The Art of Communication: Decoding the Creative Relationship

The Art of Communication: Decoding the Creative Relationship


(upbeat electronic music) (audience applauds) – Good afternoon, everybody. My name is Andrea
Wicklund, I work at Valve, and I’ve been there about
almost 10 years now. Did we get the fog machine set up? No? No fog machine. Okay, well, um, I have a clicker at least. I’m here to talk to you about
the art of communication, decoding the creative relationship. I know that’s very elusive, but we’ll get into it a little bit and you’ll see what I mean. How many people here have
played the game of Pictionary? Raise your hand. Yeah, lots of people. For those of you with your hands raised, how many of you have been
kicked off a game of Pictionary? (audience chuckles) Really, it’s not just me? Really? Well, yeah, I have. I have been kicked off
of Pictionary before. It was kind of an ego-driven story. It was high school. But I did, I walked in
with an ego, with my team, we were all pretty young. But I was the artist. So, you know, it was about to go down. And I admit, we were crushing it. I was up there, drawing, my team’s getting answers right, until this one point,
when I was doing this, what I thought was a pretty epic drawing. And my team wasn’t getting the answer. Kept drawing. The clock ran out, buzzer
rang, we didn’t get the point. And I kinda lost it. I was kind of a jerk to my
team, but rightfully so. It was their fault for this
breach in communication. (chuckles) So that was fine,
whatever, game goes on. Do you guys, do you remember
the TV sitcom Friends? I mean, don’t be embarrassed. Do you? Yes? Do you remember Monica? If you don’t know Monica,
thank you for being brave. If you don’t remember Monica, she was notorious for
being really competitive and kind of pushy. Well, anyway, as the story goes, the more points the other team scored, the more I started to lose my composure. I really started to be a jerk to my team. So what did they do? They fired me. I was banned from Pictionary. They kicked me off. And I admit, I was being a diva, which made the breakdown in communication amongst my team unsolvable. I still don’t play
Pictionary, to this day. Enough with Friends, let’s
talk about communication, which is why you are here today. Luckily for me, I learned
early on from that experience that nobody wants to work with the diva, beginning my exploration into
the art of communication, which is why you are here today, in case you didn’t know. In putting this talk
together, I spoke with people from various companies
of various disciplines, ranging from Joaquin Homer Neat Company, Karla Ortiz at Marvel,
Judd Chevrier at HoloLens, Trent Kusters and Ty
Carey at League of Geeks, Marek Bogdan at Playdead, and a few of my coworkers at Valve, including Dean Tate, who
worked on BioShock 1 and 2, who is our new acquisition at Valve, so congratulations to you. I’m gonna get straight to the punch and tell you the secret, the answer to all of your
problems with communication, and that is, who? Being able to choose who you work with is the ticket to great communication. Consider that you yourself
are a great catch off the bat, and you get to choose who you work with. Problem solved. But there are a couple parts to this “who” that I’m talking about,
skill level and personality. Skill is pretty straightforward. So let’s just assume that
you’ve got that on your radar, you’re surrounded by a lot of people who are skilled in their disciplines, different levels of wizardry, so you don’t have to worry about that. With that in mind, let’s
talk about personality, in other words, affinity. Affinity is a natural liking
for, or attraction to, a person, a thing or an idea, a close resemblance or a connection. Talent is very important, but
you need to get along first. Find a good fit over raw talent. It’s kind of like a nice pair of Nikes. You know the performance is gonna be good, but if you buy the wrong size,
you’re gonna get blisters, shoes are gonna fall off, you’re gonna feel, like,
scrunched in your feet. Yes, I just compared hiring people to buying a pair of shoes. I know there’s at least on person in here who appreciates that. Someone who inspires boosts morale, has a positive outlook, is realistic, is just a good communicator. Find those things and you’re set up for excellent communication
amongst your team. This is why the hiring process at Valve is of utmost importance. So, here’s a story,
success story, non-Valve, based off of what I just said. Neat Company. I talked to one of the guys there. He actually couldn’t give me an example of communication breakdown, ’cause I really wanted to get a good story so I could tell you
guys a funny epic fail. But he didn’t have any. And I thought, “How is that possible?” Well, first of all, it’s
a small team to start, and they knew each other from school. So they had, like, an insta-affinity. They knew each other’s strengths, they knew each other’s weaknesses, they knew each other’s workflow already, so when they came together
to form a company, it was easy-peasy. So that’s the trick, that’s it. Just work with people
that you get along with and that are skilled, and that’s the end. So thank you.
