Knowledge is Power

BillboardIt’s time to think about you career, and training can give you not just skills but vital real world experience, as Drew Turney learns.

It used to be that if you wanted to be a graphic designer you could get away with expertise in Quark Xpress, Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop and innate talent.

Today it’s quaintly anachronistic to think you can be a designer just knowing a few design tools. Unless you end up working for a huge advertising agency or design studio it’s very likely you’ll be doing a lot more than just sitting there making things pretty. You might be doing project management, asset management or workflow management. It’s likely you’ll be in client contact in some form. You’ll need an understanding of the media landscape so the creative solutions to client’s problems are relevant, and that means more than watching a few hours of TV or YouTube a night.

It’s also becoming less and less relevant to simply intend to go into business as a print designer. Say you specialise in typesetting the financial pages of annual reports and you call up a bunch of studios asking if they have freelance work available for typesetters. Most will expect not a typesetter but a design and project all rounder. Some younger studio managers might even ask you what a typesetter is.

It’s the same across media. You might not set yourself up as an animation, video production, web development or media planning company when you break in, but clients hear the same news you do about how the hottest new platform is going to leave all the business behind who don’t adopt it — just look at the explosion of Twitter. You can bet you’ll have clients who’ll be asking you about motion graphics for their websites, video for their YouTube channel and WordPress plug-ins for their company intranet.

The changing times are reflected in the schools and courses you can find in Desktop’s course guide. Very few offer courses where you learn plain old print and paper design and little else. Though an overused buzzword in the 90s, multimedia has come into its own as more of the tools to create and distribute communications have fallen within the reach of even the leanest studio.

But post production and animation (and their close cousin, video editing) are somewhat of a special case. The software is becoming more affordable all the time — Apple’s Final Cut Studio 2 is a good example, packed with video editing, motion graphics, audio, colour grading, encoding and DVD tools for $1,698 (tools that would have costs hundreds of thousands of dollars in the analogue era).

But in order to learn and practice video, animation and digital post production properly it pays to have the best equipment, because it’s what you’ll be using when you get into the industry. And unless you have a rich uncle the best place to get access to state of the art technology is Australia’s accredited training colleges.

The Real World

Of course you may have the skills, practice time and the best equipment money can buy, but there’s one thing you can’t cheat at — experience in a working studio. Do your homework, because the best training courses will be those modelled on real-world environments.

It’ll feel wonderful to walk into an interview with a fantastically detailed Flash website, beautifully rendered piece of 3D artwork or a showreel you’ve sweated over for months. But what will you say when the studio manager says “Yes, very cool — that’s the sort of work our clients give us, and they usually need it done within the week. How long did it take you?”

The most important thing industry-relevant training can give you is a ‘live’ environment with deadlines, co-workers and the constraints of your equipment and possibly an indicative budget. If you land a job at an agency where money is no object, clients are organised enough to give you far-off deadlines and you have the best applications and hardware money can buy, good going! The other 99.9 percent of us are going to enter a career beset by compromise where you have to let something go when it’s near enough (or even awful in your view but which the client loves) or worse, has to be perfect in an impossible timeframe.

Nowhere is there better training for it than in a working studio, and Australia’s designs and multimedia schools are the best way to experience one. Just as important, do your homework about tutors at the college you’re considering. Are they fusty career academics or have they been at the coalface or a real agency or studio environment? Half of what you’ll learn is handling the demands of the work, not just the work itself, and the only person who can teach you that is someone who’s been there.

Above all, remember that the most important thing you can learn is an adaptive mind. Designers of your parents’ generation learnt their trade on bromide machines and pasting boards. If you know someone who’s been there for a few decades and has still got ‘it’, that’s the quality you’re after. The tools will change, trends will certainly change, even some of the fundamentals are flexible (the most important rule of graphic design knowing when the rules can be broken). You’ll never learn them all and some that you learn will be useless in five years. Stay ahead of the curve by learning the most important lesson of all – you’re never finished learning.