One mantra I hear uttered the most from creatives is ‘Never Stop Learning’. If you thrive off expanding your knowledge and experimenting with new things, like many creatives, there’s never a dull day.
Working in an ever evolving field means there’s always a new medium to master, new tool to play with or breakout trend to dissect. There’s always plenty of talk about upskilling for developers – the latest and greatest framework to pore over or API to try out – but what can creatives do to level up, widen their portfolio and earn more cash?
Design and technology are overlapping for many business endeavours and creative pursuits. There’s a crossover from design to front-end, and a rising trend of hybrid job titles such as UI developer, creative technologist, full-stack designer and technical marketer. Work is becoming more collaborative, and even those with deeply specialised skill sets will benefit by being able to ‘speak the language’ of peers from different fields.
Here are the top skills any creative, from illustrators, graphic designers and art directors to copywriters and creative marketers need to stay relevant.
SEO and content marketing
Being able to communicate confidently with clients and colleagues about the intricacies of SEO and content marketing positions you as a wider expert, outside of your immediate skill set. Lines are being blurred between the digital marketing disciplines of search marketing, content, and social media and successful creatives are able to understand the fundamentals of how these complement each other.
Search continues to be a dominant force and SEO principles are now core to the design and build of web properties. Designers are increasingly called upon to create cohesive brand and marketing messages in a multi-channel world and therefore having the skills to intelligently inform these principles into your work will only benefit your practice.
Learning the fundamentals of content marketing and SEO is crucial for any creative looking to have their work showcased on the world stage. The more senior your role, the more likely it is your knowledge will need to expand to how digital impacts content. If you don’t know how your creative is going to be packaged and marketed, it can be challenging to communicate your value to clients independent of your creative skills.
Who should learn this: Marketers, strategists, designers, copywriters, publishers and bloggers.
You wouldn’t start a new campaign without an understanding of what the objective is or the target market. Therefore, it’s crucial that creatives understand how data can inform their approach.
As a serious marketer, strategist, or creative leader, your direction needs to be data-driven. Marketers for example, need to analyse and refine campaigns using A/B testing and product designers need to understand their customers through user data.
Disruptive startups harnessing big data are transforming whole industries from ecommerce and adtech to sports, politics and health. Sharpening your analytical mindset will pay off in a world where we are heading towards 40 zettabytes of data by 2020 (that’s 400 billion gigabytes!).
Who should learn this: digital marketers, strategists, creative leaders.
All creatives can gain from learning the fundamentals of code, regardless of whether you are using the tools day-to-day or simply need a clearer understanding of the technical language for a successful project.
If you missed the debate running rampant on the internet over the last few years on whether designers should code, I’ll summarise it for you. Yes, designers can benefit greatly from basic tech literacy; no, they do not need to write production-ready code.
Freelancers and designers with coding skills have greater control over their design work and have the ability to offer consolidated services to clients. For inhouse and agency creatives, having these skills up your sleeve will empower you to make those necessary tweaks and you’ll find projects will progress with less delays (even if your developer is unavailable).
Who should learn this: Graphic Designers, digital marketers, web designers, bloggers, entrepreneurs, and anyone looking to create their own website.
User experience (UX) design
UX design is all about creating products that people love using through a deep understanding of human needs, behaviours and motivations. Understanding the reasoning and decision-making that goes into building a solution right from problem / concept stage, rather than getting tapped at the end of the project to ‘skin’ the final designs will result in a better end product.
UX is one of the fastest growing fields in the design world with lots of job opportunities for creatives hoping to enter the digital space. Similar to coding, clients now place a premium on designers who can incorporate UX principles into their design work.
Design is all about problem-solving; UX skills allow you to get to the heart of the problem and find a solution that works with a people-centred approach. As Steve Jobs famously said, ‘Design is not just what it looks and feels like. Design is how it works’.
Who should learn this: Web designers, graphic and print designers who are looking to transition into digital, web designers and developers and creative entrepreneurs.
Regardless of whether you work for yourself, are an in house creative or work agency side, all clients and employers place immense value on‘T-shaped’ skillsets which display deep expertise in your core field accompanied with broad knowledge across multiple disciplines.
For example, if you’re a designer who can also build wireframes, contribute intelligently to strategy discussions, and pitch confidently to clients, you are likely to find yourself with more job offers in your inbox that you know what to do with.
And, as a freelance or small business owner, it’s crucial to know business foundations including finance, marketing and business development to keep new client leads developing, the bills paid and to help you sustain a long term business you can enjoy.
You’re not alone here – every creative, regardless of expertise, can benefit from learning the basics. Think of it like school for your bank account.
Who should learn this: all creatives, regardless of level.
Steps toward building your hybrid skillset
Brain burgle. If you don’t have a career mentor – reach out to someone in your network whom you admire (this can be as simple as a creative in your workplace, your boss, a colleague, a Twitter followee), and ask them to coffee. Ask them how they got to where they are and what skills they developed to further their career.
Join the community. Sometimes you can learn the most from absorbing the intelligence of those in your industry. Check out Meetup.com, General Assembly, Creative Mornings and Eventbrite to see what’s on in your city and get out of the office and in front of people who can help you develop your skills.
Create an independent project. We all learn by doing and creating something new is the quickest way to ensure new information sticks. Allocate time outside of paid work to create a new portfolio piece to practice using new skills. Pretend you are creating a new deliverable for a client. Once you’ve done this, it can be a fun idea to show it to your client or boss and say ‘this is something I can also offer you’, to open up new opportunities for work. Signing up for newsletters is an easy win while you figure out which skills you’d like to develop.
Enrol in a free class. Investing time into your professional development is one of the most cost effective ways to turbocharge your career. General Assembly offer a number of free lunchtime classes for people looking to dip their toe into something new before considering further investment and getting guided support from an expert.
Zoe Nagara heads up General Assembly’s Sydney campus. General Assembly is an education-to-employment company, specialising in the most in-demand skills across data, design, tech and business. General Assembly has provided courses online and in-person to over 300,000 students around the world, including Sydney and Melbourne.