Role interference

The other thread on preferred work reminded me of a recurring problem in this industry when talking about the difference between marketing and graphic design, and when people drift out of their lanes.

In every job I take on, I never think of job titles as much as I think of job roles or skills and who is in the most critical position to lead, follow, or get out of the way of optimizing those skills. The most qualified people to utilize a skill in a group is often not the person with the most influence over that skill utilization. On the other thread B made a good point about siloed education causing problems in the workplace. I agree that education should be broad enough to teach the importance of other roles. But if you’re taught enough to respect a person from another profession’s role, it doesn’t mean you’re qualified to take on that other person’s role.

I’m not just talking about cut-throat jockeying for position climbing the corporate ladder or maintaining job security. The person that has the most influence is often unaware that they took on the role by interfering with the role. I’m talking about people who accidentally drift out of their role and interfere with other people’s roles while knowing too little to warrant their level of influence over those roles. I’m talking about people who are sitting in the driver seat and don’t even know it, staring at the other passengers while wondering why the car is stalled or drifting off the road.

As mentioned on the other thread, graphic designers make decisions about content type or media type that are marketing decisions in effect without the benefit of market research. Without a designated copywriter, copy is often an afterthought. Copy is sometimes written by the person with the least knowledge in the group about copywriting, or the least knowledge about the product or service being sold. The worst ads are the ones that start with interesting images without much thought about how to tie in copy with the marketing goals and messages.

It’s not just marketing problems either. Sometimes it’s job costs. It seems that more often than not, the person who’s selling the work is not the same person doing the work, and often fails to consult with the person who is doing the work before pricing the job. This causes problems for everyone. It drives up the cost of the job for the workers, the client, or both. Sometimes it’s a deliberate bait-and-switch tactic from the seller. It may work for getting more jobs from different clients, but I doubt it works for getting repeat business from the same clients. The workers might not be good at selling, but they should at least be consulted in the pricing of the job by the sellers.

Those who don’t understand creative direction often accidentally put themselves in the role of a creative director by over-specifying the content types. Those who don’t understand art direction often do the same by over-specifying layout and style. Sometimes a client will go as far as to send a graphic designer a layout that’s already done with no instructions on what can be changed. By doing that, they put themselves in the role of a graphic designer, reducing the real graphic designer’s role to an over-paid production artist. The real graphic designer must then choose between annoyingly returning to them with dozens of questions, timidly producing it as specified just to get it done quicker, or boldly making better changes made at the risk of upsetting the client and expanding the job. Some clients like the changes, but other clients will get mad about the increased cost or that their amateur ideas were corrected without permission.

What are your similar stories with role interference? How do you deal with these people?


I’ve worked at incompetent agencies whose entire existence was owed to a fluke account that made its temporary existence possible despite the inability of those involved to sustain it.

I’ve worked at newspapers, where the journalists believed they were trained to fill all roles and provide direction to everyone from computer technicians to web developers to designers.

I’ve worked at magazines with totally flat hierarchies that hummed along beautifully — everyone doing their respective jobs, using their areas of expertise and producing an incredible product far bigger and better than any of us could have done on our own.

I’ve worked in-house at computer companies whose upper management was so firmly rooted in the past, that it was obvious to everyone but them that the company was destined to collapse.

I’m now working at a place where a psychopathic business school graduate was recently inserted into the chain of command and is causing half my staff (including me) to look for other jobs.

Maybe it’s just the dynamics that happen when various people get tossed together. I’ve never had much luck in altering my own personality to accommodate others — low social IQ, I suppose. I wish I had answers, but I don’t.


Roles are extremely important. Even if you’re a generalist and can do many thing really well like painting, logo design, illustration, and motion graphics. We need to know our role per project. But more often than not this doesn’t happen unless it’s a well managed team and well planned workflow.

I’ve been known to tell a few writers/directors to literally sit in my chair and play in photoshop or in-design to get exactly what they think they want – low social IQ (hehe). Every place I’ve worked has been different.

When roles are poorly mixed or misaligned it can be chaos. Communication is key. Being honest can hurt peoples feelings but it can also save a lot of time. I appreciate honesty. Tell me I’m not as strong an illustrator as the other person and that I’m more suited at layout. I can handle it.

But if they hired me to do something and expect me to do something else than that’s on them.

If the art director decides to jump into my role as, say an animator, to complete a project than we’re going to have a problem. There’s been a lack of integrity somewhere. That needs to be fixed or things will get messy, quickly.

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Right there is the solution to 95% of workplace issues. In my humble opinion.

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Being in a 2 person company means roles are mixed constantly. I think roles matter much less in a small company (or even as a freelancer). You do what it takes to get the job done. If it’s outside your scope, you hire someone extra.

As a freelancer, it can be difficult at times to convince clients they need a copywriter or marketing person when all they’ve done is hired me, the graphic designer.

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Roles matter no matter how big or small the company is. The bigger the company, the fewer roles per person. The smaller the company, the more roles per person. At least that’s the way it should be.

Even if its a one person company, it’s still important to know the separate roles in order to know best when to change roles and how best to perform in those roles. It’s like changing gears in a manual transmission car for those who are old enough to remember manual transmissions.

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