Tuesday, May 24, 2016

GDC 2016 - Art Leadership Roundtable - Day 3

For the third and final day, we crowd-sourced the key topic again, and the winner was Artist Career Path.  Second place topic went to outsourcing, which I will make a key topic next year, for certain.
Although, Artist Career Path is a very broad topic - we seemed to focus primarily on the path to entry level positions -- this is unsurprising, as more and more students are coming to GDC each year.

Therefore, we started on the topic of entry level positions.  Generally, fewer entry level positions are available now than ever before.  So, the question was posed, how do you make entry level positions available?
  • One studio indicated that they create positions specifically for students.  Naturally, this can be affected by the studio's proximity to relevant schools.  Regardless, summer internships provide an opportunity to craft a focused ~2 month training period.
  • Another attendee indicated that they see interns as a "try before you buy" opportunity.  It's a solid test program, which in turn can lead to full-time employment or remote contract opportunities.
  • The better the relationship between the studio and the school, the higher the quality the applicants.  If possible, artists at your studio should be teaching and training the next generation of employees.  Furthermore, this provides an opportunity for the studio to approach graduates before they start applying.  On a personal note, I'm opposed to studio's poaching students before they complete their degree.  This bullet point is about getting a jump start on students who are nearing completion of a program.
  • Another attendee strongly encouraged students to start freelancing / contracting while they are in school.  Rather than waiting for a position to be posted, they should look for any opportunities to build upon their portfolio as soon as reasonably possible.
  • Another participant countered with their own experience -- they indicated that, in Spain, the economic situation creates an environment where studios can take advantage of students.  While we didn't explore the full depth of the problem, it doesn't take much imagination to foresee a scenario in which limited opportunities plus an eager pool of talent could yield a setting in which employers avoid full-time hires and instead rely on a large pool of underpaid "volunteers."
  • The international vantage point inspired others to share their own experiences.  One developer indicated that, in Poland, the studios will bring in talented artists without requiring a formal education.  This was interesting to hear, and easily validates the comment that portfolio trumps degree -- something I've found myself debating academia here in the US periodically.
  • Another attendee shared their studio's desire to actively solicit students from other countries.
  • In contrast, another developer expressed concern about the German development pool, where it was said that they had an overabundance of junior artists and interns and not enough senior staff to properly train and/or lead.
So, I asked the attendees how they went about locating interns?  How did they attract them?  Purely with compensation, or something else entirely?
  • One studio shared that they had a dedicated recruiter, specifically for students/interns.  Others indicated that this was a shared responsibility between staffing managers and/or regular recruiters.
  • Some studios indicated that they offered paid internships.  Most also seemed to offer a housing stipend as well.
  • Other studios said they only did unpaid internships, but realized that this limited their pool of candidates to those who were semi-local.
Next, I asked who trains your interns?  Do you offer a dedicated training resource?  How does production support interns within the confines of project management?
  • One participant strongly advocated for the creation of a training community culture. This is often most effective will nurtured from the ground up.  As culture is best influenced through hiring practices, this strategy is best employed through the recruiting of artists who are inspired to learn, share and inspire others.  In this environment, the intern will be trained up naturally.
  • Another attendee advised that interns should be brought into the formal structure of the team or studio.  Some studios bring interns into an area or department whose work might be ancillary or one step removed from core development.  I agree that embedding them into the full project is where the greatest opportunity for both learning and benefit can be sought.
  • As for the budgeting question, one person indicated that it is often best to identify a different budget pool for interns separate from the project.  Naturally, I expect this requires buy in from the highest level of the studio.  However, this is definitely a clear and concise way in which the studio can communicate their commitment to supporting education and departmental growth.
  • As noted above, if your employees teach locally, then the impact of training can be minimized significantly.  Likewise, if your studio is closely partnered with an academic institution, you can identify skill deficiencies or staffing needs within your studio and then feed that information back to the school(s).  This requires a fair amount of future-planning, but the potential rewards are possible.
At this point, one audience member voiced the question, "What do you do when a student's portfolio is good, but you have no intern positions available?"
  • The most concise answer was to offer them full-time employment.  It's worth noting that this can cut both ways.  Yes, it may gain you a good entry-level artist immediately.  However, if this happens too frequently, it may come at a cost with your relationship with the school from which you are drawing students.
  • If, by contrast, you want the student to stay in school but continue working, explore the opportunity for contract work.
  • The general consensus from the audience was that talent/portfolio takes precedence over degree.  The logic is that if school is meant to train and skill and you can get a job -- then the school's work is done.  However, the other factors listed should be kept in mind -- especially so that hiring managers can approach the option "eyes wide open."
Next, I asked how the studio (or team) identifies that an intern isn't a fit.  Related, we also touched on the process of interviewing intern candidates.  The following comments were shared:
  • It was pointed out that, with a proper coaching/mentoring structure in place, the team will be the first to identify the problem -- potentially ahead of the staffing manager or recruiter.
  • It was also noted that putting interns through a formal interview process (despite the fact that there may be a lower bar to entry) is an effective way to "culture screen" an intern candidate.
  • Related to this, it's great if the intern has strong rapport and/or a good sense of humor. However, being a "fit" is about a match in values,and the team needs to have a clear understanding of their values to compare against.
  • This goes well beyond just intern candidates, but it is crucial that interviewers be thinking about the studio's culture as well as their organizational values.  Yes, this does mean adequately training people who are going to be interviewing.  Hiring and dismissal are the two most effective tools at establishing and preserving culture; investing heavily in the former will save you from having to deal with the latter.
  • Some attendees shared that their studios have been giving feedback to academia on preparing interns for interviews -- more specifically, institutions should make students interview for a position in a highly sought-after class.
  • In addition to interviewing experience, students/interns should also have experience working on game jams (either through formal curriculum or through external participation).
Although we didn't delve deeply into the topic, in our last few minutes we did touch on the topic of ethnic and cultural boundaries/differences.  As development teams have become more varied, there has developed a growing need to understand how leadership differs from culture to culture.  A few brief takeaways that are worth sharing:
  • Develop a sense of cultural awareness.  Recognize that people are different, and become interested in those differences.
  • One particular book was recommended:  Beyond Culture by Edward T. Hall
  • Lastly, successful leaders/managers will be those who move beyond awareness and begin to take an interest in understanding those differences.  This is not meant to suggest infinite flexibility, but rather a willingness to learn and a desire to seek engagement.
 Before I wrap this final GDC2016 post, I wanted to take one last moment to thank all of the participants and attendees at the Art Leadership Roundtable.  Your presence and engagement is what keeps me coming back year after year.  And I hope to see many of you again in 2017

