Sharing Skills in a Creative Work Environment

Feb 2020

The KWSM team recently participated in an internal mentorship program. We were divided into pairs of mentors and mentees. Each partnership developed and executed a plan for the mentee to learn a new skill relevant to digital marketing. I was selected as a mentor and partnered with Senior Digital Marketing Strategist Taylor Lizura for a Photoshop project. 


Identifying the Objective

Taylor chose Photoshop because she felt design was a weak spot in her skill set. In our first meeting, she presented a specific design challenge that she and other content editors face on a regular basis – quickly creating new and innovative graphic designs for digital marketing campaigns. 


With Canva, a basic image editing application, they could easily add text, lines, geometric shapes, and any image with a transparent background to their graphics. Taylor wanted the ability to separate unique objects, like people or products, from the background of photos or complex images. This would make existing image assets more versatile and give creators the freedom to create advanced graphics without enlisting the design department. 


Going Back to Basics


Photoshop includes a versatile collection of tools to manipulate digital images, including those needed to separate an object from an image. Unfortunately, the interface is not very intuitive and can be difficult to navigate without experience. Before we could tackle the primary objective, Taylor needed to learn the fundamentals. I shared some basic tutorials she could use to familiarize herself with the Photoshop workspace, toolbars, and layer system. Once she understood these principles, we could begin exploring specific tools.


Picking the Right Tools for the Job


Photoshop includes a variety of selection tools to cleanly define the complex outlines of irregularly shaped objects. This is a necessary step to separate an object from the background of an image. Once separated, the object can be saved as a .png file with a transparent background. It can then be used as a design element in Photoshop or any other editing application to create more elaborate graphics.


To accomplish her objective, Taylor needed to use a combination of the following tools:


  • Object Selection Tool
  • Quick Selection Tool
  • Lasso
  • Brush


Learning by Doing


In an ideal world, Taylor and I would sit in the same room, each with our own laptop, and explore Photoshop together. I would demonstrate how to use a tool while she followed along. Unfortunately, Taylor and I were on opposite sides of the country. She works at KWSM Orange County, and I work at KWSM Atlanta.


We met via video conference and I shared my screen. Taylor watched as I explained how to use the various tools and took notes. Taylor practiced at home on different images with varying levels of complexity. The only problem was that she had been passively learning while I was actively teaching.


At our next meeting, Taylor and I reviewed her progress. She had successfully removed the objects from their backgrounds, but the edges were jagged and some portions of the objects were missing. She had spent several frustrating hours moving between her notes and confusing YouTube tutorials that only provided a small portion of the information. To make matters worse, the layer mask was missing, which meant she could not easily fix the objects without starting over. Although I had shown Taylor how to use these tools, I failed to let her learn by doing.


This time, Taylor shared her screen and worked while I watched. She asked questions and I offered guidance and direction. By the end of the session, Taylor knew how and when to use the appropriate tools. We were finally ready to get creative.


Applying and Sharing a New Skill


In our final sessions, Taylor and I developed a plan to demonstrate her new skills with three graphics of varying difficulty featuring a combination of products and people. The simplest graphic involved removing a cylindrical jar from a plain white background. The most complex graphic required Taylor to remove three people from a busy background. Each graphic was designed for a different client and could be used in various digital marketing resources such as newsletters, ads, social media graphics, and blogs.


What once took hours could now be completed in 5 to 30 minutes based on the complexity of the design. Taylor can now include more creative elements in her digital marketing campaigns and can show other team members how to do the same. This is the true value of hosting a mentorship project in a collaborative work environment – actionable skills can be developed, applied, and shared immediately.


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