Miami Ad School Shapes Tech-Savvy Creatives for the Post-“Mad Men” Era

Creatives with innate imagination and flair for design are always in demand, but today the industries that hire them expect tech-savviness too.  However, creatives with strong tech skills are hard to find, even as schools step up with curriculum that produces grads to meet the demand, whether it’s young people or veterans augmenting years of experience.

At today’s ad agencies, professionals are expected to be collaborative and understand how tech platforms can help them work internally and with clients, while also thinking more like a tech company by being more agile and responsive to customers that are looking to create a digital experience rather than static advertising. This means today’s creatives must understand the storytelling tools available and how they can be used to make an emotional, artistic connection with users. Creatives are expected to create engaging experiences, not just another asset.

Chad Borlase, Group Creative Director and Creative Lead Toronto at Publicis Sapient, realized the landscape was changing for creatives when he lost a fancy ad agency due to industry disruption and technological change. He made a conscious choice to do what he dubs a “digital MBA,” by getting in at the ground floor of a mobile creative and dev shop to re-tool himself. “It was the hardest year of my career.” But Borlase stuck with it and now enjoys applying his energy to creating emotional digital user experiences. “Creating massive scale experiences and ways for people to interact with services, products and each other is really rewarding.”

Despite his realization that schools need to be producing a different type of grad, Borlase said they’re still focused on pumping out “ad” type people who tend to create campaigns with light social and microsites and apps, but not a full user experience. “Candidates are eager to learn, but the schools are really still tooled at either advertising or content making.”

Vassilios Alexiou, Executive Experience Director at Huge, said it’s become less challenging than it used to be to find creatives with the right mix of traditional and technology skills. His own path to become a UX designer was “windy,” although the direction clear. “Today, most creatives tend to want to be tech savvy, at least to the level where their ideas are enabled by technology rather than hampered by it.” Alexiou said schools that produce work-ready creative grads emphasize connections with active industry professionals via workshops, real-life projects and placements.

Borlase said schools must not only engage with the community, but also be forward looking and think beyond just filling the need of traditional ad agencies and producing TV ads. Miami Ad School understands this, he said, and jumped at the chance to develop a different, “not advertising” digital program with a User Experience and Front-End Dev curriculum in collaboration with Publicis Sapient.

The irony of requiring tech-savvy creatives is that online courses don’t necessarily meet the need. Borlase believes a bootcamp format works better than online courses because the industry requires people that can interact in an agile manner—even argue and feed off the passion of each other. “You miss the nuances of feedback in an online course.” Alexiou said creativity today is much more about collaboration and iteration. “The pace, intensity and density of interaction a bootcamp offers makes it a more effective format than an experience that takes place solely online.”

But as much as technological know-how is advantageous  for today’s creatives, Borlase said SapientRazorfish still focuses on hiring creative thinkers that are first and foremost amazing at craft. “That craft has to bridge the understanding of where design intersects technology in service to creating experiences that matter,” he said. “We steer away from ad people and generally people that think they can do it all—it’s a team sport that requires a village. People that can work closely with each other in intense environments is one of the things we check for the most.”

The agency environment is now more volatile than ever, added Alexiou. “A creative with tech skills is the kind of ‘unicorn’ that can tackle a broad range of briefs and therefore is always busy.” He said Miami Ad School’s environment aligns with the realities of what grads will find in their workplace by fostering collaboration, breaking the barriers of traditional design education and focusing on the skills that matter. That includes soft skills—not only around collaboration, but selflessness. “The less precious you are around your ideas the better the final result.”

Interested in becoming a tech-savvy creative? Check out upcoming courses in UX design at Miami Ad School Toronto, including Miami Ad School’s 15-Week UX Design Bootcamp, which aims to build on the creative experience by empowering students with in-demand tech skills.

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