Speaker Evaluation

Here is the raw, unedited report from the day's roundtable

Art Leadership Roundtable: Day3

Friday, March 18th at 10:00AM

Room 120, North Hall
Total Headcount: 77

Roundtable Session Ranking within Visual Arts Track: your session is ranked 7 of 12

Roundtable Session Ranking within GDC 2016: your session ranked 15 of 59

Session Totals (This Session)
Percentage of Responses

These are my favorite sessions of the show, and are truly helpful to industry professionals.
i dont want to spend this valuble time talking about stuff related to students and recruitment. Should be more sbout leadership
Great moderation and discussion today
Want to attend next year!
Worthwhile. Lots to learn. Though the room size is too small. Had to queue and wasn't allowed in.
This roundtable session (and the others) were by far my favorite sessions because of my chance of participation and being among both beginners and veterans.
I look forward to this roundtable every year. It's extremely useful and well run.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

GDC 2016 - Art Leadership Roundtable - Day 2

For the second day, we crowd-sourced the key topic and the winner was Art Culture.

I was curious about the audience's experiences, so I polled the attendees and asked who felt like they were currently working at a studio that did not have a strong art culture -- or desperately needed to improve the art culture they had.  A small, but still noteworthy, number of hands were raised.  In response, I asked these people to share the key reasons they felt they had a poor art culture:
  • Failure to regularly meet as an art group.  When the group fails to synchronize, the opportunity to build the team or develop into a cohesive "tribe" is lost.
  • Art not a priority.  I asked for more clarity on this particular one.  The attendee responded that they were from a small start up that was still forming and that the pace of development didn't truly allow for a lot of artistic introspection.  They had sacrificed art culture for productivity.
  • Another attendee echoed these comments.  Limited production time created an atmosphere where everyone moved at a speed that didn't allow for comment or critique let alone social development of the art staff.
  • This comment, in turn, triggered another point.  One attendee came from a studio that didn't really have a social culture.  The employees merely did their own work and didn't interact much within the studio and almost never outside of the studio.  This absence of social engagement seemed to have created a void where people didn't discuss artistic goals, technique or interests.
  • The last shared insight came from a studio where the attendee felt the "life had been sucked out" of the art culture.  The art group had become cynical and left despairing of their own culture.
Okay, I have to admit, this all sounded pretty terrible.  It also sounded woefully familiar.  Despite starting on a bit of a low note, it felt critical that we start identifying tools to help. I asked the attendees, those who felt like they came from a strong art culture, to begin sharing the processes, structure or activities that they felt helped foster a better art culture.

