Insider Tips on Applying to the Adobe Creative Residency Program

By Charles Purdy

On November 2, 2019, Adobe will begin accepting applications for the Adobe Creative Residency—a program that offers talented individuals a year to work on a personal creative project while sharing their process with the community and inspiring others. Adobe provides residents with full compensation for the year, as well as tools, resources, and mentorship. (Learn more about the Adobe Creative Residency.) Applications will be accepted through January 22, 2020, at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time (PT)/ +8h GMT.

Now entering its sixth year, the Creative Residency program is likely to get more applicants than ever before—so we talked to a few experts who have reviewed past applications and asked them for tips on crafting one that will get noticed. We spoke to Adobe’s Julia Tian, senior manager of the Creative Residency program; Khoi Vinh, principal designer for Adobe; Antionette Carroll, the founder, president, and CEO of Creative Reaction Lab and a mentor in the Creative Residency program; and a few Creative Residency alumni.

1. Take your time and think your project through. 

Putting together a well-thought-out proposal is a unique chance to fully expand on that passion project you’ve been pursuing in your spare time, or that interesting idea you’ve been turning over in your mind and doodling in your sketchbook. So be detailed. Tian says, “While your project may change and evolve during the residency, we want to see that you can flesh out an idea, make a plan, and execute on a project you’re passionate about. In short—we’re looking for individuals who have the potential to become successful professional creatives.”

2018 Creative Resident Anna Daviscourt says, “Before the Creative Residency I spent a lot of time working on other people’s projects and never got to devote that time to making my own ideas a reality. As a part of the program, I spend every day working purely toward my own goals, and I know that every task brings me one giant leap toward my desired career.”

2. Make your proposal visually interesting.

The residency is for visual creatives, so employ visual elements to communicate your concept. Consider sharing past examples of your work, visually representing the influences that have led you to your proposal, and including sketches and designs to illustrate your concept. Tian adds, “Including visuals makes it easier for us to identify your style, strengths, and visual communication skills. You may include a limited amount of imagery from other artists who have influenced you, but you must clearly credit the original creator and explain the imagery’s relevance.”

2017 Adobe Creative Resident Julia Nimke says, “The residency year is about evolving, trying out new techniques, and moving into fields you’re not yet comfortable with. It’s not about mastering everything, but rather playing with the techniques and skills you bring with you. Know that you have to give lectures and that it can be a bit scary to speak to a large crowd of people, but also know that it gets better the more you do it — I promise!” (Read more about Nimke’s experience as a resident, in this blog post.)

3. Highlight your individual strengths.

Why are you the right person for this project? When developing your application, think about what makes you unique and how you challenge the status quo within the creative industry. Carroll explains, “Every person is different in their perspective and thus their approach. Highlight who you are in addition to what you do. What makes you, you? What can only you do?” 

Vinh agrees, saying, “I like to hear not only why a given project is interesting, but also why the prospective resident believes that no one else but them can pull it off.”

4. Think about how you can change creatives’ perspectives.

When developing your project idea, think about how you’ll inspire creatives in your field and help them grow—in terms of process, technique, audience, or knowledge. Carroll says, “The point of the Adobe Creative Residency program isn’t just to help you grow as a creative—which you will, undoubtedly—but also to help the creative industry expand and amplify.” 

2018 Creative Resident Temi Coker says, “The residency is really about you growing in your craft. You’ll have unlimited time to focus on your craft without distractions. Be ready to learn how to manage your time, pitch ideas, and speak at conferences, all while creating new work…. The residency pushed me to do things I never thought were possible.”

5. Consider how your project will appeal to people outside of your field.

Vinh says, “I’m leery of projects that are too ‘inside baseball,’ that signal things that only other creative pros would understand as being interesting. So the more potential there is for wider appeal, the more interesting the project will be to me.”

He also recommends that you consider how the media might treat your project: “This is a tricky one because it gets a little bit ahead of the proposal stage,” he says, “but I like projects where I can envision an interesting headline or trending topics or press coverage. If a project can do this, and if a prospective resident understands how to do this, then a project tends to feel much better developed.”

6. Be sure you’re introducing yourself well.

2018 Creative Resident Aaron Bernstein says, “I think it’s important to remember that, while you might be aware of your skill set and ambitions, the person reviewing your project doesn’t know anything about you. Was I thoroughly outlining every detail in my project? Was I providing enough insight on how I would bring these ideas to life? I would constantly step back and ask myself these questions and re-approach my proposal with a more objective point of view. By developing the proposal with the mindset that the reviewers knew nothing about me, I was able to provide a thorough explanation not only of my project, but also of my background and why this program made the most sense for me.

2017 Adobe Creative Resident Aundre Larrow says, “Your project proposal is a business proposal, hard stop…. That means write it out and take it seriously.” (Read more about Larrow’s experience as a resident, in this blog post.) 

7. Show or explain how your project will challenge you.

Your proposal should demonstrate how you will grow in your residency. Bellamy explains, “You want to create a proposal that you have the capacity to fulfill, but it should also be ambitious.”

8. Develop an elevator pitch.

While the best proposals are detailed, it’s also important to have a solid 30-second explanation of what your project is about. Vinh says, “It’s not that I’m looking for simplistic proposals; rather, I want to see the ability to articulate projects in a clear, understandable, and relatable language.”

9. Let yourself dream big.

Bellamy says, “If you’re still on the fence, give yourself one to three hours of prioritized dreaming. Dream of what you could produce creatively within a year if resources, time, and money were not an issue. Then give yourself another three to five hours for refining any number of the ideas that you envisioned. Finally, examine all your notes and pick the idea that you’re most drawn too—then spend some weeks expanding on that idea…. It all starts with giving yourself uninterrupted, judgment-free dreaming time.”

2018 Creative Resident Laura Zalenga says, “I had wanted to do a project about elderly people for quite some years and was actually doubting whether Adobe would be interested in a project that doesn’t sound young and hip at first glance. All I can say is that putting a lot of effort into my application, overcoming my own doubts, and showing my passion for the project was so worthwhile. And this doesn’t stop after becoming part of the program, by the way. I had to overcome my own anxiety again and again this year, and guess what—I grew so much!”


9. Ask yourself how the residency will be the start of the next stage in your career.

The residency will play an important role in your development—so think about how you will use it as a launch pad to what’s next. Carroll says, “The Adobe Creative Residency will help you grow in more ways than one, so show up, show out, and be ready to grow in your creativity.”

2016 Adobe Creative Resident Craig Winslow says, “Landing the Adobe Creative Residency has propelled my independent design career in wonderful ways. It’s given me a massive platform to promote my work, share my process, and educate others along the way.” (Read more about Winslow’s experience as a resident, in this blog post.)

11. Just get started!

Many of our past and current residents have spoken about feeling anxious and full of self-doubt before applying. Tian says, “They all felt that being accepted was a long shot, but they decided to go for it anyway. Push through any feelings you might be having and submit!”

Click to watch a brief video about the Adobe Creative Residency.

Bellamy agrees: “Don’t let your doubts or anxieties talk you out of applying!” she says. “Yes, it's a competitive program to get into. But if you’re willing to put in the work to create a strong portfolio and craft an original proposal, it will be well worth the effort!”

Carroll adds, “Going through the application process—whether you receive it or not—will help you hone your thinking, process, and craft. Ultimately, you’ll become a stronger creative. This opportunity, plus the possibility of becoming an Adobe Creative Resident and doing what you love—why wouldn’t you apply?”

Visit this Adobe Creative Residency page to learn more, and sign up to be notified when applications are being accepted.