2018 ADAA: Words of advice for young designers

21 August 2018
With the wrap up of the 2018 ADAA, the finalist Judges have a few words of advice for young aspiring designers and future ADAA applicants.

Photo credits: Martin Hoang

It is no secret: the 2018 Adobe Design Achievement Awards was a great success with over 8000 submissions received from over 90 countries worldwide. Students submitted a variety of different works across the three overarching segments: Fine Art, Commercial and Social Impact. Thanks to our Pre-Selection panel, around 2400 semifinalists were selected to move forward to the Final Judging round.

At the Final Judging on 10–11 August in San Francisco, ico-D took the opportunity to interview the finalist Judges to find out more about their own process as professionals in the field of design, and to gain some expert insight on what Judges find most compelling about students' work and if they have any advice for them as future professionals.
 

Brian Singer
Principal, Altitude

How do you encourage creativity/being creative?

Positive reinforcement? Oftentimes, the best ideas aren’t championed, and people taking risks aren’t supported, so I think the best way to encourage that behavior is to support it.

How and where do you find inspiration for your work?

Everywhere except the computer. Or design books. For me, inspiration comes from real life; outside, people, etc. That’s where the connections between ideas are made, and new things are discovered (hm, interesting the way this table is built, or how groups cross the street against a red light). The inspiration I’m looking for isn’t which typeface to use, or how to make perfect drop shadows, it’s the big ideas, the why.

What advice would you have given yourself at the very beginning of your design career?

Re-evaluate your goals. Getting into Communication Arts was one of my biggest goals, when I graduated. I eventually did, and it was nice at the time, but was such a superficial achievement in life. I’d tell myself to broaden the scope of my thinking, and figure out how to do more good in the world (rather than become the next great designer).

What would you describe as your biggest success and your most notable failure?

The 1000 Journals Project. It was a global art experiment in which I sent 1000 blank journals out into the world. People who got them added something (writing, drawing, whatever) before passing the journal along in an ongoing collaborate art form. The project received a lot of news coverage over the years, and was turned into a book, a feature-length documentary, and was exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

My biggest failure is in-progress right now. I’m trying to help San Francisco (and surrounding areas) become better prepared for a major disaster (earthquakes, etc.). I tried to crowd-fund the project, which didn’t work (raised $4k, but need 20x that). I reached out to companies and organisations (government, Red Cross, NERT) in the space, nothing. I spent 3 months hitting up every person I knew at various companies, trying to get some corporate sponsorship... hundreds of emails... nothing. I reached out to local politicians (who actually helped me get a meeting with the Department of Emergency Management, who hadn’t previously been helpful). Right now, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a grant I applied for. I’ve been working on this for 8 months, and it’s not going great. 

What advice would you offer young, budding designers when composing their submissions for the ADAA?

Three things. First, the concept is the most important part of your project. Without a good idea, it’s just pretty and style is rarely unique. Second, when describing your work, set up the problem you were trying to solve, and then describe how your solution solves that problem. The best design work is not only compelling visually and emotionally, but actually solves a business objective. Finally, learn to edit your work. Including 15 photos which essentially show the same thing isn’t helpful. How would you communicate the project with just one photo? How about 3? If it’s not adding anything new, then don’t include it.


Adriana Villagran
Engineer, Adobe

How do you encourage creativity/being creative?

It’s important to recognise that the creative process is unique to each person and that it’s okay to deviate from what is ‘expected’ of being creative. For me, I have learned that I need to set aside time for creativity free of expectations. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of the Final Product especially after going to art or design school. That’s a heavy pressure to consistently put on your creative output especially when you’re just starting out and are still exploring. I’ve realised that I lose a lot of my passion for creating when I don’t make space for creating purely for its own sake. It is vital that you place just as much importance on experimentation and play because they are so fruitful for ideation and innovation.
 


What is the most important lesson you’ve learned thus far in your design career?

Build a community! Being a creative professional can be a lonely path. It’s invaluable to get feedback from, collaborate with and bounce ideas off of other creatives in the same boat. You can pool resources, hold each other accountable, and push each other forward in ways that are much more difficult to do on your own.

