Taking Learning to the MAX

By Rebecca Skalsky on November, 26 2019
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Fresh Thinking by de Novo.

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Rebecca Skalsky

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Call me a huge nerd, but I’ve always loved to learn. Whether it stems from wanting to better myself or rise to a new challenge, the desire to expand my knowledge continues to be at the core of who I am and has extended into my career as a graphic designer and art director.

As luck would have it, learning and graphic design pretty much go hand-in-hand. College and internships prepared me to enter the workforce with the basics of design in tow—but my growth in the field over the past ten years is due largely in part to countless learning opportunities I’ve had throughout my career. As a technology-driven field, graphic design is ever-evolving. There are limitless ways to create and use the industry standard Adobe suite of creative software, making it nearly impossible to learn the ins and outs of each design app in one fell swoop.

Beyond keeping up with the expanding technology, clients are a huge source of motivation for me when it comes to making continued education a top priority. After all, “thinking fresh” is part of our de Novo creed and something I truly take to heart. Learning not only helps me continually refine my own skillset to stay on beat with industry trends, but more importantly, it has increased my proficiency in other areas of design that were once foreign to me, allowing de Novo to expand our capabilities as an agency and offer our clients the most innovative creative solutions.

Lucky for me, learning resources in the creative field are plentiful and very accessible. So much so, that it’s not uncommon on a given day to find me engrossed in a quick tutorial or two, even if just to brush up on a new Photoshop technique. While such tutorials and online courses are highly valuable tools, it’s hard to beat the benefits of learning from other professionals and renowned experts in the creative field. Creative conferences serve this very purpose, providing a wealth of knowledge while connecting attendees of all skill levels to some of the most successful people in the biz—a win-win when it comes to continued education. So, when I was given the opportunity to attend this year’s Adobe MAX creative conference in Los Angeles, you can bet I was pumped!

I had the pleasure of attending MAX for the first time in San Diego three years ago, so I was already very familiar with the magnitude of this conference and why it’s considered to be the crème de la crème of creative events. A three-day extravaganza attracting 15,000+ creatives from around the world, Adobe MAX is aptly named.

MAXimum Inspiration

There was a palpable sense of energy during the opening keynote session, which kicked off this year’s event, beginning with an incredible visual sequence of motion graphics and upbeat music, as attendees came together to celebrate creativity and to get inspired by all of the latest innovations from the Adobe team.

Productivity is the name of the game and the folks at Adobe have made great strides to develop new apps and add time-saving features to existing ones, bringing creativity and imagination to the forefront for all users. I found myself particularly awestruck by the plethora of mobile apps and those to come in 2020 for the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil—tools that I have started to integrate into my own design workflow—giving me the freedom to easily create on the go, or, as Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen put it, “wherever inspiration strikes.” Having a mobile art studio such as this literally at my fingertips is a game-changer, and I look forward to seeing how this will transform my own creative process and that of de Novo going forward.

Opening Keynote

Creativity was at the forefront of the opening day keynote presentation as the Adobe team shared its latest innovations in productivity and upcoming program releases.

MAXimum Expertise

MAX has developed a reputation for being a powerful creative hub, bringing together the best of the best from across the globe and providing conference attendees with valuable insight from industry experts. From M. Night Shyamalan, director of The Sixth Sense, to rising singer/songwriter Billie Eilish, this year’s line-up of speakers did not disappoint!


Director M.  Night Shyamalan shared his own stories of creative success in the film industry. 

Standouts for me included the exceptionally talented lettering artists Martina Flor and Lauren Hom. As someone who is a bit obsessed with typography, and more specifically the art of hand lettering, it’s no big surprise that these two ranked so far up on my list of MAX highlights. Perhaps because lettering is so hands-on and it gets back to my roots as a studio artist, but whatever the reason, I have a natural curiosity to further explore this avenue and find more ways to incorporate it into my work.

One of my key takeaways from Martina was instead of “getting better through practice,” try to “get better through making.” This approach is all about creating something that has meaning to you and has an impact in the world. There’s something especially rewarding about finding that balance between personal connection and positive audience/client reaction—those have tended to be the types of projects I’ve been most proud of in my career. In particular, I love the diversity of clients and work at de Novo, allowing me the creative freedom to explore aspects of design I am most passionate about while working with organizations and companies I truly admire.

Martina Flor

Martina Flor impressed the crowd with her dynamic and beautiful lettering, which has been featured by notable clients, such as Etsy, Mercedes Benz, and Cosmopolitan among many others.

Lauren’s advice to “take yourself seriously, but to not take your ideas too seriously” also very much rang true for me. She reiterated how there’s a lot of power in silly ideas, which can lead to something completely unexpected, but can also keep you motivated in your work as a creative. de Novo prides itself on crazy ideas and has created a “safe space” where our team can freely exchange concepts no matter how goofy they may seem. My introverted side still gets the best of me sometimes, causing me to brush off my own seemingly silly ideas before even throwing them out to the group, but hearing about Hom’s success along her creative journey makes me feel more empowered to embrace the silly and see where it takes me.

MAXimum Creativity

Hearing from the experts was of course highly inspirational and informative, but MAX really raises the bar by offering attendees the chance to immerse themselves in creativity through hands-on labs and workshops. I was fortunate to be able to attend three such courses, which were all based in Adobe Fresco, the latest painting and drawing app for tablets like the iPad Pro. This remarkable app gives users access to dozens of artistic tools, such as watercolor and oil brushes, ink pens, and pencils to name a few, but what’s most impressive is how closely these tools mimic the real thing.

It was also very interesting to observe how each workshop, although based around the same program, was very different in its approach, which not only maximized my exposure to various techniques, but also opened my eyes to all the possible applications in my work down the line.

Fresco Creations

I had a blast "playing" in Adobe Fresco, experimenting with dozens of new techniques, and getting a feel for how this program can integrate into my workflow in the future.

Then, of course, there was the Community Pavilion, the creative epicenter of MAX. Jam-packed with art installations, lounging areas, product experts, giveaways and activities galore, this expansive space was a literal playground for attendees. In my “kid in a candy store”-like state, I was a sucker for the free swag, especially from the make-and-take activity stations, which ran the gamut from designing your own tote bag to seeing your face printed in the foam of a delicious cold brew. (Yes, that’s really a thing!)

Comm Pavilion

The Community Pavilion was a buzz with creativity, from the personalized cold brews (left) and the make-your-own-bandana station (center) to inspirational art installations such as this one by Mr. Doodle (right).

Energized and still relishing in the exhilaration of my latest MAX experience, I have a newfound sense of confidence and I feel ready to dive into the next creative challenge that comes my way.

I’m admittedly missing the California warmth already, but it feels great to be back in the creative swing of things at de Novo, exploring and sharing all of the newly-absorbed knowledge, technology and insights with the team.

With so many great tools in place and many more on the horizon, creativity continues to evolve and I’m excited to see how all of these innovations will continue to inspire “fresh thinking” among the de Novo team.

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