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How designers can reverse conflict

I’ve been increasingly interested in employee engagement—from an art director’s perspective. I’m interested in finding ways for design to work alongside other people-focused departments to create modern, engaging brand cultures in the traditional workplace. This desire, itself, comes from being in a position of value that is largely misunderstood and marginalized in the corporate world.

In the corporate world, design is often a commodity. Some companies do design really well. Others have attempted to integrate good design into their business with some degree of success. Many others fall short. Inevitably, design talent is deemed too costly and corners are cut, devaluing the discipline, or design is cut altogether.

I spent a little bit of time thinking about what it feels like to perceive that one is being marginalized. Women feel this a lot in the workplace. It can seem that if we’re not peppy, happy, smiling-all-the-time brand-advocating go-getters—basically high school cheerleaders—we risk being seen in a negative light. The minute we’re very outspoken and assertive we risk being labeled “bossy” and “aggressive”. Yet, when a man behaves assertively he tends to be rewarded with achievement and opportunity with less of the risk.

What about designers who in certain situations find themselves feeling marginalized? And this is not in-house specific—I’ve known of studios where strategists continually made comments that devalued their creative colleagues. “We’re the brains,” they said. “A monkey could do what the designers do.”

I am not officially a creative director in title (yet), but I don’t hesitate to act like one every day. A good creative director would go to bat for any one of their designers, any time. I would do the same. Even if it meant making myself vulnerable to being perceived negatively. Because design matters. The designers I work with matter. Their work matters. I care that much. That means speaking up and being assertive, with confidence. But those inflated strategists? I’d have assertively eaten them for lunch if I'd so much as heard them say anything similar about my designers.

And therein lies the problem.

Those who feel marginalized may come across as combative. Perceiving that someone is acting and speaking as if an entire group of people is beneath them grates, and that yields combative behavior in return. I don’t think it’s a chicken-egg scenario. I think it’s very clear which behavior begets the other.

So what do those potentially feeling marginalized need to hear in order to rise back to positivity? It’s simple:

You’re not wrong. What you’re experiencing is real and it matters, and you have every right to feel that way. Thanks for bringing it to light. Now let’s work on a solution…

What a disarming statement.

In the meantime I have some ideas on what designers can do to avoid this kind of conflict.

The fact is, design can work alongside any department on initiatives that make a difference . But unless other departments are fully aware of the way they may be accidentally marginalizing design—those sensitive, touchy-feely weirdos who play with logos all day long—combative behavior may continue. Designers and other creative professionals should always work to educate and inspire those whom we work with. Most of the time, behavior that devalues us comes from a simple misunderstanding of just how important our work is, how we, too, are strategic thinkers, and how much value good design brings to businesses.

And if education doesn't work? Then I say then go ahead and eat the jerks for lunch!

Alyssa YeagerComment