Interview: Agency vs in-house with Matteo Valfre

An interview with Matteo Valfre, Senior Brand Designer at Sugru, about working in agency vs in-house in the Creative industry.

In this ‘agency vs in-house’ interview series led by Salt Senior Consultant for Creative, Holley Potts, we speak to customers from all different sectors within the world of digital to answer the age-old question – agency or in-house? This series is designed to give you a snapshot of creative career journeys and insights into what are currently happening in their businesses. Over to Holley…  

Welcoming to the series, Matteo Valfre, Senior Brand Designer at Sugru. Matteo tells us about his thoughts of an in-depth life cycle, and the detailed trends and differences between agency vs in-house… 

Holley – Welcome Matteo! I am sure the audience would love to hear a day in the life of an in-house brand such as Sugru, and for you to tell us how this compares to that of agency life?  

Matteo – Of course! So, I’m part of the Digital, Design and Strategy Lab at Sugru where we work on a variety of projects from concept to completion. We collaborate across departments to define where we are going and where we can leverage existing projects. It is about being aware of the commercial side but also you get to build, care and have an impact on the brand. 

It’s about being proactive and not reactive! We always think about what the problem might be in advance and being in-house gives you the chance to look at the journey vs the problem. We get to set our vision and work on very creative briefs whereas, I feel with agency, not knowing whether you are going to succeed, say for a pitch, can be uncertain.  

Working in-house, the process is more managed, you can smooth a lot of the edges out as there are lots of people on board so you can understand each other’s point of view. 

These past few months have made me think that agencies who are dependent on 1 or 2 big clients can no longer be sustainable as you are rushing on lowering prices and trying to maximise output. Don’t get me wrong, there are of course great agencies producing great work out there too! But that is one thought to think about.   

I’ve been client-side for the vast majority of my career, I had a brief experience in agency but I didn’t really enjoy it! I felt it was just an output machine for clients without a lot of meaningfulness, however I’m sure that’s not true for all agencies.  

Holley – That’s a very poignant notion on being proactive and not reactive! Preparing for the future so you are ready. Wise words Matteo. Indeed, in this industry now, to be proactive you need to be quite multi-faceted in your skill set to be able to take on any particular project that is thrown at you effectively. The feel the market is massively shifting to catering hybrid designers these days, especially in-house from speaking to a lot of brands recently, have you found this too?  

Matteo – The market is realising where the need is. In-house, in particular, where teams might be fairly small, you need people who can wear multiple hats. It is a response from the workforce calling what the industry needs. A few years back there was lots of searching for designers based just on their technical skills. Employers have matured and now realise there’s more to it, and now are considering people who can cater for different aspects in the same way.  

For instance, with the term “design generalist” (popularised by the design team at Airbnb), the view is that you have to have a business mind and a commercial understanding of the business and trends but most importantly, you must be adaptable. 

Holley – That’s actually something that’s cropping up a lot from speaking to clients, the rise on brand and digital design strategy, to be able to give long term advice as well as designing is proving particularly important like you said. Combining of skills is rising. How has coming from such a multi-disciplined background helped you in your career to working in-house?  

Matteo – Having a varied background means I can use all my skills I have gained so far and that’s the beauty of it. You will have your specialisms, but being able to understand and work across different fields for me is key. Plus, I get bored quickly!  

Sugru is a consumer brand so we are always thinking about the consumers first. Then, there is a big emphasis on digital presence but we sell a physical product. For these reasons, whenever we want to enlarge our team, we look for hybrid designers. If we have a skill gap, we use that as a starting point. 

Holley  – That’s the beauty of having worked in different sectors like yourself, is that you can draw on those experiences to be very adaptable in how you work today. Design is ever evolving, especially after this year design is adapting to new ways of working. How do you see design changing this year?  

Matteo – I am playing with animations and After Effects more and more. If you are designing for interaction, movement plays a big part. To create the whole experience in the end you need to know how all of the elements play a part. 

I see AR/VR + AI trends coming up big this year. It’s all about the digital experience with lots more integration and blending between the real world and the digital world, especially with the commercialisation of devices such as Oculus as they are now affordable.  

Holley – Totally agree, AI will have more focus on platforms now than ever, especially video calls, how can we make these more personable? With the likes of everyone working remotely this is something that is going to be huge. How have you guys adapted to this remote way of working?  

Matteo – We were quick to adapt to not being all in the office as we were using Miro and Slack before the need for it. By switching to being synchronised, we have allowed for people to act on things at their own pace. We are trying to take the weird out of this current situation as a lot of the work doesn’t require people gathering for a fixed amount of time throughout the day. You don’t waste a good crisis! And we are trying to get rid of bad habits. 

Holley – So, to wrap us off Matteo, what can we expect to see this year from Sugru?  

Matteo – All I can say is that something is boiling!  
 
So, there we have it, a brilliant analysis from Matteo. Nothing like being left with a cliff hanger! I am excited to see what Sugru will be creating this year!  

Stay tuned for more interviews, coming your way. If you would like to find out more about the series or find out how we can help you with your hiring, get in touch with Holley via hpotts@welovesalt.com

Read all of our agency vs in-house interviews here.

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