It's worth noting that many of these ideas may be cost prohibitive to a smaller studio.  Where possible, I've tried to note those items that are both relatively cheap as well as those that may well exist beyond reach.  Not every studio has the same budget/resources, therefore it's worth knowing which options best fit within a studio's reach.
  • Visual Leader.  This may sound obvious, but some studios don't have an art director or, aside from the title, lack a key individual who champions the artistic growth of the studio.  This is the first step in building a cohesive art culture -- someone with the experience and the knowledge to guide and develop the art staff.
  • Craft Meetings.  These may also be called discipline meetings.  Separate from project-level meetings, the idea of these meetings is to gather those artists who work in the same area (characters, environments, animation, etc.) to talk about the challenges they are facing as well as share their inspiration and techniques.  Aside from the relatively small time commitment, these meetings are cheap and are a good opportunity for artists to connect regularly.
  • Relative to the creation of craft or discipline communities, one attendee suggested weekly/monthly challenges to engage the staff in competitive yet friendly competition.  I personally like this idea as it engages artists in work outside of the regular project.  However, if project deadlines loom, then these efforts will likely get put on hold for a period of time.  If so, the on-again-off-again nature may dissuade some from participation.
  • Place Leads over each Discipline.  This necessitates having a moderate sized staff, but there is value in having one person as the lead representative of the group.  This is taking the informal structure of the craft meetings and formalizing it with a structure that identifies a person who may be tasked with the specific development of the group.  The risk here lies in selecting someone who has leadership skills as well as craft skills.
  • Offsites.  The potential cost on such an activity ranges.  Low cost options can be limited to local galleries or even social events.  These are often best viewed as events to bolster the communication strength of the group rather than any specific craft skill.
  • Newsletter.  This requires an engaged visual art leader or at least an art manager.  Generally, the cost is low aside from the time collecting images and publishing the document.  However, those who take on the responsibility of creating a newsletter should know that the culture gains that come from having one could backfire should the priority of a newsletter dwindle and/or die.
  • Gallery shows.  A relatively low-cost option as long as the gallery/museum/venue is reasonably close.  This is assuming that your team is visiting the gallery to view the work of others.  Arranging a gallery of your own team's work, however, comes with a steeper cost.  The benefit may be worth it, but the organizer should approach this option knowing that it will be costly in terms of time and effort.
  • Dedicated Training Space.  Having spent time as a training manager within Blizzard Academy, I'm particularly fond of this idea.  However, this is an incredibly high-cost option.  The space, the hardware and the software are just the baseline costs.  Once you factor in the time finding/funding trainers (internal or external) as well as the time invested in training and this becomes a barrier too steep for all but the largest organizations.  For most studios, investing the time in supporting small grassroots art initiatives is far more reasonable -- and cost effective.  I asked the attendees and the general consensus was that the success of any such initiative rested wholly on the support of the studio/senior management.
  • However, some types of art classes likely don't require a dedicated training space at all.  Figure drawing, sculpture or painting are the types of social/artistic events that could fit into most common spaces.  The cost varies, but I imagine in most cases the artists should be willing to absorb the material costs themselves.
  • One attendee shared their experience of having the studio organize a "talk-show interview" format for building culture.  I thought this was an interesting idea.  Assuming all artists are viable candidates in turn, the opportunity to shed light on everyone's background and techniques could yield benefits both social and practical.  My personal estimate is that the cost for this would be relatively moderate and mostly on the time/organization as opposed to money.  I'd peg this one at relatively low cost, though it does obviously scale up between figure drawing and painting.
