Consultants Are the New In-House Design Team

April 9, 2021

Why more companies than ever are entrusting design to outside firms

For some time, companies both large and small have been hiring industrial designers as part of their internal teams. It’s not hard to see why — the appeal of a dedicated design team within the organization means a group of constantly available, like-minded designers, with your company’s values, visual style and goals baked into everything they create.

The alternative — hiring an outside design consultant — often generates fears of large budgets and the unsavory concept of competing with other clients for attention and creative energy.

But is it time for organizations to rethink the idea of an in-house design team? Here’s our perspective on some of the advantages and disadvantages of hiring in-house industrial designers, and why working with an outside design firm might be more appealing than you think.

Why Companies Invest in In-House Design Teams

While every organization has its own reasons for hiring industrial designers as part of its internal teams, there tend to be some consistent benefits that they’re looking to capitalize on—and not just financial benefits, either.

Sure, an in-house team can help lower costs in some cases, allowing businesses to invest in new product development at reduced expense. But it also means they have a dedicated team of industrial designers ready to take on new projects at the drop of a hat, which can help an organization be more nimble and speed up their time to market.

But what are companies giving up to get those benefits?

Hidden Downsides of In-House Design

As it turns out, a dedicated internal design team can actually cost your company significantly more than hiring a third party in many cases. Consider that your payrolled designers are constantly being paid month over month, regardless of whether your company is actively pursuing industrial design projects at the moment or not. Hiring a design team means a long-term commitment to that team, and with the incredibly fast rate of adaptation and change in nearly every industry in 2021, that kind of long-term commitment simply doesn’t make sense anymore in many cases.

Meanwhile, an in-house team may actually slow development and reduce innovative thinking for your products. The employees you hire for industrial design at your business are beholden to more than just finding creative design solutions. They’re also worried about pleasing managers and stakeholders and keeping their jobs. This can very quickly devolve into a culture where in-house designers become reluctant to come up with radical solutions, not wanting to rock the boat. 

So, what’s the solution?

Why More Companies are Leaning on Outside Design Firms

We’re not here to tell you it’s time to fire all of your in-house designers. But it might be time for you to reevaluate whether working with a third party design firms may be a better option.

When it comes to innovative design that’s closely connected to the constantly evolving technology, consumer needs, and visual design languages, an external design agency can’t be beat. What some companies may consider a disadvantage, the fact that agencies are working on multiple projects at once from various clients across a range of industries, actually means that these agencies are constantly developing cross-domain skills and insights that will serve your products.

Meanwhile, external agencies bring the powerful advantage of perspective. They’re not closely tied to your business, your history, or the various opinions and inputs of management and executive teams. This lets them provide better judgement that’s unbiased and uncolored by what’s come before — focusing instead on what will work today and tomorrow.

An external design team means your industrial designs will always be cutting edge and powered by innovative thinking — and it might just speed up your time to market while saving your company money along the way.

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