What excited you about being a Finalist Judge with the ADAA?

As part of the Project 1324 team, which is a community platform that supports emerging artists between the ages of 13 to 24, I see a lot of powerful work coming from a demographic that is often overlooked. It’s so empowering to see student and emerging creatives have a measurable impact on their communities and forge connections that would not have existed otherwise. In a very tumultuous time there’s so much hope to be found in the next generation of creative thinkers and doers.

What advice would you have given yourself at the very beginning of your design career?

Don’t question what inspires you. I’m a bit of a broken record when it comes to this one. Follow your instincts, even if there are naysayers. Keep chipping away at an idea or an interest even if it seems trivial or silly, because chances are there’s something there to be discovered.

What advice would you offer young, budding designers when composing their submissions for the ADAA?

It’s crucial that you concisely get your point across. I think the hardest challenge is presentation.  It is very difficult to communicate a complex process or narrative in such a specific and somewhat limiting format. Needless to say, it’s in your best interest to avoid leaving the judges questioning what they’re looking at or needing more information. I would encourage applicants to get their submissions reviewed by others before pressing the submit button, specifically, someone who is unfamiliar with your work. That way you can get feedback about what is unclear.


Gordon Silveria
Director of Digital Arts Education Technology, Academy of Art University

How do you encourage creativity/being creative?

I try to teach by example. I never asked anyone to do anything I haven’t done myself. Also, I’m a life-long learner. I love to take classes and then share what I’ve learned with others.
 


What is the most important lesson you’ve learned thus far in your design career?

To be yourself. People appreciate knowing who you are. If you are fearful of doing something, it means you should probably do it. Be open to failure and rejection. You’ve got to do a thousand bad drawings or layouts until you get the first good one. When you can look back at a project you did one or two years ago and say to yourself: “That looks pretty good!” you know you’re making progress.

What are some lessons you’ve learnt the hard way?

If you work for free, people won’t value it. Let the client talk about money first. If you talk first you sometimes end up with less.

What excited you about being a Finalist Judge with the ADAA?

The chance to see and experience a lot of art from around the world. The opportunity to meet, share with and learn from other professionals. The opportunity to meet and encourage students.

What advice would you offer young, budding designers when composing their submissions for the ADAA?

Get as much feedback as you can from those you trust and whose work you admire. Listen to the consensus of opinions not the random off the wall comments. If the advice sounds crazy, it probably is. Don’t get opinions from close friends and family. They are always going to like everything you do.


Kristine Arth
Design Director & Founder, Lobster Phone

How do you encourage creativity/being creative?

Everyone is capable of being creative. For me, the trick to harnessing that creativity is simply to practice playing out the ideas I have, in the moment. Ideas are often regarded as just that - but creativity happens when people act on their emotions, opinions and desires, and turn them into something that can help to express or communicate their ideas. I would push people to embrace their differences and their opinions, and I encourage everyone (students, especially) to embrace their flaws and their weaknesses and turn those into their strengths. For example, I always had terrible penmanship and as a result I never liked calligraphy. Knowing this, I recently put myself in a situation where I had to practice with the pointed pen, and ended up using my very non-traditional lettering style as the basis for a custom typeface. Creativity comes from seeing things through, and exploring ourselves in the process.
 


How and where do you find inspiration for your work?

I generally understand the feeling I am trying to express in my work. To help me gain inspiration, I usually start by taking long walks. I'll take my camera with me, and make a music playlist that reflects the feeling I'm trying to convey. While I walk, I'll take a lot of inspiration photos of the textures I find in nature or in architecture, along with color palettes and silhouettes that speak to me. I am looking for things that I couldn't make myself, but that, for whatever reason, I am drawn to when I stop and look at the world around me. I'll often use this walking session as the jumping-off point for a mood board, a visual reflection of the feeling that I am trying to create for a project. I also like to play my soundtrack during the design process, as it helps me remember where I was and what I saw or smelled during my walk. It’s a great memory trick, bringing the design process to a lived, sensorial experience.

What would you describe as your biggest success and your most notable failure?

