I’ve been told that to get noticed on LinkedIn, I need to write and post an article so I can be perceived as an “expert” in my industry. Well, to be honest, I struggle with being perceived as an expert in anything, because I’ve come to understand that expertise is relative to your audience, your time, and your place…and it’s only temporary.

I’ve been in the graphic design and branding industry my entire 40-year career, having started out as a pre-computer era designer, fresh out of school, top of my class, and the Gold Key Award Winner. (Not sure what that was for.) Did that make me an expert? I sure thought so. I was really impressed with myself… Until I got a job at a local design firm where I was introduced to true design, illustration, and packaging experts.

These people were extremely talented! And I looked up to those creatives that mastered the fine art of magic marker renderings and type indication.  Oh, how expertly the production folks produced colored tissue overlays to call out detailed instructions for the printer. They were truly graphic design “experts”. (If you even know what I’m referring to, you may have been an expert in that era as well.)

In time, I too mastered the art of marker renderings, type specification, photo indication, and putting together a well-engineered paste-up. As well as a host of other now antiquated skills. At that time, I felt I had reached “expert” status in the graphic design industry. I was really impressed with myself.

But that status was quickly null and void when computers became the standard tool for artwork development. Suddenly, the “expertise” that I worked so hard to develop was suddenly no longer relevant. (Wow! Not sure why, but I kind of miss the smell of magic markers and rubber cement.)

After a few years, I decided to move into an Account Executive position. I managed the relationship with our largest client, one of the most dominant CPG companies in the world, working on packaging for their largest and most recognized brand. Our company became one of the largest design firms in our region.

We became experts in the early years of computerized packaging art development. I felt that I was becoming a process expert in packaging design-through-print in this new digital era. It was exciting. It was new. And it was cutting edge. And because of my developing knowledge and perceived expertise, I became a partner and VP/General Manager of the company. 

At that point, I can honestly say I felt I was an expert in my line of business. I was very impressed with myself. Well, at least until we formed a strategic alliance with another, much larger and more creative global branding firm.

This company had a huge pool of creative talent in offices around the globe. They provided truly broad-reaching expertise in the design and branding fields that our much smaller company could not offer. In a fleeting moment, I once again went from feeling like an expert to feeling like a novice, new to the global experience.

But I worked hard to gain new experience competing in this new arena, and managed design initiatives nationally and globally. I felt I was starting to re-build expert status, and I started to feel impressed with myself again. But, after a five-year successful alliance, we sold out to that larger company, and I eventually was put out to pasture at the ripe old age of 45, with a few other “experts” from our original company.

(It’s funny that in today’s world, you can be perceived as an expert one day…and unimpressive the next. It depends on your audience, your time, and your place. Need I say again? Expertise is only temporary.)

Over the years, I moved on to other general management and ownership positions, where I continued to hone new skills and experiences to complement those that I had gained in the earlier part of my career. I developed new creative and operational management experience, and I was ready for new challenges.

Two years ago I joined Photonics, a 29-year-old full-service creative design and marketing firm, with a strong emphasis on digital and web development. My role is to help grow the company through new business and organizational development strategies and activities.

We have awesome web design and development capabilities, which will require more learning for me. Much like at the beginning, and throughout my career, I am once again a novice, this time on the digital of the design industry. And again, I am in awe of my associates who are experts at what they do. And I continue to learn every day.

We have developed expertise in brand and marketing strategy, social media, and other areas so that we can provide a broader base of services to our clients. Our talent pool consists of true experts. And we will continue to hone our expertise in these areas and others as we continue to grow. We know we must because expertise is only temporary.

So, I ask myself, “Am I an expert?” I believe my eclectic experience in design, account management, general management, and business ownership has prepared me well for this position with Photonics.

I’ve been fortunate to have experienced much more than most people in our industry. I’ve enjoyed many successes, felt the pain that comes with failure, and am appreciative of the knowledge that I’ve gained through both. And…I still thoroughly enjoy this industry and the part I play in it today.

Am I an “expert”? Who’s to say? One thing for sure, I don’t get too impressed with myself any longer, because I know that title is only temporary.

Tom Hutchinson is Development Director for Photonics, a 28-year-old Cincinnati based full service creative and interactive agency. Photonics started out in the early days of computerization, concentrating primarily on photo imagery and computerized illustration. Today Photonics is listed as one of largest web design companies in Cincinnati, Ohio and continues its tradition of developing and maintaining timely and relevant expertise.

If you’d like to start a dialog with Tom and Photonics, contact him at thutchinson@photonics-inc.com.