Week 8 – Skills and Making

Finding the Gaps – Lecture with Simon Manchipp, Sam Winston, Regular Practice, Sarah Boris and Intro Design

The lecture this week asked two questions:
What would you like to be doing that you are not doing in your work? And
How important are side projects and are you currently working on any?

I was quite envious of how almost all of the guest lecturers this week were completely satisfied with their work. Sarah Boris mentioned wanting to work more with homeware design, but aside from that everyone spoke about having variety, flexibility, contentment and control over their careers. (Finding the Gaps 1 n.d.)

This is something that I am lacking in my career, and part of my motivation to do this degree. I am investing the time in myself to try new things, develop my skills and consider what I am passionate about and really want to be doing. I enjoyed Adrian Talbot’s point about side projects being something that relieves the pressure, and being just pleasurable to work on. (Finding the Gaps 1 n.d.) The most enjoyable part of design work for me is entering a state of flow, when everything is going smoothly, ideas are coming, I’m experimenting and fully engaged and enjoying myself. If I’m not interrupted this can last for hours. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a psychologist who recognised and named the concept of flow- “the way people describe their state of mind when consciousness is harmoniously ordered, and they want to pursue whatever they are doing for its own sake.”(Csikszentmihalyi 2008 pg36)

A flow state often includes these ten factors:

  • The activity is intrinsically rewarding
  • Clear goals that, while challenging, are still attainable
  • Complete focus on the activity itself
  • Feelings of personal control over the situation and the outcome
  • Feelings of serenity; a loss of feelings of self-consciousness
  • Immediate feedback
  • Knowing that the task is doable; a balance between skill level and the challenge presented
  • Lack of awareness of physical needs
  • Strong concentration and focused attention
  • Timelessness; a distorted sense of time; feeling so focused on the present that you lose track of time passing

Not every factor must be present, and the concept of flow can be observed across many different activities. Physical activity, mental stimulation, work, and play can all trigger a flow state, but an essential point is that whatever the activity is, it must be challenging in some way. Learning new skills and pushing your boundaries will help you to achieve a flow state, staying within them leads to boredom and disengagement.

Csikszentmihalyi has recommended five steps to help you enter a flow state:

  1. Setting goals that have clear and immediate feedback
  2. Becoming immersed in the particular activity
  3. Paying attention to what is happening in the moment
  4. Learning to enjoy immediate experience
  5. Proportioning one’s skills to the challenge at hand

Side projects and finding and challenging your gaps leads to growth and opportunities, as well as being a step towards becoming what Csikszentmihalyi terms an autotelic person. “The term “autotelic” derives from two Greek words, auto meaning self, and telos meaning goal. It refers to a self-contained activity, one that is done not with the expectation of some future benefit, but simply because the doing itself is the reward. ” (Csikszentmihalyi 2008 pg201) An autotelic person is content in and of themselves. They have found joy and a sense of purpose in what they do, in whatever form that takes.

Recognising that I enjoy the state of flow, I can take steps to make that state a more common occurrence. I have a tendency to want to be a one man band. I get an idea for a project and then fall down a rabbit hole of “well, I need this to make that, so now I need to learn how to make this first!” and never get to the end point. It is very tempting to put up mental roadblocks or kick a goal further into the future, or tell myself that the skills I want are too difficult to develop. The most important part of any project is starting it. A lesson I have to keep reminding myself is –

Bad work is better than no work at all.

Bad work can be improved, it is often the only way to start learning something. Failure is part of the process, not the end point and oftentimes the struggle is a valuable part of the learning experience. This is turning into a list of cliches, but they are important lessons to keep reminding myself. As someone who struggles with anxiety, I have tried to teach my children coping mechanisms I did not have as a child. One of these is positive affirmations. As an adult it feels a bit silly to do, but when faced with difficulties I teach them to say to themselves: “My name is __________, I am resilient, I don’t give up and I can do hard things.” I try to remind myself to do the same thing. The “Keep Going” video from The School of Life in of this week’s resources was a good reminder to me, and a lesson that has threaded through most of the last few weeks on this course. I am resilient, I don’t give up, and I can do hard things.

Workshop Challenge

What are your skills? Where are the gaps? 

Write a list of your skills and a list of skills / ways of working / thinking / or area of knowledge you wish to develop

Create a design which summarises a process model that works for you at the moment, highlighting the skills you have and the gaps you have.

Making a list of my skills and thinking about where my gaps are and what I want to develop was a very useful exercise. I started thinking about CVs, and how you display your skills when you are looking for work. It seems obvious that as a designer you should make a visually interesting and attractive CV, so I was surprised that a lot of hiring managers did not recommend this. One thing that came up time and time again was that skill bars, presumably meant to measure your skills in a simple and engaging way, are completely useless.

Screenshot from Resume Genius

The more I thought about this, the more sense it made. No one is 100% an expert at anything. There is always more to learn, and new ways to grow. Just considering Adobe programs alone, every person’s workflow is different and unique to them. There are so many features, tools and different ways to achieve an outcome, with new features and software being released constantly. I would honestly have to check my Creative Cloud app to see every program included in it beyond the top three I work with every day or the handful of others I’m aware of.

