Frequent vs. infrequent designers—and the tools designed for each one of them

Not every designer is an expert in every tool.

A few days ago I came across this fantastic post by Chris Siebenmann on the concept of frequent versus infrequent developers.

Chris's Wiki :: blog/programming/FrequentVsInfrequentDevs
Yesterday I mentioned the phrase 'infrequent developer' in an aside in my entry. Today I'm writing about what I mean by…

Here’s an excerpt:

“Frequent developers, in the context of a language are people who routinely work with code or programs written in that language. When you’re a frequent developer, you naturally develop expertise in that language’s operation and often a development environment for it, because you use it often. You know the commands, you remember their options (or at least the ones that you need), you’ve run into some of the somewhat obscure corners and things that can go wrong. You know your way around things. You’ll naturally learn and master even relatively complex procedures.” —Chris Siebenmann

Sounds pretty familiar, right?

Turns out the same concept can be easily applied to design.

Frequent designers are people who routinely design for a certain platform (apps or websites or VR or chatbots or any other) and using a certain design tool (Sketch or Principle or Illustrator and so on). They know that platform’s conventions, best practices, references, dos and don’ts. They have learned that tool’s shortcuts, have installed a series of plugins and extensions, and have developed agility and efficiency when operating that software.

Source: xkcd

Because they use that tool quite often, expanding their toolset to include adjacent plugins and extensions makes a lot of sense. Anything that will increase their efficiency is worth taking a look. They quickly become experts in that platform or tool’s ecosystem, and their productivity rises up quite spectacularly.

On the other hand, infrequent designers are more generalists. They have created a few apps, landing pages, prints, visual identities, illustrations. Because they are only occasionally designing for each of these types of projects, they don’t maintain expertise in the finer details of the platform. They of course know the basics, and they can easily look up “iPhone X screen size in pixels” when they are about to start a new iOS mobile app, for example. They have less expertise in the unusual cases, and they have to re-learn complex procedures (“how to use multiple drivers in Principle”) every time they are needed.

But that also means infrequent designers are less likely to install all the apparatus that come with a certain software (e.g. Sketch plugins) or to set up an entire workflow around building for a certain platform (e.g. using Abstract for version control of large UI projects). From Chris Siebenmann: “They get hit on both sides compared to frequent developers [designers]; they’re less familiar with the software so working on it takes longer, and they use the language much less so the same amount of absolute time spend on additional software is proportionally much higher. (…) Infrequent developers [designers] usually do not have the halo of tools that frequent developers [designers] do, and mostly stick to the basics (and as a result they miss out on various things).”

Author: Fabricio Teixeira

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