  • It's worth noting that in addition to the internal interview option just listed, a studio could also bring in external speakers.  However, this may be a high-cost option depending on where the studio is located relative to where the guests live.  I predict the cost would be insurmountable for "celebrity" art guests.  However, each studio should explore local art talent to see if there are opportunities to bring in creatives from industries outside of game development.
  • One attendee shared the idea of permitting project mobility.  In this instance, the studio afforded artists the opportunity to shift focus between art disciplines (the skills are still required) and/or between projects.  This allows artists to engage in a variety of creative work as well as build social structures beyond a single team or discipline.  However, I foresee this as a relatively moderate-to-high cost option due to the nature of project scheduling.  Nevertheless, if your studio can afford this level of flexibility, then this is definitely worth consideration.
  • An effective yet low-cost option was voiced by another attendee.  They indicated that one of the best ways they had seen culture improve was through the promotion of accomplishment.  Once the team had someone who was championing their work, the sense of pride and progress buoyed the spirits of the team.  In addition, this was an openly manifest showing of appreciation from the art leader(s).
  • The idea of collecting ref boards or inspiration was also suggested.  Artists should be in the habit of crafting ref boards for themselves -- especially where concept art may not be present.  However, I was particularly drawn to this idea as an opportunity to have the staff participate in visual direction.  While the final decision would still lie with the art leader, the opportunity for artists to collect images and present their ideas can create an atmosphere where everyone feels invested in the direction.
  •  Lastly, the idea of team members engaging in side projects was voiced.  These could be small game jams or even maker projects outside of game development entirely.  In terms of social construction, these are often great opportunities for staff to share their interests and passions beyond the current project.  Over the course of my career, I've seen developers work together on projects ranging from cosplay to arcade cabinet restoration to robotics.  These are relatively low-cost; however, the challenge lie in getting these efforts started as they are frequently built from the ground up by individuals with shared interests.  These aren't the types of events that can be managed by the studio; however, they can be shown support through some of the other ideas on display (galleries, newsletters, show-n-tell, etc.)
Lastly, there was a handful of general comments that were espoused over the course of the roundtable.  Rather than try to weave them into the conversation notes above, I've collected them here.
  • A number of ideas were shared, both for teams and for individual craft disciplines.  The comment was made that efforts for the overall team should be pursued first, rather than tackling disciplines and risking the perception of preferrential treatment.
  • Many artists like to work while listening to music -- I admit that I do when I need to focus (and I have a desk in a large shared office space).  It's critical to maintain a culture of accessibility if you use headphones.
  • Culture is something of which you should be mindful.  It is also something that is extremely challenging to mandate.  By mindfulness, the team or project must have the self-awareness to understand how policies or processes are going to impact the culture.  These things (in additional to staffing choices) are likely to have greater impact on culture than any efforts to sit down and merely talk about the culture you want.  Ultimately, leadership choices have more impact on how the art team interprets and applies culture to the organization.
  • Ultimately, culture is about maintaining creative energy and engagement on the project -- by doing things outside of the project.
  • Learning and social engagement can take many forms beyond just art.  Many broad ideas were expressed including karaoke, street fighter presentations, as well as history-focused hiking tours.
Although culture has been a topic of past roundtables, it's good to get back to this topic every couple of years.  Many similar comments are heard, but I'm also surprised by how many new suggestions are forthcoming.  Ultimately, we learn through repetition and I'm happy to revisit topics for newcomers and veterans alike.

