Single focus, cross discipline, or full spectrum?
Recently, a colleague of mine named Mariko Sugita needed to hire a designer for a website she was creating. She’s an urbanist, and not particularly involved in the digital design field, so she asked the closest designer who happened to be on hand (me), “what kind of designers should I be looking for?”
I thought for a moment and realized that I had several possible answers, none of which quite summed up the full scope of roles that are present in our field today and what each designer’s assumed title really says about their abilities.
That started me thinking about what exactly the spectrum of digital design roles really looks like here in Common Era 2018. I started sketching out my ideas. When Mariko saw my notes for this article, she said, “yes, that’s exactly what I wanted to know beforehand!” I hope that this overview can be just as useful for you, too. Let’s begin!
Foreword: The Paint Stroke Concept of Design Skills
It would be irresponsible to casually lump designers into groups without qualifying that no two designers are the same. I’m taking a moment here to borrow an idea from a great post by Sam Jarman on dev.to, who in turn got the idea from The Soft Skills Engineering Podcast. The basic concept is that rather than thinking that any person’s skills are just T-shaped — the idea that they have a broad understanding of many things and a deep understanding of one thing — their skills are instead better understood as a line of wet paint drawn across canvas.
The paint forms a broad line across the top layer of the canvas, signifying a base level of understanding of many fields, but it also drips down in many places, in different depths, which represent the varying depths of different skills that a designer has. The point is that every designer has varying degrees of ability in different skills based on their experience, whether that’s vector design, digital prototyping, user research, coding, motion graphics, or anything across the entire creative spectrum. Therefore, the title they call themselves on paper can’t possibly hope to define their philosophy and scope of experience.
“All right, that’s great, but I just want to know what type of designer to hire!”
I hear you loud and clear. So, with the knowledge that we will never truly represent the full scope of any one human with a single deterministic title, let’s try to define some singular, deterministic titles.
All sarcasm aside, here begins an honest look (in my own, personal opinion) at what kind of design roles are generally being seen out there in the wild.