Becoming both design specialist and generalist

If you work in a mature design organization, they will have many divisions that make you do a particular design job. Meanwhile, if you work in a startup and are the only design team, you may also be busy with everything; research work, copywriting, logo design or any work done by other roles, not you.

It's comfortable for anyone only to do a specific job every single day—no switching context. Find a community with similar interests. Take some courses, re-learn stuff, and get deeper into knowledge only related to what you do. – Those are pretty much defining a real design specialist.

But, what if those specialized things are not enough to support you for performing the best work?

Do you realize that for every single day, you collaborate with your team with different functions? We work closely with roles like UX research, UX writer, Product Manager, to business stakeholders.

Knowledge in design sometimes doesn't help you to convince stakeholders about your ideas. It's because you and your stakeholders speak and think differently. Your values are different from theirs.

If you don't understand how they think, you'll find their responses always go against yours. You will also find it challenging to get buy-in.

If that's your case, I would argue you should embrace a design generalist path; by learning other disciplines like branding, research, business, coding, or the industry where you work.

The minimum idea is only to grasp the knowledge, not to master them since you still work as a designer. However, if you have time and interest to excel in one of those disciplines, why not?

If you have a wide range of knowledge under your belt, it will help you be more empathetic with your team.

  • You will understand others' points of view, why they have different opinions from yours.
  • You will move from arguments that merely contain a design point of view to a more holistic articulation that considers other perspectives.
  • Your discussion will be more meaningful and strategic.
  • You gain more confidence to talk with people from different functions.
  • You can help other roles crack on their problems that the problems could be related to you.

But, wouldn't it better for the stakeholders also need to understand design too?

Yes, but I want to point out what we can do within our circle of control. We can learn and understand about other disciplines so that we can explain design matters in the language they use.

So, what do you think? What do you want to be?