Speaker Evaluation

Here is the raw, unedited report from the day's roundtable

Art Leadership Roundtable: Day2

Thursday, March 17th at 11:30AM

Room 120, North Hall
Total Headcount: 99

Roundtable Session Ranking within Visual Arts Track: your session is ranked 8 of 12

Roundtable Session Ranking within GDC 2016: your session ranked 16 of 59

Session Totals (This Session)
Percentage of Responses

Went to all three sections. Definitely will come back.
This roundtable session (and the others) were by far my favorite sessions because of my chance of participation and being among both beginners and veterans.
I learned a lot from experienced art directors.
I only wish the roundtable was longer. Excellent roundtable!
another day of amazing insight.
I really enjoyed participating in this round table
Roundtables are the best. The discussion on culture was really inspiring.
Keith always runs a great roundtable.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

GDC 2016 - Art Leadership Roundtable - Day 1

We started the first day's session with a topic that has received a lot of past praise.  We started with attendees listing the traits of successful Art Leaders.  Here are the attributes listed by the audience, and I had pointedly asked that current art leaders abstain from listing traits.
  • Ability to think critically - to analyze and react to both art content as well as gameplay changes.
  • Ability to teach - This isn't always about teaching an artist how to use the tools, but instead teaching others how to make good choices and how to work as a team.
  • Being able to rally the team behind an idea - absolutely critical to the cohesion of a group
  • Having an artistic eye - This may seem obvious, so I would add that being able to explain clearly why you make certain artistic choices.
  • Make decisions promptly and communicate decision to the team - I would also add transparency to the decision making process.  Ultimately, the art leader is responsible for the choices he or she makes, but should make every effort to explain why.
  • Not micromanage - This is about establishing goals (strategy) without feeling the need to control processes (tasks).
  • Presentation - the ability to stand in front of the team and speak confidently and directly
  • Knowing the strengths of the team; having empathy for the team - This is about knowing the team well enough that you're putting people in positions in which they can have the greatest impact -- building to strengths rather than correcting for weaknesses.
  • Relinquishing control - being able to trust the team (which relates to the micromanaging comment above)
  • Flexibility - Game development is hard.  The targets are always shifting and the ability to react and adapt to these changes helps the team to not become frustrated.  This is about your ability as a leader as well as your impact as a role model.
  • Open to new ideas; look to elevate ideas.  The art leader shouldn't expect themselves to have all the answers.  Rather, look for opportunities for the team to provide input and suggestions.  Art leaders are often spread to thin, and this is a key opportunity to delegate responsibility to others and provide them an opportunity to grow.
  • Understand the game - This means caring about more than just the art.  The art is just one facet of the total player experience.  Unfortunately, this often means that the art leader spends a lot of time in meetings and gameplay reviews, but this is a critical prerequisite to making good artistic choices as a leader.
  • Candor / Directness / Honesty.  This speaks for itself, especially as it relates to giving others feedback on performance.
  • Ability to prioritize.  As noted above, the art leader is often spread too thin.  A good leader develops the ability to tell between what is urgent and what is important.  Speaking from personal experience, it took me many years to learn the lesson that the important thing should always trump the urgent thing.  Sometimes I still lose track of that fact.
  • Able to support other decisions, especially those coming from other departments.  There are many leaders on a game team.  Fracture between departments can readily disrupt the ability of the team to function.  While creativity breeds conflict and is often part of the process, it is up to the leaders to see that such conflict does not breed resentment or finger-pointing.
  • Scope and Time Management.  The ability to work within limitations is often the most challenging aspect of leadership in our industry.
  • Tools / Technology - It's important to understand the limitations of content creation so as not to design outside the boundaries of what is reasonably possible.  While it is not necessary to know every aspect of a pipeline, it's important to understand the cost of a decision.  To be clear, cost can be measured in time, money as well as lost opportunities.
  • Take responsibility for failure / Admit when you're wrong.  It's important to understand that leaders didn't get to their position by never making mistakes.  If you aren't making mistakes, you aren't taking enough risks.  It's how you respond to those mistakes that defines you as a leader.
  • Provide Mentorship / Career Growth.  Challenge others and look for opportunities for others to tackle work that would normally be beyond their role.  Even if others fail, it's an opportunity for you to provide guidance and to teach.
  • Save the team from meetings.  Generally, I am not a fan of meetings.  However, game development is complex and comprised of a wide array of factors.  As a leader, is important that you stay informed.  As a good leader, it is equally important that you create an environment where the team is focused on the most important things.  It's better that you be in a meeting, and communicate the results of the meeting afterwards, than for the majority of your team be away from their desks.
It was at this point that I asked current art leaders what traits they observed (different from those listed) in successful leaders.
  • Courage - This was an interesting comment and so I asked the group at large how courage manifested itself in a leader.
    • Taking the first step - not waiting for someone else to solve the problems, but taking initiative when required
    • Defend the department - being able to take a stance on what is important for the health of the department.
    • Difficult conversations / negotiation - the ability to manage conflict and work clearly and openly towards resolution
    • Pretending to know what you're doing.  This was a particularly interesting one.  We talked briefly about "imposter syndrome;" however, the core of this comment had to do with confidence even in the face of uncertainty.
    • The ability to say "No."  This was a good one.  As others have noted, creativity (art, writing, music) is often more about subtraction than addition.  It's up to the art leader to know when to cut, even if it's something they or the team wants.
