Thursday, February 12, 2009

5 Things We Learned About Teens at TOC

At TOC on Wednesday afternoon, we attended "Youth and Creativity: Emerging Trends in Self-expression and Publishing," a session by Evangeline Haughney (Adobe) and Bill Westerman (Create with Context). They hung out with real teenagers in their homes to get a look at their creative processes. When choosing which teens to follow, they looked for those who were creative, but not necessarily planning to go into art or design after high school. They picked those who were involved in interesting self-expression activities and who were creating digital media to share with others outside their immediate circles of friends. Here are five not-so-obvious takeaways (beyond the fairly apparent "Teens want to create identities for themselves online" and "In general, teens are pretty tech-savvy"). (The panel didn't focus much on book publishing, but it provides useful background to YA publishers who want a better look at what their target audiences are doing online.)

  • Teens don't see buying a software program (like Adobe Photoshop) as a major "life event." Whereas people in their twenties and thirties may sign up for classes and buy instruction manuals after purchasing a program, teens churn through many different technologies quickly, using programs only for what they need and then moving on.
  • At the same time, teens feel as if they have mastered these programs. Westerman pointed out that when he asks an adult, professional Photoshop user if she knows everything there is to know about Photoshop, that adult will usually answer, "No, I haven't even scratched the surface." Teens, on the other hand, will answer, "Yeah, I know Photoshop." Nor are they concerned that they haven't learned all the "right" ways of doing things with a program--they're concentrated on the outcome, not the tool. They don't ask, "How do I use the masking tool?" They ask, "How can I create a cool rain effect?"
  • That's not to say that teens aren't asking for help. They are! But they're going to their peers online or typing queries into Google. There's a return of the "apprenticeship"--teens learning skills from their more knowledgable peers, actively seeking critiques of their work, and really adopting a craft mentality. Learning is a process of watching and doing on the fly. "There's no more learning curve," Westerman said.
  • Any niche site can become a social hub--teens aren't just using Facebook for social networking. One subject in the study, "David," spent most of his time on the "Silverfish Longboarding" discussion boards. (A longboard is a type of skateboard.) These microcommunities give teens, who tend to define themselves through 2 or 3 major interests when creating online personas, a sense of belonging.
  • Teens aren't using the fanciest, newest technology. Most of those surveyed had fairly old computers and older versions of software. They were making do with what they had. And they were not pirating software. One teen, "Gina," bought a copy of Adobe Photoshop with her friend at Costco, and the girls took turns using it at home, since they only had one license.

Haughney said that future studies will target teens who DO plan to enter the design field after graduation, since the ways they are using technology now may have a major effect on the field--and on how software is designed.


Anonymous said...

Interesting post - when you say they are into craftsmanship, do you mean to create the best, most polished product, as with the learning on the fly, this seems to contradict this. Do they do it mostly for themselves, for their friends, or for social networking groups?

Laura said...

To Anonymous: That's an interesting question! The way that "apprenticeship" and "craft mentality" were used in the panel was to describe how teens are learning from others--actively choosing those with more advanced skills as mentors, showing them their work, and inviting them to critique it. It's almost an old-fashioned process--except that it's all done online using Photoshop!

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