How to Be Corporate and Still Be Creative

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March 11, 2010

If you’re like me, you graduated from art school and had dreams of working as an art director at a small agency. You envisioned having your own office on the top floor of a loft with 30-foot ceilings.

Designers would play ping-pong below; people were allowed to drink beer at work; and brilliant ideas would flow effortlessly from your mind into multi-million-dollar campaigns for clients like Nike and Coca-Cola.

In fact, you got a job at a large corporation and were shown to a desk in a sea of light-gray fabric-covered cubicles. Instead of 30-foot ceilings, you have surprisingly low ceilings, covered with a substance that you could swear is asbestos.

You were given a 90-page handbook on how to create drop-shadows and sent off to populate templates for product brochures.

Sounds like hell. But outlined below are a few ways to improve your outlook on work life, foster creativity in you and the business and, most importantly, bring some fun into your corporate job.

Accept the Corporate Mindset, and Then Make Your Mark

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Working for a large corporation comes with many perks, such as benefits packages, consistent pay checks, team collaboration and not having to chase down new business. But it also comes with communications guidelines, branding standards and templates.

To maintain your creativity, you have to look beyond the projects in queue.

Getting used to the corporate mindset is difficult for some (me included), but embracing it and learning where you can and cannot make concessions is a crucial part of success. For example, I once led an initiative to change the way we marketed a segment of our products.

Instead of simply opening the packaging template and dropping in an image of the new product, I designed a template with a new photography standard, new colorways and a new ad campaign to coincide with the product launch. Of course, I produced what the project originally called for, but I was also able to present another option to the client that included a well-researched, integrated campaign that I had designed from the ground up. Damn, was that ever fun.

Think Like an Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs are constantly looking for opportunities in the market to offer something new or make something better.

You can have the same mindset in your corporation. Constantly be on the look-out for ways to improve your company’s products, processes, vendor contracts, print-vendor relationships, color-correction issues, design workflow, online-advertising testing practices, conference-calling ability, whatever.

You’ll see problems and holes in the processes of many of your daily workflows. Instead of complaining about them, you could be the person improving them.

Seek Out Challenges

Few designers want to sit for hours on end putting silos on images because it’s tedious, unchallenging work.

For me, the best projects are the ones that take me a little out of my comfort zone, and I actively seek those out. Not only do they keep me engaged at work but they increase my skill-set and make me more needed to management and the entire team.

I even like to look beyond my team for challenges, and now people come to me for input on all types of projects, from software implementation to video direction to website usability testing.

Scare yourself and you’ll find interesting ways to learn new skills and bolster your creativity.

Become a Free Agent

Want to move to a different team? Let that team’s leader know by offering to help it out!

For months I wanted to move from the print team to multimedia team. Having pretty good knowledge of Flash, I would volunteer for projects whenever they were overloaded.

Eventually, an opportunity to join the team opened up, and because the team leader was already familiar with me and the quality of my work, I was the logical choice for the job. I managed to create the situation I wanted, even though it wasn’t what I was hired for.

Be the Go-To Guy

Know of a huge campaign coming up? I can assure you that the creative director will be overwhelmed.

Mention to him or her that you’d like to help out in any way you can, and show an example of what you can do. As with any client pitch, put yourself in his or her position to figure out where you can help out. You might get the opportunity to work on a high-profile campaign or to travel to help direct a photo shoot.

Become known as a person with a wealth of good ideas, and you’ll get to work on all the fun projects. I’m constantly helping the video team when they get overloaded; consequently, I’m often asked to assist with concepting, art direction, casting, location management, etc. Because I’m not anything close to resembling a filmmaker, I find the challenge rewarding and extremely exciting.

Befriend Clients

Working in a corporate design department affords you constant access to clients. Make friends with them. Not only will it make communication easier during projects, it will also streamline feedback and approval times.

Equally important, friendship is a great way to nurture brave clients.” Brave clients are people who get in the ring and fight for your great ideas and secure money or backing from management. So, keep the big picture in mind, and realize that when someone asks you to do something slightly outside your job description, he or she may have the key to the budget that would kickstart that pet project of yours mired in red tape.

You’ll get to know some great people who will be willing to go to bat for you in a crunch.


Don’t let preconceived notions hamper your experience of the corporate world. The world may not be exactly what you envisioned, but there are many ways to keep your job fun and interesting. With an open mind, a willingness to execute your ideas and a lot of hard work, you will stay creative, develop skills and advance your career. Who knows? You may even enjoy it.

Written exclusively for Webdesigner Depot by Jason Bowden, corporate-design team leader by day, freelance designer by night. You can follow him on Twitter @jason_bowden or witness his admittedly mindless personal ramblings at jasonbowden​.com.

What about you? What strategies have you tried to improve your job?

WDD Staff

WDD staff are proud to be able to bring you this daily blog about web design and development. If there’s something you think we should be talking about let us know @DesignerDepot.

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