It's a tricky question, because I think my definition of success and failure may be different than others. I've worked on projects that epically failed but won design awards and led to other major projects, and I've worked on enormous global branding projects that, if I'm being completely honest, didn't allow me to flex my creative muscle as much as I would have liked simply by the nature of the work. My biggest achievement, though, is recently leaving a CD role at a major design studio to take the leap of faith and begin my own studio, called Lobster Phone. We'll see if this ends up being a success or failure, but given how much I've already learned in the process, I can at least move forward with no regrets.

What advice would you have given yourself at the very beginning of your design career?

In a way, I wish I had taken less advice early in my career. I spent a number of years doing what I thought I needed to do, and designing the way I thought I needed to design, in order to be successful. In the end, it took me letting go of all of those voices and honing in on my own style and approach that helped me get to where I am today. Young designers shouldn't be afraid to be themselves, and if you can, find an employer that will give you the room to play and explore.

What advice would you offer young, budding designers when composing their submissions for the ADAA?

There is a fine balance between being technically skilled and being wildly creative. Do work that perfectly expresses that balance. Make it an authentic representation of who you are as a designer - this is a big opportunity, and you want to make sure that, if you win, your work reflects what you want to be doing. And, most importantly, have fun! The judges know if you love the work you submitted or not, because we were all you at some point. 


Mark Del Lima
Senior Design Lead, IDEO

How do you encourage creativity/being creative?

Creativity is a process of flow similar to our capacity for language. It either flows or something (distraction, fatigue, stress) prevents it from flowing. As a "creative professional" you'll be paid for your ability to master this ambiguous, internal process and to bring it to bear in a structured, timely, and somewhat intelligible way. As designers, we fill our heads with information (the brief, the audience, the unmet need) and then build solutions. In the amorphous middle of that equation, discipline is everything: know when to be free, know when to apply constraints, and know when to take a walk. This is your personal journey.
 


How and where do you find inspiration for your work?

I find it virtually impossible to do my work within the bounds of the allotted eight-hour day (or 40-hour work week). That is, it surrounds me like an aura at all times—whether I'm actively thinking about it or not. This off-time is as important as the on-time—perhaps more so—as it frees the mind to engage in synthesis and pattern recognition. Get out of your specialised craft bubble and enrich yourself in the world around you and beyond. People are amazing. Just look.

What excited you about being a finalist Judge with the 2018 ADAA?

It was thrilling to spend time immersed in some of the brightest work from young artists and designers from around the world. School is a time for intense, unbridled, creative energy—and it's a privilege to witness it, even for such a brief time. It's so easy to feel disheartened by the tumultuous political landscapes around us and the relentless focus on our dissimilitude. But to quote Paul Bennett: “Design transcends agenda. It speaks to the politics of optimism.” The kids are indeed alright.

What do you wish you had known before starting your career in design?

In school I opted for Fine Arts over Design as a discipline. I didn't really know what design was and my path to it was idiosyncratic. For a long time I felt [design = art + technology] but the definition of the term has only become more expansive in my 20-year career. The artist tells her own story while the designer articulates the stories of others. Design is also collaborative as opposed to solitary. I wish I had known how important this would be for me.

What advice would you offer young, budding designers when composing their submissions for the ADAA?

Use story effectively. Be inspired by the breadth and depth of rich storytelling techniques, especially forms that exist outside your craft. A compelling narrative supports and articulates your work and fills in the gaps—but be brief: the viewer doesn't need to know every step in your process, but a visualisation of the spark or thread or inspiration. Make us feel something. 


Beate Fritsch
Senior Experience Designer, Lead at Adobe, Adobe

How do you encourage creativity/being creative?

Listen, explore and look at the details of everyday interactions. Go see art exhibitions small and large, but also just listen to people, friends and strangers alike. Travel, explore, try out different approaches to projects, break your routines.
 


What excited you about being a finalist Judge with the 2018 ADAA?

Seeing the wide variety of work submitted by the students from all over the world is very inspiring. It was great to see the original thoughts and surprising directions, and also being able to recognise young talents with a very well deserved prize. Last but not least, I was looking forward to spending time with my fellow judges and spend 2 full days just discussing excellent design work.

What are some lessons you've learnt the hard way?

