I have read a fair number of articles lately talking about what designers should be able to do and what they should be able to produce to be efficient at what they are doing. Telling their audience what sort of designer they should become to fit in their ever evolving environment. A lot of these ideas were revolving around the fact that designers are supposed to be able to handle more and more aspects of the creation process. The majority of these articles were written with good intentions, and absolutely relevant, but maybe not for everybody.
The cookie cutter designer
These thoughts made me think that trying to define something often tends to give in to generalization. This vision of what a designer is or should be absorbed various roles in itself like UX, UI, prototyper and developer.
I also couldn’t help but feel negativity towards various sort of “designer profile” or “type” in some of them. Implying that some of the work we are seeing today is gimmicky or derivative if it is not focused on the core, the one and only mission that was given to us, delivering a deep solution to a problem, as efficiently and fast as possible.
Quantity and speed of delivery was a subject that also seemed to appear often. Shipping fast and shipping a lot seemed to be a priority as well. To achieve it, you have to arm yourself with an extremely complete set of skills, making you the ultimate UX hero, enlightening your user with groundbreaking solutions delivered promptly by the all-included packaged that you should be.
As much as I think these statements make perfect sense in a lot of cases when they are well balanced, I couldn’t stop telling myself that it didn’t really fit how I or other people might thinking about design is. That’s an issue of generalization.
The definition of a designer should be bound to its environment.
Over the years I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to be responsible for most of the aspects of a project. I’ve always admired people who were able to handle all this, I think they are great builders. I also think that you should try to find and acknowledge what you are as a designer, based on factors that only you are aware of such as your strengths, weaknesses, opinions and environmental factor like the market you evolve and if you are part of a team or a lone designer.
Looking at my own situation, one thing that I learned and that I thought I wasn’t going to be able to handle is that scale involves a huge amount of “letting things go” and relying on others for a a large part of the project.
I’m not totally there yet but I’m trying. Looking back at my experience, one thing popped in my head: some of my skills became irrelevant, occasionally replaced by new ones, and I wasn’t always solving problems, at least not as much as I thought I would.
Trying to make other people’s solution look good
Finding what you enjoy doing as a designer is essential. As my days go by, the amount of problem I solve in comparison of trying to make other people’s solution look good is about 50/50. I learned to trust others a bit more and found were I could thrive, where I could really be useful.
Specialization is not a bad word, just like “just making things beautiful” isn’t a bad concept or goal in itself.
So maybe designers shouldn’t learn this or that. Maybe they should just learn how to thrive. Find this thing that makes them motivated to do more.
As mentioned before, finding what you want to be will highly depend on your work environment. There is no perfect mix and perfect set of skills. The best one is a one that fits a role, a need at a certain point in time in a certain configuration.
For example, I found that thinking purely visually about something and relying on a team for the other aspects was fulfilling and relevant at the moment. Balancing myself between a bit UX and pure visual work.
So as much as I would like to own every skills in the world, sometimes I’m drawn into other aspects of design, finding strengths and interests that have nothing to do with efficiency. In time, maybe I’ll learn things I’m not inclined to in this very moment but it will be because I find it relevant for me.
Learning as much as you can and having a broad set of skill is great, but make sure YOU are the one who chose them. Looking to acquire different skills your own way is what will set you apart.
Finding where you stand as a designer, however you want to call yourself, whatever category you think you fit in, will inform and drive the direction in which you will go and the impact you will have on your projects. Find your own path and define what a designer should be.