(audience applauds) No, I’m just kidding, I’m just
kidding, I’m just kidding. ‘Cause you’re, like,
“Andrea, no, wait a second! “That’s not the case for
me,” and that’s true. That’s not realistic. So what do you do when you don’t get along or when you have these little
breaks in communication? It’s not a luxury that many of us have, to get along all the time, in your life, in your
company, wherever you are. Sometimes the cards just aren’t laid out for us as favorably. Finding affinity amongst your team requires some effort. In cases where you’re butting heads a lot, it could require a lot of finessing. So what then? This is where trust comes in. Time to build a foundation of trust. This applies not only to
our industry, like I said, but any relationship. Your marriage, your
friendships, with your pets, solid relationships rely on trust. This is a base level for communication. Again, this is under the assumption that your teammates are
skilled in their field. Your team is essentially
your creative marriage. Know each other’s strengths,
know each other’s weaknesses. It’s imperative to trust that
people can do their jobs. Allow the team to be free
in their disciplines. So what does that look like? Well, confidence. Believe in the people that you work with. Be confident in their skillset. And also be comfortable
in your own discipline so that you can allow someone else to come in and contribute
to what you have to offer. Also, know when to say, “I
don’t know,” or ask for help. That’s trust too, being
authentic with where you are. Empowerment. Empower the people on your
team to do what they do, and they will move mountains for you. Coming along with that is
individual authority or autonomy. Let them do what they do. Allow them to be the authority
in their disciplines. So now that we’ve got those bases down, how do you build that trust
if you don’t have it yet? Language. At the forefront of
communication is language, knowing how to use language and when to use language correctly is the key to successful communication. It’s an art. Since I am an artist, I’m going to delve specifically into the
creative relationship. Again, this applies to all relationships, but I’m going to hone in on relationships from an artist’s perspective. You’re welcome. (laughs) Take, for example, a
programmer and an artist. It’s like two different religions. You have the same vision, but completely different vocabulary. In order to get along,
you need to take time, make an effort to speak the
other person’s language, learn important words, what
they mean for that person, say the words that they need to hear to show that you’re invested. Once this is in place, know when it’s not your
expertise and take a step back. Part of language is
vocabulary, the words you use. Code words. For each specific relationship, get to know each other’s code words, and be clear that you understand
each other’s vocabulary. Quite often what I think a word means is very different from what
you might think it means. I’m gonna use some art
terms as an example. Some terminology that’s
important to clarify are “work in progress” and,
like, a “finalized” piece. Here we see the work of Karla Ortiz. She’s an artist at Marvel. She’s worked in the game
industry for quite a few years, and she’s landed at Marvel now. This is what she defines
as a work in progress. It’s her definition. So getting to know that this
is what it looks like to her will really help with how
you communicate feedback. This is that same illustration
as a finalized piece. Another example of vocabulary words that are pretty important
to know the definition of is “realistic” versus
“stylized,” more art terms. Another personal favorite
confusion word of mine is “stylized,” specifically. A lot of times, the word
“stylized” is thrown out and people immediately
envision something cartoony, for example, Mickey Mouse, who is a stylized version of a mouse, who happens to be a cartoon. But that doesn’t mean that stylization is cartoon across the board. The definition of “stylized” is “using artistic forms and conventions “to create effects; not
natural or spontaneous.” For example, here’s a
3D model of an apple, next to Apple’s apple, the company’s stylized
version of an apple. You see the textures are very realistic in the 3D model. It’s almost like you
could go out and grab it. But then the icon or the logo
of Apple is very stylized. This can also be seen clearly
in play in Valve’s games. Left for Dead, for
example, Zoe on the left, she’s a realistic
interpretation of a character, next to, on the right,
the thoughtfully stylized Heavy of Team Fortress 2. Notice the textures, the
shapes, the proportions, and how they differ in each. Artistic decisions were made in each character’s development. But they each own distinct vocabulary that is applied just as
intentionally throughout the game. Knowing these distinctions will help your creative communication. Beyond words, there’s also visuals. Visuals communicate as well, bless you. Miscommunication of vocabulary abounds in other inconvenient ways, too, which can make things take
way longer than necessary. You know the cliche, a picture’s
worth a 1,000 words, right? Yeah. Using visuals is another
way to communicate. Sometimes it’s more effective than just trying to explain