Document when working with clients! Unfortunately it’s really hard to remember the details of a 2 hour meeting.
Your job is not done when you deliver the design to whoever is building it, especially when you design software, websites or products. Engineers are your friends!

What advice would you have given yourself at the very beginning of your design career?

It’s ok to fail. And if you fail spectacularly, ask for help. Your boss is supposed to be your mentor and help you find your way in your design career, especially in the very beginning.

What advice would you offer young, budding designers when composing their submissions for the ADAA?

Give the judges context for your work. Even when you submit paintings, it is important to know what your process was: For instance, what inspired the project, technical details and/or timeframe. If you submit for a team, what did the different team members work on and what was your specific role. Why did you choose one direction over another, what other solutions did you explore? And lastly, don’t submit too much, sometimes less is more.


Julio Martinez
Creative Director, studio1500

How and where do you find inspiration for your work?

Everywhere, to be honest, but I'm always particularly surprised at how much inspiration comes from outside of the field. I'll be reading a book and then a certain passage will get me thinking about things I could do. Or I'll be listening to an album or watching a TV show and those things also inspire me a great deal. Sometimes a great bass line or a beautifully framed scene. Of course, looking at any visual art or great piece of typography will definitely still get me super excited, but I also love bringing in references from other fields. I think that's one of the beauties of design, that you can seek inspiration from just about any imaginable source out there.
 


What is the most important lesson you’ve learned thus far in your design career?

The ability to adapt is everything. Things will change so much—what you do one year may not necessarily be what you'll be doing in five years, or in ten years. You can't always predict what will come into play. Most of my most meaningful projects or professional developments have come seemingly out of nowhere, and only in hindsight do the dots connect and I realise how things emerged. So I've really learned to embrace that general uncertainty that comes with the career and learned to accept change as a given. Don't get too attached to any one skill or point of view. Things will flip on you at a moment's notice. 

What excited you about being a Finalist Judge with the ADAA?

The most exciting part was simply being able to see what young students from all over the world are up to. I get to see plenty of great work from my students and from the other schools in the Bay Area, but getting a chance to see the best of what the rest of the world has to offer was very stimulating. I think all professionals, whether they teach or not, should open themselves to see a range of student work from all around the world every now and then. It puts your own career, skills and tastes in perspective.

What advice would you have given yourself at the very beginning of your design career?

It's such a boring piece of advice, but the biggest thing is to be patient. Learning is an active, life-long pursuit. You won't know everything you want to know right away. It takes a long time to get good and it takes a long time to develop worthwhile pursuits. I probably made the mistake of walking away from things I really wanted to explore simply by getting anxious about not getting results fast enough. Yet some of the things I get the most pleasure from now are things that have progressed slowly—an hour here or there; a small project followed by another one six years later, etc. Over the length of a career, that effort adds up, so just take a breath, take the long view. Take your time.

What advice would you offer young, budding designers when composing their submissions for the ADAA?

Primarily I'd say look at this strategically. The desire to win is understandable but sometimes your work is not the best fit for a category or for a competition. Do your research. Look at previous years' winners and try to see if your work fits that pattern. The winners in ADAA and the criteria in general is very well documented, so take advantage of that. There's sometimes great work to look at that just doesn't make sense in the context so it gets turned down, so really be sure to select pieces from your portfolio that make sense within the framework that the competition provides.


Christoffer Bjerre
Art Director

How do you encourage creativity/being creative?

As an artist I always strive to learn and better myself.
It's very important for me to always keep growing so I try to frequently teach myself new software.
I'm also fortunate to have very talented friends who's artistic accomplishments are both a great source of inspiration and motivation.
 


How and where do you find inspiration for your work?

I'm a big cinephile so I draw a lot from classic and contemporary film.
When working in 3-D I often reference compositions, lighting and camera movement from my favorite films.
I also use Pinterest a lot since it's platform that has a wide variety of art and design across many mediums easily accessible on one platform.

What do you wish you had known before starting your career in design?

I wish I would have known sooner how important and impactful personal work can be for your professional career.
Not only is it good for personal growth but it can also be the most important currency you will have as a designer.
Client briefs and big corporate clients can often yield derivative and uninteresting work, so if you want to spice up your portfolio you just have to put in the time.

