Working in a creative agency

I always wondered how it’s like at well-known agencies like Dogstudio, Pentagram, Built-in Amsterdam, and others. How is their approach to client work, if they only accept specific projects because they find them interesting or it’s money-related. How they motivate employees, making them feel empowered and creative. However, I can only write about my experience, so here some key points on how it’s like to work for some small creative agencies.

A starting point
An agency is a good place to start your career, you get the chance to work on different projects and industries, and perhaps like me, even in different fields of design. You might end up being a unicorn but that’s not necessarily bad in the beginning because you might realize that you want to specialize in a different field from what you had in your mind. When I started I was doing Motion, Graphic, and Web design (even video and photography) and by the end, I was working on UX and UI for mobile and web apps.

No pain no gain
Sometimes what a client wants is not what is best for them or their business so I was regularly pitching my work and ideas to clients, trying to make their mind. Slowly that will help you develop skills on how to present your work and how to keep calm through the art of smile and wave. Working under pressure is quite common and you end up mastering multi-tasking reasonably quickly. Saying that many colleagues left because they couldn’t cope with that kind of environment plus they were not too fond of the extra hours sometimes involved to hit the deadlines. Now you might think that sounds terrible but it helps you grow faster as a designer.

Things you should be aware of
At the end of the day, we just want to work on something that makes us proud, however, not always is the case, you might need to meet development time constraints or bad client feedback (“my son prefers purple…”, “can you add a picture of a sunset in the background?”…). YOU SHOULD NEVER THINK OF A DESIGN PROJECT AS YOUR BABY! Keep creating personal projects that you love because working on an agency doesn’t mean it will help you build your portfolio. Most clients have disclosure agreements and some agencies don’t allow you to add anything in your portfolio.

The downside
Rarely we would have clients on retainer contracts so usually, it was short-term projects that we never fully understood the scope of the business, their product needs, or their users. Mainly it was more focused on the look and feel than usability. After the project go-live, there was no feedback or research data on how the project was performing so basically no way to know if I was doing a positive impact or where I should improve.

Last thoughts
Don’t worry you will have fun as well, to show some appreciation for their employees, some agencies have fun events or holidays abroad. Although not all know how to motivate daily so make sure you create good connections with your co-workers to create a more fun and friendly environment. Most likely you will have a slightly different experience than mine, each agency will have its own culture, however, you should expect something along these lines.


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