    • Hold the path.  Ultimately, this was about holding a consistent vision.  It's not about stubbornness; an art leader must know when they've made the wrong decision.  It is, instead, about not overreacting in the face of criticism or discouragement.  Tactics may change, but strategy should go through refinement not rewrites.
  • Manage expectations - This is a broad idea. In short, the art leader needs to communicate the quality bar, but also clarify expectations on what is reasonable for delivery. There are actually many expectations that need to be managed in the leadership role.
  • Delegation - As noted above, the art leader is frequently overburdened. The best way to tackle this situation is to identify the strengths of your team members and seek out opportunities to delegate more work to others. Even if they may not do the work the same way that you do, it's a great opportunity to challenge others and at the same time free up some of your own time for higher priorities. 
  • One-on-Ones / Solicit feedback - a strong leader makes time for individual meetings. More importantly, the leader creates a safe environment to solicit feedback on their own performance. The strong art leader recognizes that their role has as much to do with providing support to the team as it does providing direction. 
  •  Creating Art - this was an unexpected comment, which we pursued further. 
    • With the team / not too distant - Even if the art leader isn't focused on creating specific content, it's still important that they be part of the art team rather than becoming too disconnected. Many art leaders maintain their connection through art critiques, providing paint overs and making time to sit with the team and solicit their own critique on work. 
    • Lost time creating art - the counterpoint is that too much time focused on creating art comes at the expense of not directing the team. It's a balancing act for sure. 
    • Loss of trust - if the art leader becomes too disconnected from the art team and from the art content, the team may slowly begin losing trust in their leadership. 
    • Hard to create art when reactionary.  This comment was focused on the need to be forward-looking.  In truth, much of art direction is reacting to what has been created, and as the team grows in size and as the project moves into later production stages, it does become more difficult to function as an individual contributor.
    • There are different expectations for mobile.  This comment was useful as much of the expectations we set for larger teams don't translate well to mobile development or smaller team sizes.  For example, on smaller teams, the art leader is much more likely to be needed for crafting content because everyone "wears a lot of hats."
    • Take the thankless work.  It's important that the art leader not just take the prime assignments.  The comment suggested that the leader take the worst work.  Having had more time to think on it, I think it's more important that the art lead take the work that makes the most sense -- the team focuses on their strengths and so does the art leader.
    • Fixing art for consistency - This relates to the need to craft paintovers.  The art leader should make every effort to ensure that there are few if any gross discrepancies in art style or quality.
    • Tech fixes - At other studios, the art leader may find themselves in a role where they are driving the technical efficiency of art content.  As noted above, this requires that the art leader has a strong knowledge of the pipeline
For the second half of the session, I asked the attendees to list the traits of "challenged" Art Leaders.  I asked that they not just list the antonyms of the positive traits.  Rather, the goal was to call out observable problems in leadership.  I've culled those items listed in the session that are explained above.
  • Ego - Ego is a double-edged sword, as noted previously on this blog.  In the negative case, ego blinds the art leader to their own shortcomings and prevents them from identifying (and addressing) problem areas of the project.
  • Personal Preference > product needs - The challenged leader puts their own subjective opinions ahead of what the project needs or what the gameplay dictates.
  • Not balancing work/life; being a role model - Many art leaders work hard and work long hours with the team.  As in any other profession, there are some who meet the criteria of "workaholic."  This comment is caution for the art leader who fails to balance work and life and thereby sets an unrealistic example for the team.
  • Reviewing in isolation / unbalanced feedback - The art leader is best reviewing content with the team rather than separate from the team.  Receiving notes third-hand often lacks context and results in feedback that become "unbalanced" -- not in sync with other aspects of the game.
  • Fails to celebrate success - The art leader needs to be careful not to just focus on problem areas without calling attention to the things that are genuinely successful.
  • Lack of clarity - "make it pop" - There's a certain amount of "art-speak" that all art leaders are subject to.  However, the failure to provide clarity can lead to confusion and frustration.  The art leader is better off referring to specific elements of design, color and/or composition.
  • Non-collaborative - throws other under the bus - As noted, the ego-driven art leader cannot accept their own failure and will be inclined to blame the team rather than take responsibility for their mistakes.
  • Can't communicate values - One of the most critical steps in communicating vision is to identify the values or the pillars for the art style.  This sets the criteria by which critique functions.
  • Can't answer "why" - The art leader needs to be able to answer this question.  Making a subjective art call is insufficient.
  • Playing favorites - This one can be tricky.  Oftentimes, the art leader has come up through the ranks with other artists.  They may achieve the position of art leader having already built a number of strong relationships with others.  Therefore, it's critical that the art leader not reinforce perceptions of favoritism -- rather all artists should be critiqued in the same manner.  In addition, an art director should make every effort NOT to select their leads based on those people they like -- rather, the art director should focus on the abilities and the likelihood that the lead will complement the abilities of the director (making up for their own potential weak spots).
  • Impatience - As noted, the art leader can be overburdened.  However, it's critical that the time that is devoted to the team isn't hurried or seem unimportant.  That isn't to say that the art leader can't push for efficient use of their time.
  • Drive-by feedback; skipping past the structure - This one is critical to any leadership structure with layers.  If leads are in place, then the director should endeavor to drive feedback with the lead or through interaction.  If the director gives feedback in conflict with the lead, it can undermine the team's confidence.
Our first session went by too quickly.  However, it was a great start to the sessions and paved the way for topics on subsequent days. 