your way through something. To put it bluntly, sometimes you just need to stop talking and look at some pictures, pull up good old Google. A coworker of mine told me a story about a game he was
working on a while back, where using images ended up being the most effective
way to communicate. The artist on his team had been looking at Miyazaki films for
stylistic inspiration. Aw. They proposed this art direction
to the rest of the team, but to their surprise, there
was a lot of push back, which was kinda confusing to them. They kept trying to
explain what they meant, and wasn’t getting through. So after several
frustrating conversations, the artists realized that they weren’t getting
their point across. So they stopped talking and
pulled up some pictures. What came to mind for
them was this example of luxurious backgrounds that are painted and kind of like a watercolor texture that shows up in a lot
of Miyazaki’s films. But what came to mind for the
rest of the team was this, Miyazaki’s flat-celled characters. See the difference? If you’ll see the backgrounds are rendered very differently from the characters. Neither was wrong. They’re both Miyazaki references. But it needed that visual distinction to get the point across of what exactly they were referencing. It was just easier to
communicate with pictures than it was with words. Now that we’re clear on the visual goals for the Miyazaki reference, let’s focus more on clarifying goals and the importance of
being on the same page with your own team, the people
that you’re working with. Oh, I went too fast, hold on. Trigger happy. Okay. I didn’t go back far enough. Hold on. Okay, communicating so
effectively right now. (laughs) Again, using language
effectively is crucial in avoiding frustration down the road or clicking your trigger too fast. Be clear about goals at all times, throughout, always,
through the whole process. Make sure everybody is on the same page. If goals are clear and the
same for everyone on the team, the problem-solving process will more easily converge to a solution. Okay, now I can push the button. Okay, let’s take a look at this triangle. Think of a product as an
experience as a whole. This envelops game
mechanic, art and sound, all together in one piece, in one package. The goals for each corner of the triangle work together in tandem. Lets look more closely at
the bottom left corner, the art goals, specifically, feeling and mood. I said the word “feeling.” I know that’s kind of scary. I’m gonna say the word
“emotion” in a minute, too. So get ready for that. (chuckles) Nailing this down goes back to language. So ask yourself, “What
descriptors sum it up “by using feeling words?” Use emotional terms to
communicate creative goals. So, descriptors. I want the player to feel lost and scared. This is when the fog machine
would have been really good. I want the space to feel cold and dire, or lush and welcoming. Some examples of not good
descriptors would be, like, “Well, we need, like,
an awesome spawn room” or, “just make it look really cool.” Which is fine, but I guarantee
what I think looks awesome is pretty different from
what you think looks awesome. Or maybe it’s not, but you don’t know
what’s going on up here. So in making these
decisions in game design, art plays a huge role in the experience. This concept art from Portal
2 is a perfect example of how using effective descriptors can translate visually. Do you feel small and lost and scared? It’s a pretty good one. Jeremy Bennett did that. Okay, now let’s look at
how it all works together. Take Team Fortress 2, again, for example. The art, the mechanic and the sound, they all influence each
other in that triangle to create an experience. They were developed together and converged together harmoniously. Or this awesome game, Inside. As players, we are in the art. It is integral in the experience. But art is more than just that. It’s also your first
experience with the game. Just look on Steam, as
you all have, I’m sure. The experience of the
game can be communicated instantaneously with
just a thumbnail image. Instant, first read, first impression. Art is the brand of the game. It’s the part of the product the player interacts with first. And this is no accident. There’s a lot of problem solving that goes into artistic decisions. It’s more than just emotional. It is a science. So thinks back to the triangle. Just like game mechanic
and sound engineering, art has technical components that require years of
education and experience, just like any science. At the same time, it is based on a series of problem
solving, just like math. Art is problem solving. View it as you would writing code. So take a moment, sitting in your chairs, kind of trying that on. How does that change your perspective? Does that affect the way that
you communicate with artists? A hangup that I hear quite often is in actually even addressing problems. What I mean by that is, what’s given is what
I think is a solution, instead of clearly communicating what the problem actually is. This is really limiting. When a limited solution is given, it cuts off access to a whole
world of other solutions. Trust that a skilled artist
is an expert in their field, that they are capable of
a wide scope of solutions beyond what you might even
have in your own mind. So trust that a properly
framed problem, providing math, instead, will result in
