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First and foremost: new experiences from the 2023 Playground Academy

Playground insider Erica Heathcote discusses all things Playground Academy and what’s it like to experience it for the first time

Beginner's Mind - and the way it enhances and compliments the creative experience - is a concept we’ve touched on in the past, exploring this unique mindset and how it provides a fertile ground for exploration and creativity.

As we wrap up and conclude the summer cohort of the 2023 NYC Wix Playground Academy, it is more appropriate than ever to revisit this idea. This specific academy was a new experience not just for the students who attended it, but also to our very own Erica Heathcote, who joined the Wix Playground team this last April. As a Design Community Lead, Erica was an integral part of the recent academy, playing part as a mentor as well as joining the team in overseeing the program during the four weeks it took place.

We sat with Erica for a heart-to-heart on the many wonders of first time experiences: from first challenges in the role, to new relationships being formed, and new ways of using old skills. First times, here we go!

First Months at Wix

“I joined Wix three months ago, and it's been a whirlwind getting acclimated with the company. Before Wix, I worked as a brand designer and motion designer at two different small studios, so the transition feels like going from a very small pond to a huge ocean. I’ve been learning about the structure and mission of the company and how it all connects back to this idea of design being at the core of everything we’re doing. Going into the Academy really reinforces this idea, because I see this being brought to life in everything we do with the students. I'm also transitioning from a type of role where I was sitting at my computer every day, designing and animating, to working with people every day and coordinating a lot of different things and mentoring. It's been a huge shift in my brain but it's interesting how much overlap there still is, in process thinking and design thinking which really come in handy.״

First Career Change

“I’m used to hands-on designing, using mostly hard skills of software knowledge and design experience. Moving to a Community Lead type of role, it was my purpose to make this switch and really lean on my soft skills, where communication becomes more important than knowing Photoshop. The first couple of weeks were a bit uncomfortable - learning to use different skills as your primary tool makes it inevitable to experience a bit of imposter syndrome, but I knew this was coming, so I was prepared for that and didn’t take it too hard when it happened.”

Wix Studio Video wall installation from the 2023 OFFF Festival in Barcelona

First Academy

“I wasn’t aware of the Playground Academy before I joined Wix. I hadn't heard about it before, which was almost more exciting, because I came in with a fresh set of eyes to this program, really taking in how crazy and incredible it is. It made me understand on an even deeper level the intensity of it - a month of design school, mixed with a summer camp vibe, compacted into four weeks, packed with workshops and classes, all in a bootcamp style of learning.

Going in, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen and how, so I basically decided to just let it wash over me, to just be as present and as helpful as I can. Once it started, I was just excited to get involved and help the students out wherever I could. I was blown away by what they were able to accomplish.”

First Challenge

“The first challenge I encountered was on the first day of the second week. That was when I realized that each week will be a new beginning on its own - meaning that every week will be demanding in a different way, and will require a new learning curve, a new discomfort and perhaps insecurity. A sort of back to square one. This program was modeled in a way that meant each week was a completely new game: new topic, new tools, new ideas and new set of tasks and goals. That meant that the students - and us! - were faced each Monday with a new project and therefore challenge. That had the potential to be exhausting and I think understanding that and learning to ride this wave was the main challenge of the experience.”

First Time Working on Social Media

“I don't have a tonne of experience with social media, but I had to dive right in with that. On the first day I was a bit nervous, thinking I’ll have to beg the students to cooperate and be part of all the concepts we had planned for our channel. But everyone was so amazing and was so easy to work with. We had the Process Takeovers, where each week a different student filmed and walked us through what was happening, and they just totally got what I was looking for and delivered. It was really exciting to see them find their own voice, and by the end of the four weeks you could really see the whole arc of the experiences that has developed through our Instagram channel.”

First Outing

“During the second week, which was dedicated to video mapping and projection, we got out of the classroom for the first time and went to see the Sarah Sze exhibition at the Guggenheim. First of all, it felt really good to be out and about in the sunshine, because for the duration of this week we had the entire Playground space covered for darkness, for the sake of the projections. This little field trip really felt good. And of course the exhibition itself: for the students to see art and experience a different perspective into the same technology they were dealing with. You could really notice the artist versus designer mentality. I always feel that’s a thing, artists are willing to make something that looks like a total mess, whereas the students were really trying to compose these amazing elaborate sculptures. It's always great to look outside of what you're normally looking at. This is why I think museums are amazing for inspiration.”

First Mentoring

“I've done some mentoring in the past, but not in this capacity and definitely not working so directly with the students. It was the first time I experienced mentoring on both a technical level, such as helping them with camera equipment and software tools, but also with soft skills, such as how to communicate and work in a team. I really enjoyed flexing all of these muscles.

And I learnt so much from them and their thought processes! Understanding that they don’t need me to provide solutions on how to do things my way. My role was to be there for them in their own process and guide them through their ideas. By the end of the fourth week, I felt much more empowered and that my mentoring became much more holistic - checking in on the students and being there for them in whatever way they needed.”

First Friendships

“Obviously, when you go through such an intense few weeks together with people, you get to know each other really well and so it’s inevitable that you will bond. But it was still incredible to witness and experience it myself. Seeing the relationships being formed and friendships created, it’s priceless. And knowing that the students are now joining the ever-expanding group of the Playground Alumni community, which is over 300 people by now - it’s exciting to think that we are now part of their creative path and get to see how they grow from here on out.

And personally of course, it was such a special opportunity for me to get closer with my team and bond with them. Yoti—who has so much experience in running the academies—was my own mentor throughout this whole thing, so it was such a perfect way to get to know him and the entire NYC team better, as well as the mentors who came from Israel. It was really the best way to get acclimated into this new job. I feel as though my experience mirrored the students’ - in the same way they were welcomed into the Playground alumni community by the end of the Academy, so was I into the Wix world.”

Thank you Erica!



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