The Design Industry: Corporate Vs Agency – What You Need to Know

In every profession and industry, you’re faced with a choice. Will you work in-house for a corporate brand or business, or will you join an agency for the creative freedom it brings?  

Quite often, professionals move around and cross-over to gain first-hand experience for themselves. While there are pros and cons to both, it all comes down to personal choice and where you feel most comfortable. Which is why it’s useful to be aware of some of the key differences, when it comes to choosing agency vs in house design. 

In this overview, we’ll touch on some of the key points that define corporate vs agency life. 

Being an authority in your field 

If you’re a stickler for guidelines, working within a set of parameters and getting to know a brand inside and out, then working for a corporate is a great way to become an expert within your business. Unlike working in an agency, you will be surrounded by a diverse mix of team members from different parts of the business matrix, looking to you as the authority in design. However, it’s also a much narrower discipline, which can be stifling to the creative.

Comparatively, working in an agency you may be one of several designers working with likeminded experts. There will be less emphasis on you as an individual, but more as a team. 

Variety of work 

One of the pros and cons of working for a design agency is that you can work across a breadth of accounts. Great if you like variety, less so if you want to get under the skin of a brand.

Depending on your personality, you may find it familiar and comforting to work for one brand with a shared mission, or you may find it monotonous and repetitive.  

The creative spark 

Some people thrive on a challenge and enjoy the constant flow of new opportunities that come with working in a buzzing design agency. One of the ‘cons’ of this, is that you may never get to fully ‘own’ an idea or concept, serving solely to fulfil the requirements of a client.

This is quite a defining point and often one of the biggest indicators as to whether you will be suited to an agency or in-house role.  

Having a voice 

It’s the nature of a designer to often stand behind their work and let others speak for them. But it’s all too easy to lose your voice, even in the best design agencies in the world.

That said, this tends to be more of a complaint within corporates, where there may be less opportunity to air your views, or for new ways of working to be suggested. Often, design agencies tend to be more progressive and forward-thinking in their approach. 

Job stability 

Perhaps one of the most compelling reasons to work in-house in the corporate vs agency debate, is the stability you’re more likely to find in a corporate. Many big organisations have been around for some time and can weather a storm. Whilst agencies have the benefit of being agile and fleet-of-foot, they may have less job security. Relying on a raft of clients, means that it can be quite unpredictable at times. 

Career progression 

All businesses differ, but within the corporate world, there may be less room to move upwards – although with it comes the option to move into other parts of the business.

Agencies on the other hand, tend to have a defined route to the top, with various opportunities for promotion. However, labour turnover does tend to be higher in agencies – for instance, advertising agencies (which are highly comparable to design agencies) tend to experience 30 per cent labour turnover annually. 

Team collaboration 

A key difference in the way agencies behave, versus corporates – is that agencies are far more collaborative. You will often see cross-team working, whether it’s for a pitch, new business, or event. This may be due to the lack of hierarchy in agencies, or perhaps it’s a cultural thing. However, in corporate’s, brainstorming and cross-team working can often be siloed. This isn’t unusual, since departments often have their own agendas and set of goals, which might not always marry up with other departments. 

Salary and perks 

Typically speaking, working in-house is marginally higher compensated than working for a design agency. You can also expect standard perks, such as bonuses, pension and company discounts – great if you’re working for an airline, hotel, or car manufacturer for instance.

But agencies are fighting back. With less red-tape and the ability to be more agile, they’re able to offer other perks, those that may be more appealing too: flexible working, time off for volunteering, training courses, breakfast/lunch provided in the office, Friday-night drinks on the company. In more recent times, cultural fit is a big factor when you think about the pros and cons of working for a design agency. 

In summary 

In the eternal debate of agency vs in house design, it’s clear that there’s no one-size-fits all approach. Cultural and personality fit is really the defining feature when it comes to understanding where your skills are best served. Depending on how highly you value; job stability, creative freedom, team dynamics, job responsibilities, job perks and working across several or just one brand, will determine if you are better suited to the structure of a corporate environment, or the fluidity of a design agency. 

Author: Geri Pollock

geraldine pollock, talenthub, recruiter

Geri specialises in Digital Transformation and Design Solutions. Call Geri today for expert strategic advice on how to build your dream UX team.


Tel: 087 467 4488

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