Graphic design, by design

May 20, 2019

In 20 years as an in-house graphic designer, the lessons learned are simple: Serve the customer, protect the brand, meet the deadlines, and communicate with the client.

More than 20 years ago, I applied to a newspaper ad for an environmental consulting firm that was looking for an in-house graphic designer. Fresh out of school, I had very little knowledge about what it meant to be an in-house designer and I certainly hadn’t the faintest idea what environmental consulting was. Assuming it must have something to do with the environment, I thought, how difficult could it be to find photos of nature and use those to create beautiful graphics. Boy were my eyes opened!

Flash forward to today and I have certainly come a long way as a designer and manager. The lessons learned after having spent these years working as part of an in-house design team in the consulting industry are invaluable. Each of these lessons are pivotal in creating and maintaining a top-notch design department that can support our firm’s graphics needs.

  • Excellent customer service goes a long way. One of the most flattering comments I hear is from people telling us how much they enjoy working with the graphics department because no matter what project we’re collaborating on, or problem we’re helping solve, we always do it enthusiastically and with a smile. Whether you’re having a bad day or your software keeps crashing, it’s not your client’s fault. Every person that reaches out for graphics support should receive the same high level of customer service, and attention to detail; this keeps customers happy and coming back.
  • No one knows your brand better. Early on in my career I never fully understood the benefit of having an in-house design department, now I can’t imagine a company without one. When you work surrounded and married to your company’s brand, no one knows the brand, and its assets, better than your design department. We understand the value in which the assets are being used, how to implement them in the most viable manor, and how to make changes and updates that will benefit the firm.
  • Delivering exceptional graphics, on time and on budget. In order to maintain a high-quality and cost-effective workflow, you must train your designers to understand the importance of adhering to deadlines and embracing the client’s expectations. As a graphics manager, it is your responsibility to make sure all details are being followed and the process runs smoothly. The key is to ask the right questions, understand the project, and discuss the parameters with the client in order to manage their expectations.
  • Keeping the lines of communication open. With technology on the forefront and our day-to-day communication circling mostly around emails and instant messaging – which are great tools – we tend to neglect the power of talking to clients. In order to consistently maintain a strong level of communication, you must learn how to harness the power these tools provide to keep conversations alive throughout the duration of your project. The minute there is a breakdown in communication, problems start to happen, and deadlines are in jeopardy.

Looking back on the years I’ve spent building a design department, I reflect on the challenges faced, and the mistakes made along the way. Every hurdle encountered should be taken as a challenge to find the best solution. It may sound cliché, but you must learn from these successes or failures. I take the opportunity to continually share these lessons with our design team, and new designers, to help them build their careers as part of this in-house team. Our department’s mantra is to maintain consistency in our work products and customer service, which strengthens our reputation and builds confidences with our internal clients.

Pam Wood is the graphic design manager at Geosyntec Consultants. She can be reached at

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.