So you want to work in Design?
POV: You’re young (yay!). Recently graduated and keen on a career in design. But maybe you’re yet to see the industry from the inside, so you’re unsure about its workings: the different types of agencies, their internal structure and the various job roles there are to choose from.
Over the next few weeks, Gabriele’s So You Want To Work in Design series, will walk you through each of these areas, building your industry knowledge so you can make an informed decision about the next steps in your career.
Knowing how a creative agency is set up is an integral part of building your career within design. Even if you decide to go the freelance route, you will likely come to a point on your career path where you will collaborate with an agency and will need to know how it all works.
To help you determine where you fit into the design world let’s first start with agency structure
The best way to understand the inner workings of a creative agency is to analyse its structure. Most design agencies use either a traditional or matrix/pod structure, so let’s look at both:
Traditional Work Structure
The traditional model is the go-to structure for larger agencies that offer a wide variety of services. Think department heads, VP’s, senior and midweight roles, and so on.
In a traditionally set up agency, each team is broken up by function and typically led by a head of department
In this type of structure, there are clearly defined roles and a strong chain of command. People know what they do, and they stay focused on that and only that.
On the other hand, the matrix or pod structure does what it says on the tin. Within this model, an agency creates ‘pods’ within its employees. Flat, non-hierarchical teams are made up of members with various disciplines (design, production etc) these guys work alongside each other to get the job done.
Matrix models helps foster trust and collaboration across departments and can lead to increased velocity on the business side and, just as importantly, increased morale on the personal side.
The matrix structure streamlines many processes by reducing friction. All members of the team are working on the same projects, day-in and day-out. It takes the chain of command out of the picture, therefore, increasing accountability within the team.
Starting off in a smaller agency is a good idea if you’re unsure about the department you’d like to take root in.
If you find a role within a smaller agency or start-up, it’s likely that you’ll start to wear many hats but in a good way. The workstream is more collaborative and transparent, you can see who does what, and help out, as there’s usually more tasks to complete than individuals.
Smaller independent agencies actually make up the masses in the UK and can be anything from a 2 man band to 30 strong, and anything in between. Small but beautifully formed. You’re likely to learn fast, always client-facing, and get experience in a few areas of the business. If you’re in account or project management, that’s great but you might find in a small agency that some creatives like getting instruction straight from the source as it avoids any miscommunication (and amendments) whilst others prefer having a buffer between them and the clients’ requests.
It’s up to you to find your work sweet spot.
Starting your career in a larger or Group Networked agency will require a strong sense of self and confidence in your work without the need for much handholding.
Some larger or group agencies will have a winning work formula in place, and you’ll be trained to work within their processes and methodology, possibly focusing your attention on one account and one key area of your expertise. However, there are also many where you are able to manage multiple clients in various sectors too of course. But in theory, you should get the opportunity to learn some strong methodologies and working practices.
A big plus of this type of agency is the resources they offer: bigger budgets, bigger clients and a bigger pool of co-workers to socialise with. There will also be more opportunities for career progression without leaving the company or moving within the Group.
Ultimately, the type of work structure you prefer depends on your skills, interests, and work style. If you like having a 360 view of a project, a smaller agency that operates a pod-style hierarchy may suit you best. If you’re certain about your discipline, working your way up in a large agency could be your thing.
We advise testing the waters. Get as much industry experience as possible - in a variety of settings until you find one that fits. We can help you source opportunities within all types of design agencies, so don’t hesitate to get in touch.