The one thing I wish I’d learned in school

As a Production Artist, I see A LOT of other people’s working files and it’s my job to make take these files and “magically” transform them into producible artwork. I’ve been doing this job for 5 years now and there are things I see that make me laugh. Often it’s a real challenge to go through someone else’s files & folders just to try and find the final version in the first place. But that’s a whole other story. But the real joke is on me because I’m the one who takes these files, fixes them up to build the final artwork used to produce the thing. (Really I laugh, shake my head, and then get to work).

A lot of the time, I end up rebuilding the entire document using what was provided as a transparent guide. It can be easier than wading through a disorganized file, sometimes with dozens of no longer used layers that are hidden, but not discarded.

But no one really teaches us how to work. We’re taught theory and process, but not organization. I would guess that most of us only learn the hard way how to be organised. Like that time I lost 3 months of travel pictures by deleting the originals after down sampling them for my blog (I only have the web versions now, better than completely lost).

I’ve learned so much in the 9 years that I’ve been working. Especially by working with other very organized people. I’ve been very lucky to work with terribly organized and talented people who have been willing to teach & share. It’s amazing what a difference that has made in how I work. It’s hard for me to even remember how I would work before.

This got me thinking about when I was in school. Cringing at how I used to work back then. All of the terrible things I come across as a Production Artist, I have totally done in the past. Especially when I was a student. Yes, I did use to build EVERYTHING in Illustrator (even websites). Yes, I would work on endless versions and variations in the same document. Sometimes all around the edges of the artboard. Sometimes on million and a half different layers on top of one another, never labelled. Sometimes, paranoid that a document would become corrupted, I would begin a new one. Changing the name to “New” or “NEW NEW” or “Final NEW Aardvark.” Yes, I had to learn the hard way, time and again, to save every now and again while working on something. Not to work directly from a server. Fortunately all lessons learned as a student.

I didn’t even touch InDesign until one of my last projects of University, when we had to a class project to produce a booklet that actually got printed. Oh, and there was that one project where I figured out I could change the names of layers in Illustrator and spent hours going through every object & labeling it for some reason. I was wary of Photoshop and it’s non-scalable pixels for the longest time, saving only high resolution TIFFS when only pixels would do.

Yes, I totally gave my files random names like “aardvark” and “stuff”. I used to work on projects at school, then copy EVERYTHING onto my iPod (back when they could also be portable hard drives) and put ALL of that on my computer at home. Then take it back to school again. How did I ever manage to keep things straight? Well, I didn’t. I just kept working.

Old Folders Screenshot

Look at these file names. Sometimes there’s a date. Sometimes I just added a 2, or sometimes some extra letters? And trust me, you do NOT want to see what is in each of those folders. I couldn’t even tell you. I was a last minute monster and never took the time to go through & clean things up. Trust me I’m much more organized now.

Business card versionsI couldn’t even tell you now which of these business card design iterations I finally handed in. I think I couldn’t ever decide on which colour scheme to go with and handed in a system of 20 cards or something. It’s ok. They gave me business cards at work.

So what would I tell my younger self? What would the subject of my talk be to help shape the minds of Design’s future? Work smart. Work clean. And for the love of GOD, keep your shit organised.



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