a confident solution. In other words, respect your
fellow artist’s expertise, or your fellows’ expertise in general. So back to Karla. She told me a story about
her days at a game company back in the day, which no longer exists. But there’s this specific programmer who felt obliged to give her daily input, and just come to her desk and offer her some solutions unsolicited. And, you know, that kinda, you know, she was fine with that for a while and then it started to get
a little bit frustrating, because art was absolutely
not his expertise. So, solutions that he had for her just didn’t make any sense. Finally feeling disrespected, and now I’m not saying go and do this. Just kinda sit in your
chair and try it on. But this is not advice I’m giving. It’s just a story. So she started, anyway,
reciprocating his behavior. She went over to his desk,
start giving him loads of ideas about the code he was writing
and all this kinda stuff. And he was pretty polite until one day, he just finally said, “That
doesn’t make any sense. “Why do you keep trying to do my job?” And she was, like, “Yeah, well, bingo.” And he got the point. So he stopped going to her
desk, she stopped going to his. I think you got the point, too. Karla’s story is a good segue
into the topic of feedback. Here’s where trust and
language come together. The thing about digital art is that the work is always
displayed on the monitor, behind the artist or
in front of the artist, which seems like an open
invitation to come in and do some drive-by feedback
or make some comments. But this is pretty stunting, especially when it’s a work in progress. It can really kinda throw
an artist off track. So ask yourself, “When
should I give feedback, “and when should I leave someone alone?” This is from a Tumblr page
called Hovering Art Directors, if you haven’t seen it. (audience laughs) It’s like a real-life, (laughs). Also, “When am I hovering?” I’m thinking he might be
hovering a little bit. “What is the impact of me giving feedback? “What’s the impact of me
giving feedback right now? “Is this even my expertise?” Create a framework for feedback
to alleviate awkwardness. That’s some good, solid advice. Schedule feedback. Give the artist room to create
presentation-ready artwork. And also, just to wrap that all up, just know the responsibility
of making the decision to give feedback, what that does for your
trust relationship, how you deliver it, how
you use language and words. So building and maintaining
trust will give more mileage than dropping excessive feedback randomly. Work relationships are way more important than always getting it perfect. Updates can be made later, but broken trust is infinitely damaging. So here’s a story, another one, a good story to illustrate
what I’m talking about. Comes from Trent at League of Geeks down in Australia. An artist on his team was
working on a card illustration for the game Armello. He was pretty far along in the piece, but Trent, at that point, noticed that there was an issue with scale. Some of the elements in the illustration, the scale was off. But the problem was that the
piece was already so far along in development that, if Trent went ahead and gave feedback right then, it would result in
basically starting over, which would take a lot more time, it would require the art be thrown away, people’s feelings would get hurt. You know, it would be kinda messy. But the reward, the scale would be correct in the elements in the illustration. But he had another option, too, which would be just to simply let it go. See what happens, maintain
everybody’s sanity. It’s not the end of the world. He chose to do that. He chose to let it go. And the result was this
gorgeous illustration, by Adam Duncan. Because it ended up being so beautiful, the issue of scale became obsolete. Trent realized a healthy relationship was way more important
than getting it right. Which leads me to appreciation. Feedback does not always
have to be negative. In fact, I think it’s best when it’s not. Appreciation is super important and often falls to the wayside. Don’t let it. Don’t let it fall to the wayside. Human beings as a whole
thrive on recognition. Just look at social media,
like Facebook, Instagram, people taking selfies,
wanting to get more likes. Everybody wants to be liked. It’s just in our nature. There’s nothing wrong with that. So showing appreciation for
each other authentically is just as, if not more, important than constructive feedback
and team communication. So if you have something
nice to say, say it. Don’t assume everybody knows
how much you appreciate them. They don’t. I cannot stress this enough. You can try it out later if you want. You can try it on me after this talk. (laugh) This goes for everyone in your
life, including your pets, including your barista. It will only fuel greater results. People will move mountains for you. You may even get a free coffee out of it. Because a person who feels appreciated will always do more than what is expected. Which leads me to nonverbal communication, the most dangerous of them all. (chuckles) This is part of
(stutters) communication, I couldn’t even say “communication,” that comes with a lot of baggage. Take labels, for example. Labels are one of those things. Our labels govern how
we look at ourselves, they govern how people
communicate with us. Each label carries a different
