Brandon Schmittling, BADAS 2004, has worked in the digital arts, cybersecurity, and product design industries for over 16 years since he graduated from the University of Florida. He is currently an Associate Director of Product Design at Tripadvisor in Singapore.
In what ways did your Digital Arts and Sciences experience prepare you for your career?
Because I grew up as the Internet was first becoming available, I cut my teeth on digital creative work well before I was exposed to the sensibilities of fine arts, the design process, and any kind of formal creative practice. I was fortunate to have worked on my high school’s video production team and I entered college with the perhaps misguided idea that I was there to learn a better software package or specific skills that would translate immediately to work in new industries — but that was only part of what it turns out I needed. The DAS program was just getting started and I found myself taking a 3D modelling class taught by a poet, which was initially a frustrating experience, but after long talks with a guest professor, I came to understand that a great deal of what was going on here was interdisciplinary and I should work on acquiring technical skills as part of the larger curriculum. This was to be a big insight that would help me going forward — that reflection, expression, and synthesis are the harder but more valuable aspects of digital creative work, just as they are of all creative work, and the foundational FA+AH classes (shout out to WARP) really opened me up to new perspectives that set me off on a widening path of potential. I also fell in love with my art history classes and used those learnings as a jumping off point into world history, mythology, psychology and politics — all incredibly useful areas of study for the work I’m doing now which is a mix of product design and creative direction.
What do you like about your current career?
I like that I get to use and adapt the design process and apply it in ever new and interesting ways to approach real world challenges. When I’m doing that I feel connected to a long line of meaning-makers, designers, intentional practitioners and thinkers, and I do feel like I’m helping to bring about the future in a meaningful and material way. I also really enjoy mentoring members of my team and it is rewarding to see them achieve amazing things — both in their work and in their life.
What are some of your favorite memories from when you were in the program?
After six months of saving from doing freelance work, I was finally able to get all the components I needed to put together my first custom-made computer that had enough power to do the video projects I had wanted to for years. I remember I could work and preview my edits at the speed of my intentions and I felt like I had unlocked new potential. Because I was a member of student government, I volunteered to shoot and produce a DVD for Greek Week with a camera that I borrowed from “the cage” because there was no other way I was getting access to a GL1 at that time. I followed that up with a more ambitious two weeks spent shooting and producing DVD for Dance Marathon and I had a small budget to have it duplicated and printed. I remember bringing my entire computer — boxy monitor and all — into the Stephen C. O’Connell Center and editing footage I had just shot into a recap video in just under 3 hours. The rush of seeing my work delight thousands of people — not to mention the complete creative oversight I had — was something I’ll never forget.
What advice would you give to current students?
My life trajectory really changed when a local designer took interest in my work and gave me a chance to experience the realities of a studio environment and get a taste of what it might be like to do digital work as a professional. My advice would be to seek that out as well as other forms of valuable practice — maybe even while you’re still a student and have access to lower stakes situations that allow you the freedom to develop a concept and make something while practicing your growing abilities. My life changed again when UX became a solidified discipline and it required me to grow and acquire adjacent skills, so my advice would be to keep one eye on industry developments that indicate what’s coming and what you may need to learn, try and adapt to.
Something I feel very strongly about is never restricting your learning or your ability to learn. If that means spoiling yourself by buying every book you want, then do it but then also read them. If that means lowering your head and taking a pay cut in order to work some place that can teach you how to do your job better, arrange your life for the change but then also set goals to make sure your gamble pays off. If it means going deep into a dark hole of inquiry or becoming temporarily obsessed with something, good, go indulge yourself but don’t lose yourself. Learning leads to experiences and the more experiences you have the more nuanced and textured your life — and your perspective — will end up being.