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Ask Lawrence: What does ‘digital’ mean to you?

26 Sep 11:00 by Lawrence Akers

Lawrence Akers digital

It’s pretty hard to avoid the juggernaut that is ‘digital’ in the creative world. Given that I’ve been in this creative industry for well over a decade, I’ve been able to watch it grow from humble beginnings as a requirement for HTML into this all consuming, overwhelming beast that it is now.

So a typical part of the interview process will generally go something like this;

"Tell me, what kind of things do you feel you would need to develop further into?"

"Digital..."

"...and what does digital mean to you?"

Within “digital” there is web design, landing pages and micro-sites. There are EDMs. There are social media graphics. There is UX, UI and all manner of psychology based design approaches. There is Front End, Back End and Full Stack Developers. There are motion graphics and After Effects. There is video production and editing. After that, we can then move into the actual online side of things; social media management, Community Managers, Content Producers, Digital Copywriters. The list can go on and on and on, and I suspect it will continue to develop and grow as technology continues to embed itself more permanently into our existence.

Let’s face it; psychologists are already focused on and warning people about addiction to smart phones. It’s real, it’s happening and it is going on without people even realising that they’re becoming hooked. This, however, is a topic for another time.

Probably one of the more important questions I get asked is this; I’ve been a print designer for [x years] and it is becoming increasingly obvious that I need to get my head around “digital”. What do I need to do? How much do I need to know?

Of course, my response to this is always going to be subjective. At one point, I predicted that Adobe Digital Publishing Suite was going to be revolutionary and, boy, did I get that wrong. I also remember the frantic search to find people that could go more backend with Acrobat to do digital based forms and, yes, while they created more of a stir than what Digital Publishing Suite did, they certainly didn’t become the staple requirement we suspected back then. I also once said that I honestly never thought HTML5 would take over Flash because Flash just seemed to keep going and, well, history has proven otherwise.

The point of that last rambling paragraph (sorry!) is this; while we can predict all we want about what we need to know to be successful in the creative digital space, technology is always going to evolve, change, take left turns, do the hockey pokey, and generally throw a virtual spanner in the works. 

I think it is easier to attempt to answer this by stating what I DON’T believe a creative is going to need to know… and that’s coding. Will it help you if you do? Of course, by all means delve into it if you have a passion for it! Is it necessary? No, because it is such a different function to the design component that I doubt I’ll ever see a time when I need to find a Senior Graphic Designer who can do packaging, campaign roll out and PHP / .NET. It even uses a different part of the brain from what a creative would normally use so save that stuff for the backend gurus.

What you will need to know is how to take your client visually from offline to online. Know what sizes the different social media tile specs are. Get your head around the digital lingo so that you don’t look concerned and confused when wire frames are raised in conversation. Perhaps even know how to put together a Wordpress site or at least an EDM in Mailchimp or Campaign Monitor so that you can provide these kind of bread and butter design and marketing requirements that your clients might have.

Be weary of clients who clearly don’t understand digital themselves. If they’re expecting you to be their UX / UI / Community Manager / Motion Graphics / Full Stack Developer / Print person, it might be that they have a limited understanding of digital themselves and you could find yourself in a situation where the expectation for you to deliver far exceed what any one person should be capable of doing.

Digital is here and it is here to stay so there is no point in hiding under a rock and pretending that it will never impact on your ability to find work. The more proactive you can become in gaining an understanding of the digital space and where it is heading, the more employable you’ll be. It isn’t as scary as what many may think but it does involve understanding what clients might want online and being sure you can produce the graphics needed either to complete the job yourself or to hand over the someone who has the skills to do it.