Good design is key regardless of channel, medium or technology. But in today's market the growing technological and mobile savvy generations demand that whatever is created for print must have an interactive component as well.
The problem is finding someone who can do both. This is not only difficult, but unrealistic since the expertise and skills of a designer are very different from those of a developer. Sure, there are some people who are great at design and development... but really how does one define great? Each company has its own standards, brand identity and mission; the probability of finding the exact combination of what is needed is like looking for a needle in a haystack. And who has time for that?
Instead, think about facilitating interactive teams from the talent you already have; teams that will work together as front-end designers and back-end developers. To start, you will educate your print designers about the basic capabilities and limitations regarding the interactive technology that your company intends to use. Give your designers specific interactive assignments so they can begin to learn how to tailor their designs to solve problems such as how to prepare communication delivery for different desktop and mobile browsers; creating artwork with Illustrator or Photoshop that developers can use for websites and Flash and even the subtleties of interactive typography... and why the rules for print do not work in this arena.
Walk designers through the interactive workflow process that includes teaming with developers from the beginning of each project; which is really not so different than the traditional process between designers and production artists. Whereas traditional designers are used to creating layouts and spec sheets, interactive designers prepare concept boards and wireframes. Or when a print designer might create an intricate logo that works beautifully on a 4-color collateral piece, but not so well on corrugated boxes. In this case, the production artist would work closely with the designer to make all the necessary changes to ensure the "intricate logo" works well on that particular substrate. The same type of interaction will take place between the interactive designer and developer. Same situation regarding an intricate logo that works well on a 17-inch monitor, but not so well on a mobile device or for use as a favicon. Both interactive designer and developer will work together as a team to also produce successful results.
As technology continues to advance at accelerated rates, companies need to take the plunge and commit to transition and lead its workforce to develop new skills to keep pace with trends that directly relate to the needs of the company.
So how does a company begin to transition a print designer to interactive? First, decide what skills you value most in your designers: conceptual ability, typography, graphics, use of color, versatility, detail-specific, ability to organize and simplify complex information, good communications skills? Then identify the team members who are willing and passionate about expanding these skills into the interactive space in which your company intends to play.
Managers, Art Directors, and Project Managers all must be on board to make this transition successful, as it will not happen overnight. Decide EXACTLY what type of interactive projects your company will be doing in the near future. That being said, plan on setting clear guidelines and a timeline on what it is your staff will learn, when and how to train all willing participants of your team.
Training may include setting up online training tutorials, free or subscription; sending out employees for F2F (face-to-face) training, or having a trainer come into your company... or a combination of all three. Whatever you decide there are a few things that will make all of this learning "stick."
Incorporate real projects in training to make it relevant to the work within your company
- Expecting someone to learn all they can about interactive design is unclear, frustrating to all involved and unproductive.
- Example: Assign a project like an InDesign Brochure and have the designer learn how to transform it into an interactive PDF with navigation buttons, hyperlinks and include embedded video.
Communicate a transparent measuring strategy and identify exactly what new skills you are looking to develop.
- Example: Assign a project to convert print graphics for usability on a website for both desktop and mobile devices. To be successful, the designer must learn the differences in print and web color spaces, file formats and file download speeds to make the graphics perform correctly.
Increase managers' involvement before and after training; active mentors who have clear responsibilities and can provide hands-on assistance are critical to success.
- While it is possible to transition print designers to interactive designers, it can be incredibly difficult to do so without a SME (subject matter expert) on your team. Invest in hiring an "Interactive Creative Services Manager" or "Senior Interactive Designer"--or some similar title...one with enough real world management and hands-on experience so they can lead and coach transitioning team members toward your greater goal. If you are unable to invest in an FTE, a temp resource would be another way to support your team during the transitioning of their skills.
- Have managers decide the types of skills/tasks a specific designer needs to attain and create a customized training plan; starting with simple skills that will be expanded upon in the future
- If you are unable to bring on an interactive team member or temp resource at the onset, at minimum try to bring in a consultant/interactive specialist to assist managers in creating a customized training program that they can deploy and maintain themselves.
Direct your team to additional interactive design resources such as videos, conferences, blogs and groups, encouraging them to seek out information on their own and creating a culture of life-long learning. Set aside a defined schedule EVERY OTHER WEEK to review progress with each individual, so any corrections or adjustments can be made early on in the training process.
- While it is important than an organization invests in its employees, it is equally important the employee is wiling to invest in increasing his or her skills. Ultimately these new skills make them more marketable and increase their earning ability.
Letting employees go can be costly, as years of priceless institutional knowledge go out the door with them and getting new employees to that level of knowledge can be an uncertainty. Take some time to consider training and developing the talent that already exists within your team. Those who are willing and able may just be the answer that you have been looking for all along.