding is a huge benefit to Quadrangle. It takes the guesswork out of any discovery process and it allows everyone to make richer and more informed decisions. It was only through identifying the diverse strengths of the Quadrangle and Hambly & Woolley teams that we were able to build such a strong relationship.

In-house design teams should no longer be pushed to the end of the line. They are a hugely important part of the branding process and need to be included at the table to guarantee the success of any project.