meaning for different people. Think back to the examples I gave of stylization and the Miyazaki reference, and let’s apply that to
the word “developer.” At Valve, artists are
considered developers. Let me say that again. Artists are considered
developers at Valve. I know that’s not the
case in most other places. But just try that on for a minute. That changes the perceived
role of the artist, doesn’t it? Right off the bat, this communicates that artists are equally
important in game design, which is true. It unites people of different
disciplines to work together. Now, this also opens
up a different problem, because that assumes that
everybody under that umbrella speaks the same language
or thinks the same, which we’ve already discussed. So apply previous slides. On your team, how do labels impact you? Are artists segregated from
that title of developer? What’s the result? Perhaps they’re less involved
in the design process, or maybe they’re completely detached from the team altogether. Does it change their value in the company? Ponder this and consider. It’s important to clearly
define your labels as a way to communicate the
role of each individual. Valve does not use fixed, specific job titles for that reason. It allows us to participate, to grow, to expand, to expand as individuals, without being locked down
into only writing code or only painting brick
textures for eternity. Speaking of painting brick
textures and writing code, let’s turn our attention to process. Remember the triangle? Yes? I drew that. (laughs) 10 years of experience. (audience applauds) Each corner needs to fire, and also, thank you, thank you for the appreciation. (audience laughs) Each corner needs to
fire at all cylinders. So developing them at the same time will keep the vehicle
moving forward cohesively. The result is flow and rhythm. So what does flow look like? Well, clear communication
on how to break up your work amongst each other is
a good starting point. Who’s doing what? Find your team’s dynamic
and find your rhythm. BioShock 2’s process was successful in achieving flow amongst their team. So let’s talk about that,
let’s take a look briefly. First of all, what they did was, they designed the
functional space as a whole. They got that down on paper. Just got the functional space down. Once that was solidified, they established the aesthetic experience using emotional descriptors,
those feeling words. Then, when they have got that, they got that all sorted
out, the general idea, they began to work together on
breaking down that structure. And within each smaller space,
they rinsed and repeated, did the same process over again. How do we want this
experience to be in this area? Da ta da ta da. And once all that was laid out, they could all break apart and go off and be confident in their disciplines to make it happen. In other words, they created a culture that supported autonomy, with clear goals throughout
the whole process. So when people on your
team can work autonomously, it enables passion for the project. Unleashing imagination results in fun, which results in people wanting to work. I mean, this is video games, it’s fun. It’s supposed to be fun,
playing them and making them. So when we’re having fun, we
can really get into our work, be it an art piece, writing
code, or simply play testing. All this results more
dependably on a good product. Allowing space for that
to happen is invaluable. So let’s check out the
process of a wonderful company out in Denmark, who is responsible for the amazing games Limbo and Inside. If you haven’t seen them, check them out, and see how autonomy
opened up the opportunity to create a couple breathtaking games. So trust and process together,
it allows for autonomy. It generates flow and
rhythm and communication. And the result is extraordinary. They kinda had the same processes. BioShock 2 started off with a broad thing, broke down into small thing,
broke apart autonomously, got it done. But this is kinda what
their structured routine looks like there, just briefly. On a daily basis, they do
a 10:00 a.m. circle-up, talk about what was done the day before, what is planned for today, and then they break apart. Throughout the day, there might be some short unscheduled two
to three person meetings, desk hopping, but they’re really efficient and they keep it super minimal. On a weekly basis, the
art team gets together, they do a playthrough, take notes, then go off, do the work. And then, when shipping time comes around, they have bigger meetings,
marketing strategy, bigger tasks like that. But they organize them into “sprints,” so it’s still, it’s again very efficient. And ta-dah, they have some
really awesome little games. So allowing space for
autonomy is important. Allowing space for inspiration
is just as important, too. It’s more important than
just having an idea alone. No matter how good the idea is. So let the artist do what
they’re passionate about. Let them go somewhere no
one has looked before, outside of what has already
been done in the industry, different cultures, different landscapes, obscure film, fine art. Team Fortress is a prime example
of this, Team Fortress 2. TF 2’s art direction was heavily inspired by a artist from the
golden age of illustration, so out of the box. J.C. Leyendecker was a big one. So you can see the
