I’m on the advisory board of the local high school’s vocational design program: Burlington Tech Careers in Design and Illustration. I’ve been on this board for years and it’s always fun. I get to see some great work by high school juniors and seniors during their portfolio reviews.
Over the years I’ve had a slew of excellent interns who come well prepared both in terms of their technical and software skills but also in terms of their intellectual curiosity and work ethic. They’re awesome.
As part of my role on the advisory board I’m sometimes asked to give some insight or input that might help as these kids get ready for the next phase of their work. Today I got an email from Colleen Murphy, their instructor, asking for the single most important piece of advice I might give the class.
This sort of thing is always hard. I’d probably give a different answer on any given day. Here’s the answer I gave today:
Always be learning about and honestly experimenting with different technologies and the ways people consume media.
This involves learning about software and tools but learning how your clients market to their customers. More than ever, you will be required to deliver stunning imagery across a variety of platforms and devices: print, television-like (there won’t be TV as we know it by the time you get out of college) screens, dinky little iPhones, very large computer monitors, laptop monitors and of course tablets/iPads.
Your work will need to look fantastic across all of these. And your work will have varying technical restraints (file formats, image resolution, color palettes, and so on).
Decisions you make you will have an impact on the experience of customers using the media–your choices will be part of what makes a web site slow, a video game feel unresponsive, a television-like experience stutter. Experiment often so that you learn these things the hard way–on your own time; a “morgue” of honest technology experiments.
An honest experiment is done so that you can find out whether something works or not. A dishonest experiment is done to confirm your existing opinions. Dishonest experiments are not helpful for you and your clients–even when your clients are asking for them. Through honest experimentation you learn to separate your personal ego from your work. This makes your work more powerful.
Having a mindset that is open to honest experimentation and research will give you the confidence to say things like “I have no idea if that’s possible, but I can try it and find out.” Being able to say this is very powerful and unusual in the marketplace and the kind of edge that matters.
I’m sure the students would appreciate your thoughts as well.
These are great points, Gahlord. I’m a big fan of investing in your own education, and you’ve done a thorough job explaining the importance of that.
I would also advise them to focus on theory and background for whatever they study. Technology is evolving at a blinding pace, but things like Facebook, Twitter, Photoshop…they’re all just tools. They are a means to an end, and it’s important to not lose sight of your end goal when experimenting with new tools.
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