What’s the Rush?

This was originally posted on the Normative blog in Dec 2011. Based on some conversations I’ve been having lately I thought it might be worth re-posting here. On top of what I originally wrote, there’s an aspect of ageism that’s prevalent in our industry and really harmful. We equate youth with innovation, we prize “disruption” over endurance. I hope we can begin to see the value in our history, and the value in things that last and evolve. Maybe that’s a good topic for another post …

We, as a professional community, often get into a conversation about what skills are required to be an interaction designer, or any type of designer. Some people think you need to code, some think you need graphic design, some think you only need to make blueprints and wireframes to communicate design decisions. This is always a contentious discussion and never results in answers.

My answer is that to be a master designer you need to understand all of those things. “But that’s too much, one person can’t understand all those skills.” That’s the most common reply… How you you be a great interaction designer, and learn to code, and learn typography, and understand systems, etc, etc…?

I’m starting to feel that the reason designers get so defensive when it’s suggested that they need to learn other skill sets is that we’re trying to do it all too fast. We’ve been taught by the tech dominant culture in North America that we need to be the best we are going to be by the time we’re 30, otherwise you might be too old and no hot startup will hire you. This is a really unfortunate state of mind.. In reality design is a complex, multi-faceted, cross-disciplinary practice that takes decades to master. Designers also need to become experts in different contexts, environments, and domains. We have to apply the wide range of skills we acquire or wrangle in different businesses, organizations, and other endeavours. If we start thinking about our peak practice at 50 years old instead of 30 we now have a much more realistic timeline for mastering this complex craft.

There are some people who display raw talent at a young age, but few show designerly wisdom. Design is complex and requires continual learning. In order to master all the things that allow you to be a truly great designer it takes time and practice. We tend to think in 2 to 5 year scales, maybe we need to be thinking in longer time lines about our own careers and skills.

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