Speaker Evaluation

Lastly, I wanted to do something new with the write-up this year.  Here is the raw, unedited report from the day's roundtable

Art Leadership Roundtable: Day 1

Wednesday, March 16th at 2:00 pm

Room 120, North Hall
Total Headcount: 92

Roundtable Session Ranking within Visual Arts Track: your session is ranked 10 of 12

Roundtable Session Ranking within GDC 2016: your session ranked 38 of 59

Session Totals (This Session)
Percentage of Responses

This round table had a very well organized structure, while remaining adaptive to the natural flow of the group conversation.
Direct, but very quiet audience. Wish there was more to it in just one seasion. I know, people complain, but overall it was good.

Very proactive round table ... Very successful

It was really hard to hear what everyone was saying, maybe use microphones?

I enjoyed it and found the host lively and out going.

Really helpful session with an excellent speaker. Can't wait for Day Two

Fantastic energy and a good group effort to define what a good (and challenged) AD is made of.

Presenter was charismatic, but the content of the talk felt top level, didn't really dig into the topic.

I normally l love this round table. This year the conversation was subdued and many talked to the moderator mostly. I thought it was a waste of time to do a list of "qualities of challenged ADs" when we had just listed good traits? It's just the flip side of the first list and felt like we were covering the same ground.

Great and loved the info especially the different thoughts between perception of an Art Director and what one actually does.

Amazingly great! Love the speaker!

Very insightful

Sometimes difficult to hear. Also I missed more discussions instead of just write a list with quite obvious things. Too big group?

This roundtable session (and the others) were by far my favorite sessions because of my chance of participation and being among both beginners and veterans.

Great interactive talk, lots of good shared ideas and lessons.

Fantastic I love they way this was done. Best speaker by far.

Good discussion and insights for art direction from peers and senior artists.

I really enjoyed participating in this round table