stylization that was sampled from his shapes, from his proportions, as well as Dean Cornwell. See the characters
against the backgrounds, their shape relationships,
color palette influence? Looking in new places for inspiration allowed for the creation
of a very unique product that still exists today. But the key to all of this stuff, all this communication stuff, what it boils down to is respect. Respect is the culmination of all of these things put together. Respect and belief in
each other’s expertise allows for autonomy, inspiration, and just plain getting along. With respect for the
process and one another, every interaction is easier. You will get results that
surpass your wildest dreams. It makes breakdowns in
communication less and less, not to mention easily remedied. Without respect, you’ve
got yourself a recipe for a messy game of Pictionary. And if you remember, nobody wants to play
Pictionary with the diva. Thank you. (audience applauds) That was Adam Duncan again, from Armello. Does anybody have any questions? Now or later? Probably not. I was pretty clear in
my communication, right? (Andrea and audience laugh) (audience member speaks off-microphone) Who was? (audience member speaks off-microphone) Melissa King? That last one, sorry. Thank you, sorry. Sorry, Melissa. Yes. (audience member speaks off-microphone) You can yell, too. Yelling is a part of communication. – [Audience Member] What
if you have a coworker that doesn’t really
respect what you’re doing? Do you have another example
in how to go about that, than just going to their desk and doing the same thing
that they’re doing to you? – Yeah, I probably wouldn’t do that. – [Man] Can you repeat the question? – He asked, what do you
do if you have a coworker who doesn’t respect what you’re doing? Kind of like Karla’s example, except she kind of took
the brutal route (laughs) and went and did the
same thing back to him. Just bring it up, “I feel disrespected,” just talk about it. Right? I mean, just let them know. ‘Cause he might not even know. That’s the thing, is, if you’re
just sitting there quietly, he might be clueless. It’ll at least open up a
different awareness for him. (audience member speaks off-microphone) He listened, thank you. Communicate, yes, speak up. You gotta stand up for yourself, too. But you don’t have to take
drastic measures, either. Hey. – Yes, I have a pretty specific question about the technical communication aspects, like, where you talked
about how artists will say, “Oh, make it like a Miyazaki film,” “Oh, here’s what I mean by that.” – [Andrea] Yes. – I’ve often used that in my own company. Like, my writer will
get a lot of source art that we’ll use to illustrate what he’s talking about and things. But I was wondering, is there
a downside to that method? ‘Cause I remember watching
this YouTube video about how in music, in movies, they’ll use a thing called “temp music” when they’re editing. And the director will put in
music from some other movie, and he’ll get, like, super attached with. And then the composer is
really kind of boxed in. Is there a problem sometimes
in art communication pipelines where somebody’s not an artist, is like, “Okay, I kind of want
it to look like this,” and they just grab something and then they get fixated on
that, and now you’re in a box? – Totally. I mean, there’s a big difference
between pulling up visuals to kinda communicate
what you’re trying to say when the words aren’t working. But if you’re sampling
other people’s artwork and putting it in your game, or sound or anything, what happens is, you start
building around that. So when it comes time to put the real art or the real sound in, it doesn’t fit, because you’re basing it
off of something else. And that’s where that
triangle comes into play, where everything is kind of moving together at the same time, everything is being developed
together at the same time, so you can avoid that. So using pictures to communicate
what you’re trying to say in, say, a meeting or something like that, totally awesome. Using other artists for
inspiration, totally awesome. But putting it in your experience and then building around that, you’re gonna set yourself up
for a lot of backtracking. So yeah, really good question,
really good question. I think that happens a lot. – Hey, what if you have,
say, got two designers who have drastically
different vocabularies, like, they might as well be
speaking different languages? In most cases, you can
work around with it. I mean, it slows down
development a little bit, but you can work with it. How do you get ’em to
agree on game terminology that’s exposed to players? – Oh, that’s a good idea. I was just talking to
somebody about this yesterday. That is a really good idea. Maybe just sit down and say, what, do you pull out
a thesaurus? (chuckles) Say, seriously, “Do these
words communicate what, “does this mean to you
what it means to me? Yes?” And maybe agree on a vocabulary
that you use together. Or even just try out
each other’s vocabulary, see if you can get to know
what they mean by that. It’s kind of like learning
a new language sometimes. It can be really frustrating. But once you get that kind of agreement, it just makes everything so much easier. Does that make sense? Or did you have a further
part of the question, like, how do you do that? – If they absolutely can’t agree, like, “This is what we should call
