The Perils of Doing it In-house

There’s noth­ing else that caus­es dis­may in the heart of a design­er as when a client announces that they will do it them­selves. Whether the rea­son is finan­cial, lack of under­stand­ing the true scope of a project, or shift in pri­or­i­ties; the deci­sion to take a project in-house happens.

The dangers are twofold: it won’t get done or it won’t pass muster

In the case of one such client, I am wait­ing to hear from them after they real­ize that they don’t actu­al­ly have the skills nor resources in-house to pull the job off. I don’t doubt that they will reach this point soon­er or lat­er. Sad­ly, they will have wast­ed a lot of time and like­ly have got­ten frus­trat­ed. I hope they’ll still be able to get their enthu­si­asm up for a fresh start.

In anoth­er case, some­one with no train­ing has designed and laid out an entire small book­let of about 100 pages. I was asked to look over the file to check that it looked ok. I got the file so that I could make some kern­ing fix­es on the title that the per­son did­n’t know how to do. And I saw that the book had been cre­at­ed with­out mas­ter pages or a sin­gle stylesheet. That’s like mak­ing 8 dozen cook­ies, but instead of mak­ing the dough once, mix­ing the ingre­di­ents togeth­er for every cook­ie sep­a­rate­ly. Now, I’m in the midst of assist­ing as I can with the errors that the print­er has called out to be fixed before it can go to press.

Well actually, graphic designers are more than a pair of hands

Because our tools have become so sophis­ti­cat­ed, clients have the impres­sion that any­one can do it. And by “it,” I mean use the tools, not nec­es­sar­i­ly to good effect. In the case of web con­tent man­age­ment sys­tems like Word­Press, most peo­ple can pick it up and fig­ure out how to use it once it’s set up. (And I encour­age my clients to go this route.) The great num­bers of beau­ti­ful themes that are avail­able make it seem so easy—as if it’s already designed for you. How­ev­er, in my expe­ri­ence Word­Press is actu­al­ly more tech­ni­cal­ly com­plex to set up and cus­tomize than it is to cre­ate an html site from scratch. And, Word­Press isn’t going to plan your site, help you fig­ure out your con­tent strat­e­gy, and make your web­site an inte­gral part of your mar­ket­ing plan.

Today as I was try­ing to advise on that job that the print­er reject­ed, I was remind­ed of the “desk­top pub­lish­ing rev­o­lu­tion” from the late 1980’s, when every­one with Page­Mak­er became a design­er overnight. It did rev­o­lu­tion­ize our indus­try, but what did­n’t change is the need for design­ers to pro­vide our clients good strat­e­gy, prob­lem solv­ing, think­ing, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, tech­ni­cal exper­tise, as well as great design.

Let’s talk about opportunity cost

Pro­fes­sion­al ser­vices from an out­side firm is expen­sive, and clients most­ly take a project in-house to save on cost. A web­site that costs $25,000 from an out­side firm sounds like a crazy extrav­a­gance when you could have a staff per­son take on the web­site for “free.” Sounds like a no-brain­er. But, if you think about what is poten­tial­ly lost as a result of a late and/or mediocre web­site, the costs of doing it in-house can be so much greater. Let’s say that a pro­fes­sion­al­ly pro­duced web­site that real­ly works for your com­pa­ny might bring in even just one new client that adds $50,000 to your com­pa­ny’s rev­enue. All of the sud­den, that kind of ROI looks like the most sound invest­ment you could make on your com­pa­ny’s future.

Elías García Martínez, Ecce Homo (1930), and Cecilia Giménez's infamous 2012 restoration attempt.
Elías Gar­cía Martínez, Ecce Homo (1930), and Cecil­ia Giménez’s infa­mous 2012 restora­tion attempt. Click on the image above to read the whole sto­ry of how the famous­ly botched paint­ing ulti­mate­ly had an unex­pect­ed hap­py ending.

Can you afford to take the risk?

Before you decide that you will take that project in-house, make an hon­est assess­ment of the skills and resources of your in-house staff.

  • Can that admin/researcher/office man­ag­er real­ly pro­duce a pro­fes­sion­al-qual­i­ty document?
  • Do you/they tru­ly under­stand the tech­ni­cal require­ments of doing so?
  • Does that accounts person/customer ser­vice rep/IT guy who already has a full plate real­ly have the time to redesign the website?
  • How will you sup­port this per­son with the added work­load while the project is underway?
  • What is the account­abil­i­ty for not keep­ing the project on track?
  • What is the oppor­tu­ni­ty cost of not hav­ing a pro­fes­sion­al­ly pro­duced product?

And final­ly, beware that one of the biggest pit­falls of tak­ing a project in-house is hav­ing a junior per­son in charge of a project because they lack the author­i­ty to gar­ner the coop­er­a­tion and sup­port they’ll need from their supe­ri­ors in order to push a project along.