10 things I’ve learned hanging out in the digital space

In the last six months, I’ve spent more time than ever before in the digital and social networking space. The experience has taught me a lot, not the least of which is how much creative opportunity exists here.  Twitter, 12second.tv and other new platforms are creative gold mines waiting for prospectors.

Lee Clow once predicted, it’s only a matter of time before technology is in the hands of creative people. It’s a thought echoed by the Rhode Island School of Design’s new President John Maeda.  He’s transforming that renowned institution in the belief that art, design and technology are all converging and that it’s art and design that will transform the 21st century. The time is getting close, if not already here.  And if that’s the case then creative people everywhere need to embrace technology fearlessly.  After all, we don’t want to leave the entire future to the technologists, do we?  Here’s a few things I’ve learned worth sharing.

1. Traditional creative people don’t have a choice. You can either learn everything there is to know about digital or become a dinosaur.
2. Your next creative partner should be a tech guy, someone who writes code. That way you can actually make something (an application, a digital product, a new online service) other than an ad.
3. APIs are your friend. You don’t have to understand how they work but if you know what you can do with them you have a whole new canvas on which to create.
4. You’ll find out how much (or how little) you actually know if you commit to blogging. You’ll also find out first hand what it takes to connect in this space as both a marketer and a creative thinker.
5. Your readers will make you smarter, teaching you things, sharing ideas and disagreeing with you — good experiences for helping brands succeed out here, too.
6. Social media is not about how many people you reach, it’s about how many people you connect with and influence. Brands also need to learn this lesson.
7. Your creative equity isn’t in how much knowledge you can keep to yourself in hopes of having an advantage, it’s in how much of it you can share, and even give away.
8. You can’t understand the value or potential of plethora digital media by sitting through a Power Point presentation. You have to experience it yourself. Go. See. Conquer.
9. Creative skills are as easily applicable to developing iPhone apps, Twitter apps, and new digital services as they are to conceiving TV spots.
10.And finally, if you’re going to make a list, it should include 10 things.

What have you learned?  Share your perspectives on how creative people can transform themselves to stay relevant and even thrive in the digital space.

17 comments
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Michael Slater
Michael Slater

I agree that designers who want to stay relevant, unless they are going to be very narrowly focused, need to understand the digital world.

But "everything there is to know" may be problematic. The hard question is just how deep one needs to go. There's a lot of technology out there, and if you try to go very far into the coding side, it can quickly become overwhelming.

As a designer, for the most part I think you need to know what the technology is capable of, but not necessarily how to do the details.

For most designers, I think the best approach is:

- Learn HTML and CSS. This is the core language of the new medium. It isn't really that hard to get the basics.

- Learn what you can do with JavaScript and Flash, but not necessarily HOW to do it. You may want to use tech partners for the implementation.

- Understand what requires server-side support, and what platforms enable you to build things quickly. But almost certainly you want a partner to take care of everything server-side for you.

edwardboches
edwardboches

Never stop creating. Worth a re-tweet, Keith.
Thanks,
Edward

Keith Lane
Keith Lane

Greetings, Edward.

Agreed on all points.
Geeks are people, too.

All you have to do is ask "Can I do this?".
And when they respond "Yes, you can do that",
a new friendship begins immediately.

Why?

Because for one of the first times in their Dungeons And Dragons World,
they have a "Real Communication Idea", not just a technical application,
that has visceral, engaging, and powerful meaning to the target market
you're both trying to reach. And they get damn excited.

And for the first time in my "Let's Meet For A Drink World",
my response to them was, "Cool. Let's make it happen.
We should have hung out together in High School."

I learned from them. They learned from me.

And you both graduate to a new level of creativity
where anything is possible.

Addendum: I read your article around 3AM while working on a creative presentation.
Perhaps adding an additional point in order:

11. Buy a Mr. Coffee.

Never Stop Creating,

Keith

edwardboches
edwardboches

Grant:
Have you been to the F5 festival? Do you know people who have?

Grant Goodwin
Grant Goodwin

Thanks a lot Edward, that is quite an honor.

Grant

edwardboches
edwardboches

Grant:
Thanks. Your optimism is great. Am speaking today to a graduating class at the Creative Circus. Will pass on some of your comments.
Edward

Grant Goodwin
Grant Goodwin

Great post Edward! As a creative myself, I really feel that it is completely essential to embrace the web in it's entirety, those who even hesitate will truly be the dust bunnies hanging out by themselves under the bed without a drop of sunlight.