this mechanic to the users,” and they just– – [Andrea] Oh, for the users. – Yeah, they both think, “This is “what this should be called,” or, “The users won’t understand this or that.” – Play test it. Play test it with some users and say, “Does that communicate what
we’re trying to do to you?” I mean, you can play test terminology, you can play test art on people in your audience or your friends, or within anybody else in
your company or on your team. Say, “Does this communicate the tool “or the game play that
we’re trying to get across?” – [Audience Member] Thank you. – Yeah, you’re welcome. – First off, thanks for the talk. – [Andrea] Thank you,
thank you for thanking me. (audience chuckles) I’m not gonna start a cycle. – [Andrea] Don’t, okay, don’t. (audience laughs) ‘Cause I’ll keep going. (laughs) – Do you have any advice on communicating during, like, deadlines
or stressful situation, when tempers are starting to run thin? – Don’t yell. (audience chuckles) I think taking breaks is really important. Like, even if it’s 15 minutes. You know, when you feel like
things are getting heated, just be, like, “You know
what, I just need to cool off, “gonna go over here for a minute, “let’s talk again in 15 minutes.” I think keeping your composure
is the most important part. Like, you can’t control what
the other person is doing ever, but they will feed off
of how you’re reacting. So if you’re highly reactive, then they get defensive,
then you get more defensive, and then you talk louder, and da da da da, and it’s like this,
(fingers snap) kind of culmination of climbing a ladder. So if you just can worry
about what’s going on in your physiology, (laughs) that will definitely affect the vibration between the two of you. So take a break, step back. Drink some tea. – Okay, thank you. – Lay off the caf, get some sleep. Sleep is really important. Does that help? Yeah, okay. – Projects could be shut down for a million and one reasons. Do you have any advice, like,
any communicational advice on how to stop project or stop working with a group of people
without burning any bridges? – Oh, good question. Be authentic. – [Audience Member] Yeah, I figured. – I mean, when you’re
authentic with where you’re at and why things aren’t working for you, I mean, you might hurt someone’s feelings, but you can’t be responsible
for that, either. But I think just being really clear with why it’s not working out. You wanna save the project and you feel like your exit might
be the way to do that. Or you feel you may be
more valuable elsewhere. Having an honest conversation
is the best way to go. Then you don’t have to
make anything up, either. (laughs) Great.
– Awesome. Thanks for the advice.
– You’re welcome. – I was wondering if you had any, like, favorite resources for learning
more about communication, both for artists and then developers, and then also for the leaders, as well. – Well, get older. (audience laughs) Just get older. (laughs) Age is a good resource. Just practice more. Like, test these things out. It’s, like, start being a witness to how you’re communicating,
how people are relating to you. There are a lot of awesome resources that I don’t know if
you want me to get into that I’ve listened to. It’s, like, a lot of
non-game industry-type stuff. If you wanna talk to me afterwards, I can give you some without
totally embarrassing myself in front of you guys.
(audience chuckles) Self-help books. (laughs) – [Audience Member] Hello.
– Hi. – Thanks for the paradigm.
– Yes, thank you. – Was really helpful.
– Good. – It was definitely helpful
for artists, I think, ’cause it helps them give a document they can give to engineers
and the designers to say this is the space they need. But as an engineer designer, especially with younger artists, I’m having trouble articulating
certain requirements that they must meet for art to
be functional within a game, or to meet specifications
that the team has agreed upon. I think with more mature artists, they don’t have this problem of that kind of, like, go/no go critical feedback. Like, “This does not
work, please fix this,” and the artists tend to
correct their own process. But younger artists tend to get hurt. They tend to get emotionally withdrawn, which creates its own
tensions in the team dynamics. So, as somebody who is possibly, I wanna communicate better
with these young artists. I want them to feel empowered, I want them to feel alive
and part of the project. When they continue to make mistakes, could you please give me some advice on how to bring them to the fold, bring them to the fold and to the table so we can actually have
a constructive process? – I would suggest approaching it as, like, an educational type thing, instead of, “You’re not doing it right. “I’m gonna show you how to do it right.” Kinda makes a person feel bad, like they’re doing something wrong. But acknowledge that
they’re new to the industry. Say, “Hey, I understand
it’s hard to get a job “in this industry without experience. “So I’m here to help you
with that experience.” Like, “Here is the educational piece “of working with people on a team “that you don’t get in school.” So approaching it, I think, maybe as, like, not that you’re better than them, but teaching the ropes. Approach it more like an
educational building block. – [Audience Member] Okay.
