Fuel Your Team’s Creative Fire

By Dan Crowder, Founder and Managing Director of design recruitment agency Craft. Based in Manchester, Dan founded Craft in 2014. With its network of the best creatives in the industry, the Craft ambition is simple: to enhance the studios, careers and lives of everybody they partner with. They recruit for world-class design agencies and in-house studios, and find creative people jobs they love. Craft’s core areas of expertise are: Graphic Design & Brand, Digital Design & Motion Graphics, Client Services & Agency Operations and Brand & Design Strategy. Craft currently operates in four key cities: Manchester, London, Leeds and New York. 


Fad vs. Future: How To Evolve Your Design Team

Remember NFTs? Not too long ago, everyone from artists to gamers, Etsy hobbyists, musicians, crypto-bros, high-end fashion outlets, streetwear hipsters and pretty much everyone else was toting their non-fungible wares as if the whole thing was about a lot more than just an ugly jpg of a monkey in a funny hat. Since those heady days, however, most have agreed that the “now all but worthless” tokens were little more than an “understandable internet fad”.

Where NFTs are valuable, however, is as a warning: such boom and bust fads might prompt more reactive agencies to reconsider how they’re structured – the sort of specialisms they feel they need to offer, the skills they need to ‘up’ or hire for, the trends (technological, cultural, social, environmental, even political) they need to consider. So, hiring someone on the strength of their NFT-based know-how wouldn’t perhaps have been the smartest move.

Due to the very nature of their work, designers are generally astute at discerning what’s a fad and what’s the future: they see the world holistically to best design for it. Design teams need to be created or modified as part of the bigger picture and see themselves as an integral aspect of wider cultural phenomena outside of the design industry. The best designers are actively looking for inspiration from different categories – fashion, music, visual art, film, TV, beauty, and more. Alcohol brands, for instance, have historically long borrowed cues from categories as diverse as haute couture, perfume, and heavy metal.

Agency leaders should apply that same sort of approach to how they build their organization – how the business is run, and how they go about attracting the right people. By thinking and working in progressive, expansive ways; their business will never become stagnant. The worst thing you can do is just keep doing things the way they’ve always been done, simply because that’s the way they’ve always been done, without questioning what could work better. There’ll undoubtedly be things you can borrow from other areas by actively making a point of being outward-looking and open.

That means not having a process that’s totally rigorous, in which every second is accounted for with project work. Good designers know themselves well enough to understand which technologies, sectors, or themes are worth exploring. They generally don’t want, or need, a systemic business culture that dictates to people what products or tools to upskill in or use.

It sounds obvious, but in a creative business, creativity should be baked into the entire operation’s processes: people should be encouraged to flex, to play with and try out different tools, and new ways of working and ideating. It’s a no-brainier from both a personal and a business perspective: employees will be happier because they feel more fulfilled, and crucially, have time and space to do what they’re great at – being creative.

People often learn best when it’s self-directed, whether through Reddit forums, YouTube tutorials, or learning by doing. It’s always better to find new skills – be that in 3D design, gaming engines, AI, VR, or anything else – from willing, eager existing talent than to hire outside, or to outsource. You’ll probably find that there are numerous people within your existing design team who are only too eager to learn or enhance their skills in various sought-after areas. It’s just about trusting them: remember, they were hired for a reason.

Agencies shouldn’t just think about investment in learning in terms of money – buying licenses for software or fonts, or subscriptions to ChatGPT, or replacing older hardware. The real investment needs to come in how you fuel your team’s creative fire, by providing both inspiration and the time and space to play.

In practice, creative businesses need to be proactive in seeking out learning opportunities: bringing in guest speakers, for instance, or encouraging employees to attend talks, industry events, exhibitions, and workshops. We’re so lucky in the creative industry to be surrounded by talented peers who are often very willing to share their knowledge and work. But there’s so much more you can do, and for the most part it’s very simple: allowing people breathing space so that agency life still feels playful and exploratory.

An agency culture that encourages all that becomes a sort of circular process: those learning new skills could go on to share them with the rest of the company, in an informal, show-and-tell type context. These in turn build on skills like presenting, public speaking, and discovering the best ways to show your work and processes – all essential design industry skills that you usually don’t learn in art school. It also means everyone in the company feels a sense of transparency and influence, since everyone can then pitch in their own ideas in an environment away from the usual formalized, tabled meeting setting.

Evolving your design team for the future isn’t about fancy job titles, futuristic specialisms, or solutions dominated by emerging tech. It’s about never resting on your laurels: learning and growing as a team, being willing to question the status quo and being open-minded to new ideas and processes. It’s about listening – to staff, clients, and the world at large.

Allowing people space and time to be creative – with a view to upskilling or just to be playful – ultimately benefits everyone.