Thursday, 22 November 2012

Are you a mega multi tasker extraordinare?

Does this look familiar to you at all?

Duties for the Creative Designer / Developer include:
  • Creative concepts and brand design  to secure new business
  • Routine maintenance and development of the client websites many of which are developed in .net and aspx with full CMS functionality
  • Introduce and update new web content, including generation of new graphics/images
  • Design and development of striking HTML e-newsletters for direct marketing activities
  • Manage complete website lifecycle from initial idea to launch
  • Supervise website traffic levels, search engine rankings and other performance indicators and adjust content accordingly
  • Keep up to date with keyword and competitor online activities
  • Keep up to date with modern web trends and make suggestions for improvement of the Company’s online activities
Ideal Creative Designer / Developer Candidates:
  • Good academic achievements to degree level or equivalent in web design, multimedia or similar digital field or suitable level of experience in lieu of qualifications
Essential Skills Required
  • Good eye for aesthetics, and creative design, with thorough working knowledge of Adobe Creative Suite products including Photoshop
  • Some hand coding skills with HTML and CSS
  • Familiar with coding to XHTML standards in compliance with W3C
  • Excellent cross-browser compatibility awareness
  • Working knowledge of aspx or .net
  • Demonstrable web design/implementation experience with a strong portfolio
Advantageous Experience
  • Understanding of responsive web development with mobiles and tablets in mind
  • Design of email newsletters and direct mail
  • Understanding of SEO principles
  • Working knowledge of WordPress, php, jquery and JavaScript and XHTML.
  • Google Analytics & Webmaster Tools
  • Presentation skills
Now I apologize to the company who sent out this advertisement if you do in fact recognize it as your own but I haven't named you don't worry. This was one of the first jobs that I plucked up off of the creative pool website and I just want to go through some of the requirements for this role to make a bit of a point here.

Firstly there is the conflation of the ambiguous creative designer role with that of a web developer. For anyone out there who is in either field, or has tried to do both, they will know that they are basically two completely separate, and fairly extensive skillets to learn individually. To have both to a good standard is certainly an impressive feat. That's not to say that it doesn't happen because it does, and congrats to those of you out there who are web design, UI design, and development specialists all at the same time, you truly are in my eyes a genius, and a champion of the design field. Most of us can't do that though and I think it is fairly reasonable to assume that is because we have lives outside of our jobs! No I'm just kidding with you I'm sure even the design/ developer genius's have lives too. It's more of a time investment than it is anything else, and usually the deciding factor of someone who has all the time in the world to skill up and someone who has very little, is resources. We all have to eat. So I guess what I am really getting at is how did you get to a point where you could do all of this stuff if you weren't otherwise connected, mentored, and fully funded from he outset?

So lets assume that you did an Art & Design related A-level or two, or maybe you went down the route of going to college and getting to grips with a more vocational style NVQ or Diploma of some sort, and that gave you a practical grounding in color theory and different mediums etc. What you got there was probably your training wheels and a sense of play. Great so now you are intrigued by the wider world of design and off the back of your starter courses in Photoshop you've decided to go and get a degree in graphic design. That is the way it happens for most people so lets stay with this example. University is in most cases (but not all) going to be trying to teach you how to properly research and develop a concept and come up with something really creative. Excellent way to learn how to brand a company and help draw people in just using your noggin and a bit of thinking outside the box, so I guess you've got point number one of the Job ad covered with that. Creative concepts and brand design to secure new business.

Now then if you are one of the more savvy Design students then you may have secured an internship or two whilst still at University, and a lot of the design related ones do tend to involve updating and maintaining the company website, as it is something they don't often have time to do. If your lucky you will learn either before or during that process about a couple of Content management systems Like Drupal, or Wordpress which will mean that you at least know what .NET and ASPX actually mean. For those of you who don't, check out these links on the W3C and they will clear up all your questions (unfortunately I don't have time on this post) So there you have it you now have an entire coding language to learn along side your degree and most probably your part-time job and your internship as well. If by some miracle you have managed to achieve this then you are well and truly on the way to having achieved the specification on this job.
Routine maintenance and development of the client websites many of which are developed in .net and aspx with full CMS functionality.

The next duty on the list is quite a simple one and it is to generate and update new web content which is by and large one of the simpler tasks on this list. If you have gained any kind of mastery of the software involved over the time on your course then you will be able to do this with ease. So that's number three down. Introduce and update new web content, including generation of new graphics/images. 

