• Transform magazine
  • November 28, 2022

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“I never thought you’d go in-house”

Emily Matthews’ Portrait (Author

Emily Matthews, head of creative at leading Australian property developer Fortis, explains her experience of moving to an in-house design team, and why this may lead to more creative opportunities.

“I never thought you’d go in-house.”

This was a reaction from a fellow designer when they found out I had moved from agency to an in-house team. While this type of reaction was not unexpected, it stuck with me nonetheless. And to be fair, I had never thought I would go in-house. It wasn’t until I received a phone call from an amazing ex-agency colleague, who talked me through the type of marketing department she was creating at Fortis, and the opportunity to grow an in-house creative team, that I really took note.

There’s a well-known narrative that going in-house means better hours, more stability, less stress, but ultimately equates to less creativity and designers are destined to do the roll-out work, while big creative briefs go out to agencies. I’m sure this still rings true as a business model for many businesses and big corporates, but I can also see that narrative changing, with the likes of cutting-edge in-house teams within companies such as Optus, Sydney Opera House, Foxtel, and Canva to name a few.

So, after 15 years of working in creative agencies I was tentative about the move in-house, but knowing I was coming into a switched-on strategic team, many of whom are ex-agency, helped me to decide it was worth a shot.

Little did I know that this opportunity would open me up to more creative opportunities than I have ever had in my career. I attribute this to our growing creative team being involved right from the beginning, being in workshops with the architects, interior designers, development managers as the vision for the project is being established. Having a voice and asking the right questions, collaborating from the start, and problem-solving together. And then bringing everyone on-board with the creative strategy and getting the team excited. This great communication and trust has resulted in award- winning and effective work, as our design team is able to work with the best photographers, artists, videographers to help execute the design vision.

But even more significant has been the benefit of understanding the business, from being in the business. This has taken out a lot of the guesswork of potential design solutions and allowed me and the team to get into in-depth design thinking and problem solving on many levels. After two and a half years I’m still learning every day about how the business operates and where and how we can influence. Seeing Fortis grow over this time from 15 people to 67, and now covering residential, commercial, hospitality and placemaking projects has been exciting. But it's also taught me that businesses are agile and constantly pivoting, so being flexible and ready to jump at the next opportunity is critical.

So, for us, I’d like to say that being in-house is our superpower. And as we continue to attract the best design talent at Fortis there’s an exciting future ahead as we continue to push design and creative strategies and help influence our business from the inside out.