– Does that make se-? Is that kind of how
you’re doing it already? – Yeah, and sometimes it
comes across as patronizing, which–
– of course. – It’s ugh! But it’s, yeah, it’s totally
how I communicate to people, is, like, “These are the
facts as I understand them,” and that can come across very poorly. So yeah, I guess my takeaway is that, try to create a relationship where we’re building something together, I’m there to help them as many times as necessary
before they understand it. – You don’t wanna waste your time, either, doing that, right. So, appreciation, start
off with appreciation. “Hey, I see so much potential in you. “Here are some things that
are just gonna skyrocket you “in this industry,” and get ’em excited about what you’re about to show them. Instead of, “You know, I
see what you’re doing wrong, “and I wanna fix you,” it’s more like, “Wow, you’re doing great,
and these are some things “that are going to make you efficient “and faster at picking things up, “getting stuff shipped,
getting things in the game.” Does that make sense? Start off with acknowledging that they’re good at what they do. – I think that stuff is important. I don’t wanna take too much time. But, like, in a Triple-A studio, a lot of times, there’s
an art director involved, and the process is bigger structure. When it’s a small indie team and you have a small number
of hand-picked people, where their passion is a lot of the reason why they’re there, like, there’s only so
much giving the advice on how much you can expect to do that before things get singed. At what point do you say,
“This is not working out,” or, I don’t know, do you have any advice on that sort of tighter, smaller dynamic? – I guess that depends
on the individual, too. I remember being a small artist, or small, (chuckles), young
artist, playing Pictionary, where it is just a matter of experience and taking some hard knocks sometimes and learning the hard way. Because you don’t wanna
take all your time, like, coddling somebody along. But you do wanna let them know that there is more experience
that they need to gain. I think starting off from a perspective of understanding where they’re at, that they’re pretty fresh in the industry, letting them know there’s more to it and you’re here to help, educate, give them that experience. Their defenses will be less, or their feelings will be less hurt. And if they get hurt feelings, I mean, they can go home and
deal with it, I guess. But you don’t wanna do
that, either, right? – Can I quote you on that? (audience laughs) Just kidding.
– Go for it, let’s go. – Thank you, thank you very much. – That help, I hope? Yeah?
– It was, thank you. – Yeah, thank you. Next? – Hi, thank you for the talk. It was really informative. What advice would you give
for a senior concept artist transitioning to an art director role for better communicating and articulating their vision and style for a project, not just to artists, but
also the entire team? – Oh Lord. See, we don’t have art directors, (laughs) so I don’t have experience in that, to be honest with you. – Well, just some general, like, communicating a vision
or style of something that is in you mind, but you’ve never had
to really break it down for other artists before. – You’ve never had, okay. So you’re an artist talking to artists? – [Audience Member] I’m
asking for a friend. – You’re asking for a friend.
(audience laughs) it would be a scenario, though, where the artist is
presenting to other artists? – Yeah. – That makes it a lot easier. Like, go pretty soft with it and ask people to explore on it. Say, “Take this, if it
inspires you, run with it. “If it doesn’t inspire you, “take it and bring it into a direction “that would inspire you more,
but with this general idea.” But give them a little bit
of autonomy with it, too, a little authority, without
going way off the deep end. Does that make sense?
– Yeah. – Does that help? – Yeah.
– Good. – Thanks. – Hello.
– Hello. – Thanks for your talk. About the diva thing, when
is it best to be submissive for the sake of team morale when you’re working together on a design? Like, you’re really
passionate, you really believe that this will help the project. But you know if you shut
the other person down– – You don’t wanna shut
the other person down? Why not? – Well, (sighs) when
team morale goes down, I feel like production
takes a big hit, too. – So you think you’re
responsible for team’s morale? – Yes.
– No, you’re not. Say what you, say your idea. It could feel, like,
somebody else could be, like, “Oh my God, that’s amazing,”
and think of something else, and the conversation could grow into something really big and better. And if they don’t like it, then
they say they don’t like it. It’s fine. Yeah, don’t worry about it at all. If you have a good idea,
say it out loud, yeah. Hope that helps. Anybody else? Cool. Thanks, guys, appreciate it. (audience applauds) Enjoy the rest of your evening. (lively music)

8 thoughts on “The Art of Communication: Decoding the Creative Relationship

  1. 44.17, very good advice! Not only towards artists, but in general. You should avoid saying things like that to your colleagues/employees as it can really be hurtful and counterproductive

  2. Only an American could stress the importance of using language effectively while throwing out jargon like "circle up" and "descriptor". Not to mention the repeated use of "kindaa" and "sortaaa". A sorry state of affairs

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