Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Evaluation of two years on the HND Interactive Media course

It’s a somewhat strange situation writing about the last two years on this course. Not because the course has been a strange experience – even though it has at times – but more because it’s been such a long time. At this time two years ago I was just applying to this course. At this time right now, I’m working in the industry. The best place to start for such a world wind journey is probably at the beginning.

Where I started
If I’m honest, two years ago I was thoroughly confused with what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. On the one hand I wanted to be a policeman, but I’d been told to wait a few years. On the other hand I wanted to be a games journalist, but I knew I wasn’t good enough, and I didn’t fancy going to university. Despite the lack of enthusiasm about university, I’d been caught up in the college atmosphere and I’d decided going to study games design at Sheffield was the course for me. Fortunately, I saw a poster for this very course.

Where I was
As soon as I started the course I knew that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Without ever knowing it, it appeared I had a passion for design, and as soon as I discovered the design world I wanted to wrap myself in it as much as humanly possible. I started reading design blogs. Started buying design magazines. Started discussing it with friends. Before I knew it, I had been bitten by the design bug.

After getting away with a lifetime of disorganisation during my education, I came onto a course that required me to be very organised indeed. Suffice to say, I didn’t find it easy, especially the time planning aspect of things. In early assignments time planning was a constant battle with my own will power, and this was the hardest thing for me to change within myself. After all, I’d been without time planning for 14 years and not done too badly, so why start now?

It took me a large portion of the first year to get my time planning exactly where I wanted it, and it was one of the biggest issues I saw in myself. If I was to truly take control over my own time planning, I decided it would be best for me create my own time planning document that suited my needs for the course. After I had produced this document I struggled a lot less with my time planning. My original time planning document still remains largely unchanged to this day, which I believe is testament to the effectiveness of the original document I created.

Another issue that I felt needed improving upon greatly when I started the course was my presentational skills. As a young child and all through high school I was a very shy person, but college allowed me to come out of my shell more and improve on my people skills. One thing that had stayed behind with me from the shy days was my presentation-giving skills, and this was one of the skills that most frustrated me during my early days on the course. To a certain extent it still frustrates me today as I can still find a presentation difficult to give if the mood of the room isn’t relaxed.

However, I don’t feel there is any way I could have improved more on my presenting skills during the course. If we had the option to go back I would request more presentations to do. Even though the thought of them would terrify most people, the only way to improve at something is to continually keep doing it. I feel that if I would have done more presentations throughout the two years on the course I would feel a lot more relaxed about them when we have to do them now.

That isn’t to say that I don’t feel considerably more relaxed about them now than I used to, it’s just to say that I feel there is room for improvement. I have been told before that I am too harsh on myself when it comes to presenting, and that I generally amplify the mistakes that I make. It is true that I often amplify how bad I did in a presentation after evaluating how they went afterwards, but I don’t feel it is a bad thing in this instance as it allows me to continue to improve. That said, I still don’t feel that I am where I want to be with presenting to people, and this is a skill that I am constantly striving to improve.

Some time early in the second year of the course, I started a job working as an in-house designer at a vehicle management company. I didn’t feel I had a chance in getting the job, but I went for the interview and I went for the experience. To my surprise I did get the job, and I spent the first year of my design career working there. I feel that this coupled with the second year on my course allowed me to effectively double the amount I was learning, and the experience was invaluable.

I believe it was the second year of the course where my work ethic and speed of working raised. Because I didn’t have much spare time on my hands anymore, whenever I did get the chance to do some work I took it. Before this I worked a small part time job at Morrisons, and I often found it very difficult to be motivated to do any college work. There’s a strange irony in having lots of time; you just don’t feel like doing anything. Because I was constantly saying to myself “I can do it later”, things rarely got done until they absolutely had to.

But as soon as I started my new job I had to put rock solid timetables in place to allow me to complete the things I had to on time. Due to this, I became very good at time planning and motivating myself to do things, and to a lot of people it seemed like I was working non-stop. It was quite a turnaround to go from always having lots of time to barely having any at all, but I feel that without my job as a designer alongside the course my improvement would have been a lot less advanced than it has been.

Finally – and something I haven’t really touched upon during my final evaluation – my technical skills are something I have constantly strived to improve over the two years. A lot of this has come naturally to me as I have been using the programs and coding languages almost daily for the past year and a half due to working at the same time as being on the course. This has been a large advantage to me, and has seen me make an almost natural progression in the use of programs, and especially website building.

I began the course by using CSS, but it was when I started my job as a designer and the second year that I really started improving the web design side of things. I often set myself challenges to use something new in a website each time I created one so I could continue to advance my skills during the course. If I look back at the websites I have completed on the course now, I’m very proud of the progression I’ve made with each one both technically and visually.

Where I am now
After two years of some of the most intense learning I’ve ever experienced in my entire educational life, I feel completely ready to go into the design industry full-time. I have been in the ideal situation for the last year to be able to dip my toes in so to speak, by only working three days a week as a designer. Now I am leaving the course I feel like I am in a better position than the typical HND or university graduate as I have commercial experience to go with a recently completed design course.

Due to my experience, I feel that the work I produce is now at a professional level, and I am capable of producing work with a fast turnaround and to a high degree of quality. My only issue with my work currently is that the majority of my experience is with web design, and as a result of this I feel that my print design skills are somewhat lagging behind my web design skills. This is an issue I am trying to rectify, and I have already begun to take on more print work than I have done in the past year.

The future
The very ultimate goal for my professional career is to start my own design studio. The route to that ultimate goal is considerably less defined, but I believe now my education is out of the way I must continue to keep learning, even more so now I don’t have an environment specifically dedicated to such an activity. To be out of touch with the industry is career suicide, and I must make sure I don’t find myself doing that.

Another goal for the future is to continue to advance my web development skills, specifically Ruby on Rails. Now I feel comfortable with PHP and the workings of it, I am planning on learning Ruby on Rails over the next 6 – 12 months and investigating the possibilities of how I could utilise this in future web projects.

Most importantly though – and a point previously mentioned – is that I continue to keep learning. This is the only way I can keep improving.

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