Why Designers Need to Be ‘Specialized Generalists’
Being ‘T-shaped’ will make you more effective and more valuable
Should you be a generalist or a specialist designer?
You don’t have to choose. It turns out neither of them alone is enough. A combination of both makes you more valuable, employable, collaborative, and flexible. A great designer needs to know a lot about multiple things.
Time to move past two deficient labels
Generalists are thought of as jacks of all trades, masters of none. Their wide range of transferable skills makes them flexible to evolve their careers over time, but they trade breadth for a lack of depth, and most never achieve enough mastery in any one subject to be seen as experts or thought leaders. Generalists make good team players because their broad experience helps them talk across boundaries, but when it comes time for the nitty-gritty work they might find themselves drowning in the deep end.
Specialists are seen as experts in their field; the extra training and work experience they’ve gained has allowed them to attain deep mastery. They can command higher salaries and rise to more powerful positions. But a specialist’s narrow gamut of experience comes at a price. They have a smaller range of opportunities and are less flexible to pivot over time. A specialist might find it more difficult to collaborate because they lack understanding of their team member’s disciplines and challenges.
For centuries both generalists and specialists have found ways to thrive (although, as we’ll discuss later, the most innovative people in history have always been masters of more than one discipline).
But now A.I. and machines are coming to replace our jobs. Companies are demanding more creativity and efficiency from cross-disciplinary teams. Today’s workers can no longer operate in the same way they always have. Work is changing. Fast.
In short, designers need the expertise of specialists with the breadth and collaborative skills…