The following question comes in from Jacob Brunny:
"How did you get to know so much about Illustrator?"
Before I even attempt to answer that question, I should state clearly that while I do possess a fair amount of Illustrator knowledge, I am still learning. The first key to learning Illustrator is to realize that you don't reach a point and say "now I know Illustrator". Rather, as you learn more, you realize how much more there is to learn :)
But to answer the question directly, it's a combination of a lot of things. And I should also state that I'm sure there are PLENTY of folks out there who know a lot more about Illustrator than I do. I just do my best to share what I know.
- I started out by actually USING the program. This was back when I first decided to go into the Graphic Design field on my own. I had just bought a Mac. It was a Quadra 700, and stripped (no hard drive, no RAM), it cost me $4500. I bought a copy of Canvas, and while it was a cool program, no one would output my files. So I bought FreeHand 3.1 and Illustrator 3.2 and used both of them. I ended up doing most of my work in FreeHand, but after about a year, I found myself using Illustrator exclusively. Never being one who read manuals, I spent plenty of time experimenting with different features, trying to figure it out on my own. To help out a bit, I also subscribed to a magazine called Before & After, which offered step-by-step instructions on simple but very useful projects. So even when I didn't have real work to do, I practiced using the projects.
- I got close to others who also knew the program. Back when AOL had about 100,000 members, I used to hang out in one of their vector graphics forums. That's where I first "met" the likes of Sharon Steuer, Sandee Cohen, Jean Claude Tremblay, Ted Alspach, Sree Kotay (SREE!!), and others. I learned a TON from those folks and was learnng fast enough on my own to share my own findings with them as well.
- I used the program in a real world environment. Nothing is better than actually learning on the job. I worked in art production and therefore got to touch just about everyone's files. It was also up to me to get all files to "work" when ads were being sent out to publishers, when files were being printed, etc. The company I was doing work with also started an interactive agency in the late 90's and so I also ended up learning a whole lot about the web. In fact, the first public session on Illustrator that I ever gave was at Macworld in Boston -- I think it was 1996 -- and the topic was on web design with Illustrator (we're talking about the days when the gif89a export plugin was something you could download to create gifs from PS). It was also sometime around then that I started fooling around with a program called FutureSplash which was a web-based vector format (that would eventually become Flash).
- I attended trade shows and Illustrator conferences. I got to meet some people from the product team, and had my questions answered. This gave me a much better understanding of the program and gave me ideas for pushing the envelope. At shows like Macworld and Seybold, I spent time talking with Adobe folks. Be it feature requests, bugs, or just general workflow issues, sharing information was helpful both to me and to Adobe.
- Sharon Steuer asked me to help her write her Illustrator Wow! Book. That's how I found my way onto the beta program and was able to share lots of ideas with the product team. Writing about a product also helps you get a much clearer understanding about it. It's one thing to learn how to do something. Quite another to understand it on a level so that you can teach it to others. That's when I think I really started questioning a lot of things about the product and started to really understand things on a different level.
- I was approached to write my own book on Illustrator and that just continued the learning process. I wrote my book at night and worked using Illustrator during the day. This way, I could write about my experiences of how I used Illustrator that day for real world work (which is how I still do it today).
- I read other books on Illustrator. By now, the internet was also becoming a wonderful resource, and there were plenty of places to learn more about Illustrator. Most notably, the Illustrator User to User forum on Adobe.com.
- Then one day, the phone rang. It was my friend Ted Alspach, who was working at Adobe at the time (he had just left Extensis). He asked if I might know someone to recommend as a new product manager for Illustrator. I jokingly laughed that I could do that job. Remind me one day to tell you folks the story about my interview for the job -- great story. In any case, 3 months later, I'm sitting in my new office at Adobe. Being the product manager of Illustrator allowed me to interract with the engineers on an entirely different level. And the work that I did covered many in-depth parts of the application. Being I was a long-time user of the product, I also took a very strong interest in the features, and the technology that went into them. Most of all, part of job required that I visit customers and examine their workflows. This was mind-blowing to me because as an individual user, I had a pretty good idea in my head of how AI should be used. But I was suddenly exposed to users from all around the world (literally), and found out that there are so many different ways of using Illustrator. I learned a tremendous amount from seeing how others work, and getting feedback from them on their own ideas and issues.
- After I left Adobe, I focused on sharing my knowledge as both a trainer and a consultant. Helping clients solve their problems is a constant challenge and a learning process as well. And touring the country giving seminars exposes me to more people who use Illustrator, and allows me to learn how they use it. So the learning process definitely continues to this day.
So that's where I am now. I got to know so much about Illustrator because it's what I've been doing for most of my adult life. And because I am never satisfied with the knowledge that I have, and keep pushing for more. I've never resisted a new version of Illustrator, and usually upgrade the day a new version comes out. Sure, there are always kinks that have to be worked out, but that's just an opportunity to learn more about it. That's my take on it anyway.
Hopefully, I'll inspire others to do what I've done and take it all another step further.