It doesn’t seem that long ago that my biggest worry wasn’t making sure a job was finished ontime, underbudget and looking good. My biggest worry was that I had enough change for a coffee and a pencil to sketch with. Then I began to work at an in-house studio and things changed a little.

The turn off the luscious path that is study and onto the straight and narrow road of full-time work was a sharp one for me. A very sharp one. It was a Friday night when my fellow recent graduates and I gathered to salute farewell to the end of our (then) current course of study and hello to the next step in our lives. While we ate, drank, talked and laughed, we spoke about what was on our horizons with joyful flee at the idea of doing what we’d been enjoying for the last couple of years and actually getting paid for it. The following Monday I nervously stepping onto a whole new platform. A platform, I quickly realised, I might not be ready for. Welcome to the world of the in-house studio.

For most of you reading this, the words that follow is going to hold no new truths. But for a lot of you, the working world is still on the other side of a piece of paper, and the in-house is probably something you haven’t given a lot of thought to. Before I proceed, however, let me just get this out – I don’t mind where I work. In fact, I quite like it, so lets not think I’m a bitter man, ok? Ok.

Factor in the extra layer of the business that we
are part of and the swamp gets a little thicker

The first thing that was a real shock was the systems. Chances are, most of the studios you’ll work in will have different ways of organising everything and a different process of working through a job. Factor in the extra layer of the business that we are part of and the swamp gets a little thicker. Work requests/time sheets are interesting things the first time you lay your eyes on one. Really interesting things when you’re in-house. Do you charge the client A-Rate or B-Rate? Oh, C-Rate, ok. Is it for TREST or ROM? Both? What do you mean? They changed their names? Merged? Rearranged their resources? When? The job is now twice as long? Since when? Oh, after the merge, got ya, so now it’s C-Rate for sure? They didn’t get approval from their supervisor for the finances? Ok, ok, I got it, we’re all good … We no longer charge for internal jobs? Unless they have external funding?

Once you get over that little hurdle and understand how things work and which questions to ask, things get a bit easier. In fact, this is where you can start to have some fun. One of the biggest advantages of working as an internal graphic design studio for quite a large business is that there are many resources happy to help and give you a hand when you need it.

Take an eight second walk and you’re in the photography department with a team of a-grade photographers happy to pencil you in. Client wants a Flash based resource on CD, with podcasts, vodcasts and notes? Trot over to the multimedia develops for the flash, then take a trip down the hall and talk to the audio engineer about the podcasts, the video guys about the, well, video and finally down to the reproduction duo to make sure enough copies of the CD can be made and delivered down to mailing, by the clients, rather irrational, end-of-week deadline. Phew. Piece of cake, keep walking for another minute or two and grab your self an over-priced coffee.

A friendly conversation can really do wonders
when you need to borrow the television studio

All of that gets a lot smoother with good relationships and for some reason, a good relationship is easier to forge when you all work for the same business – a sense of camaraderie, I guess. A friendly conversation can really do wonders when you need to borrow the television studio at the end of the building for a photo shoot. A friendly conversation does amazing things when you need props, other staff to act as models and a small team to help set everything up, make sure people are there on time, in the right clothes, with the right props and willing to have a big ol’ smile on their face for the camera.

One of the downsides of being part of an in-house studio is the perception clients can have of you. Especially when said client no longer has to pay for your services. The experiences that have stemmed from some of these incidents has been enough to ensure that I’ll never do work on the so-cheap-it-hurts. It still amazes me at how insulted I felt when a client said, while we were getting custom photos shot, “…the only reason we came to you was because my supervisor didn’t approve my financial request to go to another studio.” Ouch, huh? Even though we were delivering much more than this external studio would have, her perception was that she was going to get a cheap looking job was because we wouldn’t be charging her. Even though we are part of the same business, she had the view that we wouldn’t be able to deliver the message as well as a charging studio would. But of course we felt passionate about the message, hell, it was our message too. We were willing to put in for more hours than this other studio because of that. But in the end, after a number of proofs and conversations, the client sanded our design thinner and thinner till it looked almost exactly like the job she had paid for a year before. Why? Because she had paid for it, therefore it must be the right track. Ah well, at least we didn’t use stock photography.

Because the client doesn’t have to pay,
they can sometimes become more adventurous

The complete opposite also happens because of the same reason. I’ve had jobs, with the same client as mentioned above actually, that have been amazingly satisfying. Because the client doesn’t have to pay, they can sometimes become more adventurous — there isn’t as much to lose. I developed an idea that the client fell in love with, which resulted in her being far more resilient in making sure it got past her bosses (remember when I mentioned systems? Hierarchy is a big one around here). As she didn’t have to spend money to get the idea put together, then the idea becomes a little bit more appealing and can be different. I dare say another reason she felt passionate about it was probably because of the conversations we had had before and after meetings. Which goes back to what I said earlier — a simple, friendly conversation can work wonders.

The last thing worth mentioning is the environment. We’re lucky in that our studio is located in the middle of a beautiful, rural university. Lots of greenery, a constant, lazy breeze and enough trees to keep a bear happy. However, walk into our studio, which is owned by the University, and things change a little. While we don’t spend our days in tiny, desk sized cubicles, we can’t exactly knock a wall down and put together a more inviting library on a whim. Hell, the paperwork alone would cost a few hours. We can pin posters up, but mostly on the provided pin boards. Not a lot of room on the walls for framed pieces. Nor is there much of a chance of there being a nice leather couch in the room that currently houses our books. On the upside, whenever a department shuts down our a major-project finishes up, we get to scrounge up the goodies. Free cupboards, shelves and other furniture, delivered and installed? Yes please. Free Wacoms, yeah, why not?

As with most working environments, being part of an in-house studio has its ups and downs. An independent studio might have to worry about dealing with other studios (photography, copywriting, illustration, etc) where we don’t have to. That’s a bonus, for sure. When it comes down to it, an in-house studio is like any other studio, it just has a thick, foriegn accent.