Thanks to our wonderful web there will truly be no such thing as a starving artist. I feel so lucky to be entering the job market at this time of infinite possibilities for the creative. We are no long confined to the limits of our surroundings or circumstances, due to the world truly being at our finger tips. I feel like superman hearing and seeing all thanks to our good friend Twitter, especially with the new search tool.

Oh and on another note, I hope the F5 Festival is on your radar. If it isn't then go to http://f5fest.com/ and it will be. Take care and I look forward to reading your blog on a daily basis, you've got some really great stuff on here.

Ellen Weber
Ellen Weber

Great post and interesting discussion on the merging and disconnects between art and technology. We are getting closer as you say - and while it's a stretch for many artists, it's also creating collaborative work for finer art and technology.

You make a great case for not being left behind in the transitions that surround us. Even the brains that have jumped in research shows, are rewired daily for more of this direction. All to say, that the old mental wiring will soon find less engagement - especially at dynamic floe edges of innovation. In fact some speak of fearing a few of the negatives that come with this rewiring, and there'll likely be mental costs.

Without question though, it will be the gifted designers and artists who ensure more quality art than cost to human brains. Thanks for raising the keys that make this merger a great one to look forward to.

Rob Jacobs
Rob Jacobs

Number 7. Your creative equity isn’t in how much knowledge you can keep to yourself in hopes of having an advantage, it’s in how much of it you can share, and even give away.

That resonated so deeply with me. As someone who works in education, I believe this must be at the core of what is education is to become in the future. Knowledge and creativity is best taught and learned in community. And sharing must be at the center of it.

Excellent post. Much to think about.

edwardboches
edwardboches

Jackie: Yes. Though it depends on the agency. At our agency, Mullen, we would never hire anyone with a general/traditional book ever. We would expect to see conceptual ideas that transcended every media and consumer encounter. In fact we are hiring more digital people who end up doing the tv spots to go with their online campaigns. Fact is in two years or less the word digital will go away because everything will be that. If you had a campaign that had a tv spot, a character in it that had a fanpage or a twitter handle, a bunch of viral executions and more, that would be ideal. Better yet, if you had a program that defined a brand through its beliefs and had those beliefs expressed in a way that connected with consumers via advertising, web, pr and events, better yet. There is no one answer. Learn from the best things being done by the best agencies out there.

Edward

Jackie
Jackie

All great points. Do you think that creative directors and agencies will also begin to expand their definitions of what a creative "book" looks like? As I'm updating my work, I'm finding that the traditional methods used to get hired feel so behind the times.

pegeen
pegeen

Great post. Another thing I've found helpful - hang out with a young teen. If you don't have one at home, go out and rent one. Virtually go where they go and do what they do. It's oxygen for them. Although, interestingly enough, none of the ones I know have twitter on their radar. It's all facebook. Thoughts on that?

Also interested in Maeda. I went there, and am excited to see how he tranforms the place. Reading Laws of Simplicity now.

edwardboches
edwardboches

Chris:
Agree totally on the IA front. Amazing to me how many creative people (from traditional) who start working in digital and don't even know what IA is. Have learned that they are among your best friends. I'm lucky that in my case my tech creative partner knows IA inside and out, and also has a group of them working for him.
Edward

Chris Wooster
Chris Wooster

Good stuff. It's very cool to watch you living #8 in realtime, my friend. ;-)

I might add to #2 that there are a host of technology-oriented creators worth real-world friending. Information architects are usually near the top of my list. They're smart, they're techgeeky, they're insanely curious (vital!) and they often help corral business and user needs with creative supernovas to ensure that the dreams actually deliver the goods out on the Interwebs.

Think the Brad Nobles (Boston). Think the Erin Youngs (Austin).These are people that make me think constructively creative.

Tim
Tim

Edward: Agree with all. Especially #10. I'm a creative in my forties and, oddly enough, I find I'm out in front when compared to my younger colleagues. Maybe dinosaurs, knowing the asteroid that will cause extinction is roaring toward them, adapt faster?

@jgshort
@jgshort

Good post. I am excited about the possibilities of social and digital marketing. I agree that it needs a different look than how we currently market/advertise. "Tearing everything down" and giving it a fresh perspective/look will be key as we move forward. The last post on Redcarpet is a peak of what hopefully is to come. The possibilities are exciting.

Amy Flanagan
Amy Flanagan

Love this. #8 is the key. Half of what I do online is foolishness, but experimentation seems the only way to see how far this crazy thing can go. Also #2. I've already started the hunt!