Between work and hobbies, I spend a significant amount of my time online. While some of my most enriching discussions have begun over the internet, online life can also make it easy to fall into an exhausting echo chamber of negativity and homogenous thought. That’s one reason I’ve been such a vocal supporter of Today at Apple. The program of free creative sessions hosted at every Apple store worldwide helps me broaden my horizons through positive thinking and understand the perspectives of people I would’ve otherwise never met.
Since Apple previewed a totally new Today at Apple catalog last October, I’ve been eagerly awaiting its rollout every day. For the new session launch beginning January 31st, I visited Apple stores in and around Chicago to explore what’s new.
Today at Apple’s new sessions are grouped into three concise categories: Skills, Walks, and Labs. Entry-level Skills sessions are intended for those new to the Apple ecosystem, Walks accommodate any proficiency level, and Labs are in-depth explorations of a creative project. Each of these session types can be further filtered down into eleven topics that cover a range of disciplines and areas of interest. Content focused on businesses, pros, kids, families and teachers has been streamlined into the same session groupings.
The new hierarchy makes it much easier than before to discover the full range of sessions available and which will be of most interest to you. According to retail SVP Angela Ahrendts, there is now “a session for everyone.” I attended 5 of the 58 new offerings across the three session types and one exclusive event to better understand how each fits in context with Today at Apple as a whole.
Health & Fitness Skills: Getting Started with the Health App is an introduction to living a healthier life by becoming aware of the vast amount of health data available to you on your iPhone. An Apple Watch isn’t required, but I’d bet that its popularity as a health tracking tool significantly influenced the decision to develop this session. After exploring each of the Health app’s tabs and an explanation of Medical ID, I was encouraged to browse the App Store and find some interesting apps that integrate with Health.
I was already familiar with the Health app before attending, but it was helpful to hear how my session host uses the app on his own iPhone. I’d recommend this session to new Apple Watch customers, while more experienced users may find more value in the Health & Fitness Walk Co-created with Jeanette Jenkins. In the future, I think there are opportunities to expand on the topics of workout routines, nutrition, sleep health, and more.
Today at Apple still offers content focused on product fundamentals, but rudimentary sessions have been de-emphasized as Apple capitalizes on the resources it can offer in person that just aren’t possible online. According to Apple, Walks have become the most popular type of session.
At Apple Lincoln Park, I attended Music Walk: Creating Soundscapes with GarageBand. Temperatures had dangerously dipped to nearly -20°F, so Jonathan, the Creative Pro teaching my session, suggested we stay indoors. Normally, Walks venture out into the city blocks surrounding a store to observe the local environment and draw inspiration from it to incorporate into a project.
The midwest’s polar vortex was an anomaly, but it painfully highlights the fact that Walks feel designed for the year-round warmth and sun of California. Regional sessions tailored to the local environment might prove a valuable addition.
While the objective of the Music Walk was to build a scene in GarageBand for iOS using audio samples collected from your environment, the session covered more than the technical aspects of operating GarageBand. We began with a chat about what music we were currently listening to. Later I learned about passive vs. active listening and the importance of listening with intent when dissecting the nuances of a song.
At Apple Bayshore, I tried Art Walk: Discovering Color. By Friday, it had warmed up enough to venture outdoors and into the surrounding shopping center to build a color palette with the Procreate app for iPad.
My Creative Pro, Eric, was skilled in assessing my familiarity with Procreate before beginning and offered tips relevant to my experience level. After collecting photos throughout the mall to sample for interesting colors, we created abstract paintings to experiment with building color schemes and textures.
Gathering color samples on the Discovering Color Art Walk.
In my graphic design work I often conceptualize illustrations in black and white before attempting to retroactively determine a color palette. Establishing color in the abstract prior to visualizing a design was a new way of working for me, and the 90 minutes flew by.
My treehouse, designed with accessibility in mind.
At Apple Michigan Avenue, I attended the inaugural Design Lab: Drawing Treehouses Co-created with Foster & Partners. The experience of being in a store designed by the same architects I was learning from added to the session’s effect, but the content can stand on its own. Like all Today at Apple programming co-created with experts outside of Apple, the session began with an introductory video. Narinder Sagoo, Art Director at Foster & Partners, spoke about people-first design, which is the process of considering usability from the perspective of those who will inhabit your building.
Before drawing the people, materials, and structure of a treehouse in Procreate, we were asked to imagine the type of tree our treehouse would reside in. I imagined a sprawling oak in a rural American farm field. The man attending next to me described a towering tree on the foggy shores of his hometown in Europe. I was struck by the contrast in our perspectives and the higher level design ideas introduced by the session.
Video Lab: Small Screen Magic Co-created with Zach King at Apple Mayfair balanced the thought-provoking Design Lab with practical fun. This session is bound to be popular with families and aspiring YouTubers. Zach King introduces the basics of mastering the jump cut in a video filled with clever cuts of his own. You’ll film your own scenes in the Clips app, and Apple lets you borrow a Joby GorillaPod to stabilize your phone.
I’ll admit that this activity was way outside of my comfort zone. Since I was the only one who signed up for the session, the spotlight was on me. I prefer to be behind the camera rather than the actor. Attendance at most of my sessions was light, perhaps due to lack of awareness. This is an important hurdle for Apple to cross.
Thankfully, it is the job of the Creative Pro to make you feel comfortable and open to sharing. In most cases, they do an excellent job of it. In terms of lasting impact, I’ve found that session content is often secondary to the enthusiasm and motivation of the Pro presenting.
While visiting Apple Michigan Avenue, I also participated in a one-time Photo Lab hosted by Chicago-based portrait photographer Nolis Anderson. Attendees paired up to practice shooting dynamic, square-format portraits. I chatted and practiced with photographer Walter Street. Exclusive sessions like these are held only at top locations across the globe, but often boast impressive attendance numbers and play an important role in the Today at Apple story. It was here that the goals of Apple’s new session curriculum were most succinctly expressed.
There is a time and place for criticism in the creative process, but that time is not at the infancy of a fragile idea or during the beginning stages of learning a new skill. I’ve seen too many creators burdened by the crushing weight of internet negativity. Today at Apple provides a beacon of creative optimism in a sea of online criticism. The new sessions invite the exploration of greater ideas and intentional thinking.
Creative Pros exude endless positivity and energetically encourage everyone to pursue the skills that they find rewarding. Their energy is infectious. Even as an introvert, I found myself effortlessly complimenting the work of complete strangers. If you haven’t tried a session yet, I’d give it a shot. Couldn’t we all use a little more positivity in our lives?