There are many ways to enhance your design abilities, each with its own benefits and drawbacks. These range from specialist DVDs to expensive one-to-one tuition sessions. As with most things, however, you really do get what you pay for when it comes to creative training.
There's a wealth of free and fast-to-find information online; Adobe has video tutorials, help areas and forums at both its developer site and design site, while Computer Arts' own website has an enormous library of the magazine's past tutorials.
Using an online resource means that you have your information to hand immediately, but you do have to follow it without further guidance and, chances are, it won't cover everything about the techniques required.
There really is no substitute for one-to-one tuition. Mark Young, director at Adobe-accredited training centre Academy Class, says, "People attend classroom training because they're actually being taught by an expert, and the consequence of this is that they're more likely to take in the information in such a short space of time."
Classroom-based training courses can cost significant sums of money - up to £800 per session in some cases - and you may have to wait for a place on the particular one you want. As well as Academy Class, Highlander Training and Symbiosis are all Adobe Certified Experts (ACEs) that offer both regional training sessions and location-based training.
The benefits of classroom-based training are clear. Not only do you get expert advice on hand - meaning you can tailor specific topics to your skill level or day-to-day job requirements - but trainers remain on hand long after the class has finished, giving you work notes and extra learning resources to take away, while offering an email support service for those extra-tough tasks. The cost of the course usually includes a certificate of some kind, which, if nothing else, could be a helpful CV booster.
Watch and learn
Somewhere between the quick fix of web learning and the enduring support offered by classroom-based courses lies the option of DVD video learning. A small investment will be needed to get hold of the one you're after, but the range of options and skill levels available trumps anything online.
"The great strength of DVD training resources is the breadth of specialist options," says Brian Maffitt, chief creative officer at Total Training, who points out that DVD training has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, combining unobtrusive interfaces, which leave space for you to work with the app properly. "The new tutorials for Dreamweaver, Flash and Photoshop CS4, for example, combine high quality instruction and premium production to ensure users have all the tools they'll need to learn these new software programs.
As well as video-based learning, Total Training and others offer full online support, help files and resources, and an intelligent learning plan to stitch together courses across different products for a combined approach to training.
Video courses are presented by tutors, giving them a personal and authoritative edge, although if you're being shown techniques by an expert with whom you can't interact, you're limited to the contents of that particular module.
While different people do, of course, find different resources helpful, on the whole creatives are united in being very driven in their approach. Laura Woodroffe, education and professional development director at D&AD, says, "Designers and creatives tend to be very active and enquiring learners; they need experiential learning that's dynamic and unweighted by tons of theory and note taking. They are also time poor, so they need short, sharp, intensive courses."
The variety of development methods means that every creative mind can be catered for; the key is to find the delivery method that's right for what you need to achieve.
Should you stump up for the stamp of official approval?
Certified courses can add weight to your CV, but they're not always necessary for what you want to accomplish. When choosing courses, certification isn't the main thing to look for, explains Laura Woodroffe of D&AD, but experience can't teach you everything either.
Mark Young, an accredited Adobe trainer, says, "Certification tends to be of more value when you're looking for your first job. After that, experience counts a lot more." So teaching yourself could be more worthwhile than taking time out to get another certificate.
More often than not, having an award or affiliation with a respected society says something beyond your being certificated - it shows a passion beyond mere work. But never lose sight of the fact that it's your portfolio that speaks volumes about what you can actually do - a certificate only shows you're technically proficient.