So the job ad moving down then jumps into another one of those tasks that could be a field in its own right, email design and coding. Due to the lack of standards compliance and compatibility across email clients most good coders will tell you that you have to code like its 1999 and jump back into tabular based emails and do all kinds of CSS hacks that you just wouldn't dream of in a web design or application. If you have of course been learning your coding languages amongst everything else and have a good grasp of something like CSS3 and HTML5 which are fast becoming the norm then you are going to have pretty much drop it and go back to the old ways on emails. So you are now looking at knowing 3 or 4 different coding languages and there extensions. Now if this wasn't a skillset to be contended with already then have a look back at the rest of the list;
  • Supervise website traffic levels, search engine rankings and other performance indicators and adjust content accordingly
  • Keep up to date with keyword and competitor online activities
  • Keep up to date with modern web trends and make suggestions for improvement of the Company’s online activities.
On top of everything else you now need to be an SEO expert as well. This is probably not that difficult to learn but it is most certainly a time consuming set of tasks to complete and I should imagine that along side designing organizing, coding, updating and implementing all the other sites and emails you have to deal with that you are swiftly running out of brain-space for more at this stage. Now I think that you get the picture and there is no need for me to go into the chances of you having there extra "advantageous experience" such as responsive design, Jquery, JavaScript, PHP, and Google analytics.

The unfortunate part of all of this is that this is what your average design job spec looks like these days, and that is including the Junior positions. So even if you have worked your arse off during and around your studies you are likely to still not be on top of every latest trends in design, or experienced enough to take on the job and hit the ground running. You will nearly always get beaten to the punch by someone who has the years of experience because they got there foot in the door when it was much easier to do so. The internet is awash with industry professionals complaining that graduates do not have the skills for the roles. Which is a lovely privileged position to be speaking from if you started your career 12 years ago when there was only one or two web languages and one platform to design for. It was only yesterday that I ended up in a discussion through Linked groups, where somebody posted a conversation that said what happened to all the true designers and how come all the new graduates are just software junkies? This question is a fairly loaded one in itself and as you would imagine sparked a fairly heated debate among graduates and veterans alike.

My opinion on it all comes from a place that embraces the feelings of both parties (because I'm nice like that). Everybody seems to be drowning in technology. It all boils down to this one uniting factor, "the speed of production". If you now have tablets, phones, laptops, TV's, interactive billboards etc. and they are all considered to be primary channels of communication. Then the obvious consequence is that you now have a harder job as a company to market yourself and get yourself in front of as many relevant consumers as possible. It's expensive I am sure! Perhaps it would be better, instead of heaping the responsibility of working these channels onto the only existing job role that fits "the graphic designer", and to create a few more better fitting and specific job roles that can handle each part to a good standard. It is of course happening slowly but surely because there is a great deal of difference between a motion graphic designer and an animator, as well as between a digital designer and a print designer. Its the greedy folks at the top who are the problem. Trying to make there staff all singing and dancing. All it does is upset people at every level. Those whos primary job and skill was to conceptualize and build a brand and personality, feel that they are being squeezed out in favor of button monkeys. Those who feel that they excellent software skills and abilities to make beautiful visual presentations feel that they are being left out due to a lack theoretical and conceptual based skills. Obviously it would be better for all if you had two separate people doing there jobs to the best of there abilities even if they are the polar opposites of each other. I am aware of course that this is a fairly utopian idea of how things should work, but somebody somewhere must make the demands for a better set up for even a chance of it happening. Today that is me!

So here's what I'm gonna do. If you decide to follow in my footsteps then that's up to you. As of today I am going to work hard, not at trying to fulfill every given job specification that is ever thrown at me and keep skilling up. I am instead going to skill back. I am going to streamline my efforts to what is necessary to my business. Let me explain that a little better. For example I am pretty competent at Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Dreamweaver, Fireworks. However I mostly don't code in Dreamweaver, I use TextMate so that program is pretty much redundant to me (it merely serves the purpose of letting employers know that I understand WYSIWYG editors). Also I generally only use Fireworks to make quick changes to PNG files whilst building websites. Again though it is a rare usage so not in the top of my priority list of program's to go to. What I spend the majority of my time in is Photoshop designing interfaces and digital artwork. I can safely say I am pretty good with it and super comfortable using it. I don't think by any means it has hurt me to know about these other software, but I will be focusing my efforts on remaining expert level with my favorites rather than a blanket approach to whole suite. The same goes for coding languages. What I feel I will gain from this is a more niche market and a happier set of clients. Plus the chances are I will be able to stay much truer to what my price bracket is, and wont have to sell myself short in order to gain clients and there trust.

I will of course, as I do with all of my endevours, come back to this at a later point and let you know exactly how that goes. You never know it may go swimmingly well and it might also chuck up some other interesting factors to talk about. For now though this is all I have to say on the matter. So I hope I have offered you something interesting to think about. Until next time goodbye and thanks for reading.

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