What would you describe as your biggest success and your most notable failure?

My biggest success as an artist is being able to collaborate with people I respect and admire.
I'm blessed with having a feedback loop of peers that are far more talented than myself which helps making me a better artist.
My biggest failure has been my inability to say no early on in my freelance career which lead to double bookings, way too much work, bad jobs and bad results.

What advice would you offer young, budding designers when composing their submissions for the ADAA?

I would advise students to put heavy emphasis on a personal point of view and good storytelling.
Attention to detail seems to be a given these days but strong conceptual development will help set you apart.
As a student you have the ability to experiment and be a little bolder than you can be in the real world so it would be a shame not to take advantage of that.


Aimee Le Duc
Programming Committee Chair, San Francisco Camerawork

How do you encourage creativity/being creative?

I encourage creativity by fostering spaces that welcome multiple ways to access creativity. Some people need lots of movement, sound and action in order to be creative, others crave quiet introspection. I need a combination of both environments to find my voice and enhance my practice. And I need time. We need to give ourselves enough time to come into our creativity.

 

What are some lessons you've learnt the hard way?

I have learned that professional accolades do not always equal honourable people. It took me a long time to realise that mentors (both professional and otherwise) can come from unexpected places. I am learning to be open to new voices and new paths in life.

What excited you about being a finalist Judge with the 2018 ADAA?

I was simply so honoured to be in the same room with the other Judges. It was such an esteemed group of truly exciting, creative people. I learned so much from just listening to them. I was also excited to be a finalist Judge with the 2018 ADAA because I was able to see what students are passionate about and how they are using those passions in their work.

What do you wish you had known before starting your artistic career?

I wish I had known how unpredictable my career would be before starting out.

What advice would you offer young, budding designers when composing their submissions for the ADAA? 

When composing a submission for the ADAA, I would encourage students to be as thorough as possible. If there is an opportunity to provide more detail or added explanations, do it! Every little bit helps. I would also advise budding designers to have multiple people review the submission before turning it in. Have people outside of your field look at it—every set of eyes is a huge help.


Forest Young
Global Design Principal, Wolff Olins

How and where do you find inspiration for your work?

I find inspiration primarily in two places—during travel, where a new context is slightly unfamiliar, and in museums, where people are intentionally committed to being provoked or challenged. Rarely does inspiration, for me, hail from other designed artifacts, as they are solutions to a problem from yesterday.
 


What is the most important lesson you’ve learned thus far in your design career?

One of my graduate school instructors Irma Boom once remarked that “sometimes you have to kill your darlings.” It was a difficult reminder that sometimes the things we make, and become infatuated with, are actually obstacles to the superior solution. The other lesson, albeit painful, is to ensure that any creative partnership has either foundational trust, or aligned taste. Without taste of trust, the journey will be fraught with fear and indecision.

What would you describe as your biggest success and your most notable failure?

My biggest success has been the work—both the journey towards a solution, and the living artifact that expresses it. Easily my most notable failures were earlier in my career, overlooking delivery and implementation needs for in-house teams needing to bring a design system to life after a dramatic debut.

What advice would you have given yourself at the very beginning of your design career?

To be successful in a design profession requires a mastery of three gates—your teammates, the client partner and lastly, the hidden client. The first two are obvious: win your team over to have the work be seen, and then arrive at a successful solution with the client partner; the final gate, however, is how the work is then shared internally to a client that you will never see. The narrative around the work must be succinct and sharp enough to be re-told in a compelling fashion. The third gate is one that most designers struggle with, and they are often taken aback when a direction or idea is sunset after a positive meeting.

What advice would you offer young, budding designers when composing their submissions for the ADAA?

Distill the idea of the submission to such clarity, that a single sentence can encapsulate the spirit of the work. Then distill the idea to a single word. It is a difficult practice, but one that will dramatically sharpen both editing and storytelling. Less is usually more.



Group photo of the 2018 ADAA Judges by Martin Hoang

 

LINKS
General Information on the ADAA
2018 ADAA Winners Announcement
2018 ADAA Record Year!
2018 ADAA Meet the finalist Judges