NYU 2012 Capstone Interview Series: Internal Art Departments and Leadership

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In a previous post, I mentioned I would be interviewing some of my former classmates about their capstone thesis projects for NYU. Below is my interview with fellow NYU alumna Jessica Merete.

Jessica Merete is a Design Manager and aspiring Creative Director in the Global Services Marketing division of Pitney Bowes. Connect with Jessica on LinkedIn.

1. How did you choose the topic of art departments within companies as the subject for your capstone thesis?

The topic of my capstone was closely related to my reason for going to graduate school. I work as an in house creative for a Fortune 500 company, and internal training was not available for me to learn the leadership skills necessary to run a successful creative department. I took the opportunity to learn about these leadership skills and to present my findings to my upper management.

 2. What were the most surprising things you learned while researching the topic?

I wasn’t aware that so many other internal art departments in the corporate world have similar issues. Unfortunately, marketing professionals in many companies do not understand what creatives can bring to the table.

 3. What are the top three things internal art departments could do better?

On the agency side, a creative director is the leader of the art department, but in the corporate world, most of the time a marketing professional oversees the internal creative group. It’s very important to have a marketer who understands the creative process. The second thing would be to have a leader who understands how to motivate a creative team. Left-brain and right-brain thinkers are motivated by different things. Creating an environment of trust where people feel free to express themselves is also important.

 4. What are the biggest misconceptions about internal art departments?

The biggest misconception is that internal art departments are not as good as agencies. That’s far from the truth. Creative work is increasingly being kept in house today versus ten years ago. I feel it is partially because of the economy but also because there are so many in house creatives speaking out about their value to the organization. In house creatives understand the brand and live it everyday. For my capstone I read over 150 research papers, because their abstracts at first would sound like they fit my topic. Then I would start reading the actual papers, and many were geared towards engineering or scientific design. There are some qualitative studies that were done, but nothing is very recent. A couple of studies looked at multiple creative departments, but the quantitative studies I found were from at least five years ago, and would have to be revisited based on the recent changes in the economy.

 5. What advice would you give to internal art departments that are underutilized or under appreciated?

It’s key to be open with your manager and try to explain to them what your goal is, especially if they do not have a creative background. Many in house corporations do not have a creative director because they don’t see the need for it. Good design goes beyond creating a pretty picture, and the process can be a lot smoother when a creative director heads up the creative department. It is important to understand your environment and what is needed to achieve success in your organization. This can sometimes be uncomfortable for creatives but it is the key to success. Always bring great ideas to the table and be ready to present the business case for your idea.

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Categories: Graphic Design and Art Direction, Higher Education, Interviews

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