Rather than trying to rate yourself against a non-existent measuring system, you need to focus on simply backing your skills up with your work. Your skillset is fluid, it will always be changing and growing. So, when I made a list of my skills I measured them as things I am proficient at, things I am intermediately skilled at, things I am developing or would like to develop, and lastly, skills I don’t want to develop, but probably need to.

Skills

Proficient

Graphic Design
InDesign
Illustrator
Photoshop
Print Design
Client interaction
Boring fiddly bits

Do not want to develop but need to
Marketing
Business Skills
Client Seeking

Intermediate

Illustration
Drawing
Paper Engineering
Digital Design
Print Making
Painting

Developing/Would like to Develop

Animation
3D design
3D Printing
Motion Graphics
Laser cutting
Piano

I decided for my project this week I would jump into something I am interested in, but been putting off as it is challenging and difficult. Blender is a free, open source 3D design program. I had done one project in 3DS Max on my undergraduate degree and had loathed every second of it, but I wanted to push myself. I have always been interested in animation, motion graphics and designing my own mockups. 3D design is also more appealing to me since obtaining a 3D printer. Being able to design and print objects myself is a skill I very much want to develop. I’m also very interested in exploring Adobe After Effects, and Dimension.

I started with the Blender donut. This is a popular set of tutorial videos by Andrew Price, known as BlenderGuru. The donut tutorials are a series of 24 tutorial videos, taking you through different 4 levels of experience with the program. I started with part 1, level 1 as I have never used Blender before. Halfway through the first tutorial he brings up the point that getting into 3D graphics can be very overwhelming, so why bother? He points out this list of skills needed for different uses of 3D design, but then reminds you of the 80/20 rule.

You don’t need to know everything, only about 20% of the features are what you use 80% of the time. I also appreciated that he highlighted the overlap of skills for each use. Focusing on the basics and taking it one step at a time will help me get a good feel for the program and learn to use it. Tutorials with steps I can try and retry are a very useful learning tool for me.

This has not been easy for me. I have done the first five video steps about 20 times this week, and still am not ready to progress to rendering. As I’ve worked on it, I became more sure about how I wanted to portray the challenge this week. I will not be able to finish it within the given timescale, so I’ve done a sketch of my planned output.

My skills gap starts with an actual gap. Things I am missing, and may not even be aware I want or need to develop. The next step is developing skills, represented by the wireframe of the donut. This is followed by intermediate skills, skinned with details developing, followed by more fully realised skills I have developed. Proficient skills will be fully rendered, and there is room for levels of gradiation here. Even when I have reached the rendering stage on my donut, I will only be at the end of stage one of the tutorials, there are always further levels.

Summary of the week

This week has been a time for reflection, and a time to challenge myself to do something new and terrifying. I keep coming back to lessons of resilience and growth, and the need to constantly improve. It is also important to recognise that I am highly skilled, that I need to have confidence in myself and my abilities and that I enjoy my work. Blender is a very complicated piece of software, but if I keep trying I will become more familiar with the tools and more able to use it as I wish rather than simply following tutorials.

Given more time and energy, I’d like to tweak the angle and lighting, and work on the final piece more – adding text and changing the dimensions. By the time I realised my final render was too dark, it was too late to redo the others. I would have to essentially start from scratch with some elements in order to get the three steps needed for each section of the final piece. There is a lot that could be improved with my final piece, but at some point I had to draw a line under it and finish for now. Tackling a huge new piece of software is an accomplishment enough for this week.

References

BEHANCE, Inc. 2016. “The Power of Creative Cross Training: How Experimentation Creates Possibility.” Adobe 99U [online]. Available at: https://99u.adobe.com/articles/52677/the-power-of-creative-cross-training-how-experimentation-creates-possibility [accessed 12 Nov 2020].

MIHALY CSIKSZENTMIHALYI. 2008. Flow : The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper [And] Row.

MIHALY CSIKSZENTMIHALYI. 2016. “Flow, the Secret to Happiness.” Ted.com [online]. Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_flow_the_secret_to_happiness [accessed 13 Nov 2020].

MILENA. 2016. “10 Surprising Creativity Boosters – The Creator’s Path – Medium.” Medium [online]. Available at: https://medium.com/self-starter/10-surprising-creativity-boosters-953c024a3826 [accessed 12 Nov 2020].

POPOVA, Maria. 2014. “Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Crucial Difference Between Success and Mastery.” Brain Pickings [online]. Available at: https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/03/10/sarah-lewis-the-rise-failure/ [accessed 12 Nov 2020].

“The Importance of Vulnerability.” 2017. YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJsJ96yyVk8.

“The Positive Power of Failure.” 2011. Harvard Business Review [online]. Available at: https://hbr.org/2011/03/the-positive-power-of-failure.html [accessed 12 Nov 2020].

THE RESUME GENIUS TEAM. 2014. “Dumbest Resume Trend | Resume Genius.” Resume Genius [online]. Available at: https://resumegenius.com/blog/resume-help/dumbest-resume-trend [accessed 15 Nov 2020].

THE SCHOOL OF LIFE. 2015. “Keep Going.” YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1H92b_uLdU.

VERYWELL MIND. 2020. “Achieve the ‘Flow’ Mindset to Get the Job Done.” Verywell Mind [online]. Available at: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-flow-2794768 [accessed 13 Nov 2020].

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