Ricky Synnot

Working in-house is like being in the middle of the ocean

February 7, 2014

In August 2013 I made the difficult decision to leave my job and join the REA Group as a Senior Digital Designer. In effect, I was leaving ‘Agency Land’ to work full-time ‘in-house’. At that point I didn’t expect just how long it would take to adjust to this different environment and workflow.

Snap from movie

In a recent episode of The Blacklist, James Spader’s character ‘Reddinton’ has an epic line which struck a chord:

“Have you ever sailed across an ocean Donald? On a sail boat surrounded by sea with no land in sight. Without even the possibility of sighting land for days to come. To stand at the helm of your destiny.”

If we focus only on the words in that quote and ignore the episode’s surrounding context, we can assume a positive and optimistic outlook – a dream or desire. I liken his notion of ‘being surrounded’ with sea to the unsettling and disorienting experience one goes through when changing your work environment.

When I heard the last sentence, where you realise you’re ‘at the helm of your destiny’, I was suddenly empowered. It filled me with optimism about the possibilities and opportunities that this new way of working would hold.

Nb: The scene is, in fact, grim and depressing, as Reddington appears to be moments away from agent Ressler’s death.

I considered this for a while. While my journey into ‘Client Side’ isn’t as scary and dramatic, there are great metaphoric parallels between the ocean depicted in ‘Reddington’s’ line, and the longer, extended workflow I now practice.

I have let go of rapid deadlines, and 1-week website builds, in favor now of a longer, staged, iterative approach.

Both environments were ‘Agile’. In them I work nimbly and iteratively in project specific teams, without the traditional waterfall situation.

Jason santa maria

Jason Santa-Maria sums this shift up nicely in his recent appearance in the ‘Dorm Room Tycoon’ podcast:

“I started coming from the agency life … to a team that worked very rapidly with lots of iterations … that was a serious culture shock that I really had to adapt to. Which now, I think has made me a much stronger designer.”

As a designer also making this significant workflow shift, It was reassuring to hear that an industry heavyweight had at times, shared the same confusion, dis-orientation and struggle.

I think success looks and feels different on each side. Now, in-house, I can’t look for those instant wins, those quick builds and fast deliveries. Success is now in more long term product refinement. Success means meeting general improvement targets in customer satisfaction. It’s about nailing a design that upholds the existing virtues of a company, while solving old and new problems.

I’ll keep this post updated with my journey.