Sponsored: Digital skills: What you think, and 7 resources for upskill learning

Published:  August 11, 2014

Two years ago, desktop questioned five industry representatives on how important it is for designers to upskill into digital – the opinion was unanimous. This week, in collaboration with Billy Blue College of Design, we wondered whether upskilling had become any more urgent during these last couple of years, or whether the accessibility to so many web tools had lessened the gap between print and digital skillsets.

We asked you for your thoughts, and the initial debate circled the idea of upskilling as a way to widen your general skillset, whereas staying in print limited you as a ‘specialist’.

“Choosing to specialise in today’s creative climate I think is quite a statement, don’t you think?” asked designer Peter Borg. Digital designer, Ben Newton, agreed: “I think specialising when you’re only starting out is career suicide. Specialising later on makes perfect sense”

“As a freelancer, I find it invaluable to upskill. The trick is to not spread yourself too thinly either though”, tweeted Melbourne-based freelancer, Edith Prakoso.

Melbourne-based designer Luke Brown expanded on this crucial advice for freelancers, “I believe there is a growing expectation to be fluent in digital and print design,” he told us. “More often than not, I find myself losing jobs to web developers or small digital teams. Clients get sold by the ‘we can build your site and design your logo’… or ‘conceptually driven identity system’ and do it for the same price”.

“It’s in our best interest to upskill”.

Designer and developer Peter Pham suggested that a print designer learning new digital skills could see a new energy in their practice, “being niche is great, but it’s also fun to expand your horizons; learning new skills can stimulate your practice.”

This was backed-up by Justin Smith of Sydney’s End of Work, a studio with three partners having graduated from Billy Blue. “Designers are no longer happy taking other peoples words and making them look beautiful. Technology has allowed everyone to become instant content providers and unfortunately this can bring a wave of digital mediocrity,” he wrote. “I still believe good designers are about great ideas, but it is also about learning and utilising technology to find consumers.  At End of Work we believe consumers engage with good stories not content. It’s a essential today to be skilled in the digital game, but who knows what tomorrow’s song will be…”

Aimee Jay, interactive designer at D3R and Double Days, explains that she enjoys working with print designers on digital projects, but clear communication and expectations need to be managed. “From a collaborative point of view, I think the basics should be learned, so a conversation can actually happen,” she told us. “I like the unexpected ideas print designers bring to me, but it can sometimes be restricted by their limited knowledge of the technical side of the project.”

For many designers, it wasn’t long ago that digital expertise was not so widely required within the industry and not taught in university. But the onset has been so sudden that the opportunity to learn slowly and naturally within the working environment has sped by. Now, many businesses and designers are trying to understand exactly where they stand, and what value they can offer.

There are plenty of resources online that can help, whether you just want to be more informed, or if you want to completely skill-up and make the transition into a digital design discipline. Here’s 7 to get you started:

1. The internet offers almost anything for free, if you are prepared to be resourceful and direct your own education. YouTube tutorials, step-by-step reading and research can give you an idea, but a certain level of care should be taken over the accuracy of the information you are receiving, and whether the quality is up to scratch for the industry.

2. If you regard your ‘upskilling’ as theoretical, rather than practical, then staying informed of technological changes. The ideas of industry leaders through TED Talks are the way to go. Learn how technology and human kind are adapting to one another, designing for the 5 senses, and the future potential of user interfaces.

3. Lynda.com is, of course, available online and affordable. A $25 USD p/m investment gives you access to video resources over a multitude of subject areas, although it is still very much self-directed, with the courses so niche, you will need to timetable several modules of study to build up a rounded understanding of a digital subject.

4. Treehouse is another online option. It has the same monthly cost as Lynda, but is more centred on upskilling into digital, and their courses are directed by goals and a game-like rewards system.

5. Many universities are now offering short courses into specific areas of digital designing. RMIT offers an on-campus, 5 session course for those of you who “aren’t programmers, don’t ‘eat code’ for breakfast, but know your way around a computer,” to get you on the road to where you can design your own app from scratch.

6. Billy Blue College of Design, part of Think Education, offer diplomas such as a Diploma of Digital Media Design, which can be taken as a 2-trimester an evening or part time class. Bachelor (or Associate) degrees on the other hand, allow students to specialize in either Interaction design, Motion design or 3D design and Animation. Students can also complement their degree by choosing elective subjects from other streams.

7. Billy Blue also offer on-campus “Studio Sessions” over a range of digital media, from basics in HTML emails and EDMs where you can ‘upskill in downtime’, to 10 session classes in User Experience Design & Research. These range from $700 to $2000, depending on the amount of sessions.

Dr Jens Schroeder, Head of Academic Studies, Digital Media Design at Billy Blue College of Design, has seen the shift in the industry from education’s point of view. “We are living in an age of convergence, where different technologies and platforms come together under a digital umbrella and change the way we create and consume content,” he told us. ”We all participate in online experiences and interact with the latest content that is often interactive, beautiful and personally relevant. This has resulted in a major shift in consumers’ expectations, as well as business models.”

“As a result, the need for digital skills has expanded exponentially.”

Are you a print designer wondering whether to up-skill? Are you digitally fluent, or teach yourself? What are your thoughts?


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