It is becoming more common to see graphic design positions advertised. requesting a myriad of skills; anything from visual design skills, 3D animation and coding ability stated as necessary pre-requisites to fulfil the job specification. According to Neeman (2013) this is what the industry is now classing as the ‘unicorn’ designer.
“You know, someone who can code, design graphics, design user experience, write copy, and do all the HTML and CSS for us. They’re cheap and easy to find. They should be able to take out the trash. Oh, and wash our cars wearing a bikini.”
Do these mythical, design beasts even exist and what are the alternatives?
As a generalist would you be considered a ‘Jack of all trades and master of none’, or alternatively as a specialist, would your depth of knowledge and experience be your greatest asset or you greatest downfall due to lack of alternatives in this ever evolving industry. Does defining yourself as a specialist run the risk getting left behind?
My research has led me to a find a potential solution to his dilemma; The ‘versitilist’ or as Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO puts it the “T–Shaped” designer. In an interview with Morten T. Hansen, Brown (2015) describes a T–Shaped person as having two characteristics,
“The vertical stroke of the “T” is a depth of skill that allows them to contribute to the creative process. That can be from any number of different fields: an industrial designer, an architect, a social scientist, a business specialist or a mechanical engineer. The horizontal stroke of the “T” is the disposition for collaboration across disciplines.”
As I see it, design itself, is a holistic system and the T-Shaped designer avoids the blind spots of specialism by solving design problems alongside personal and professional growth and development. By choosing to investigate from the smorgasbord of design branches and sub-branches whilst still maintaining a level of expertise in one particular field, a designer could ultimately remove any unconscious limitations placed on their potential.
Is this multidisciplinary approach to skill development the way forward for designers? Or do we risk multidisciplinary being mislabeled as amateur? Is this the forward thinking designers paradigm? Or are we entering the realm of the unicorn!
I am currently looking to embark upon my first web based project, thus adding another string to my design bow and I have been questioning whether diversifying my skill set is the right move at this stage in my career. Would I be viewed as a more valuable asset by staying within my specialism of print based design, in what is now perhaps becoming more of a niche market? However, having reviewed the pros and cons for generalising and specialising it would seem that being a T–Shaped designer, somewhat, offers a balance between the two and is increasingly becoming a commodity demanded by innovative design studios. I, by no means consider myself to be a unicorn, nor would I wish to be, but I do think there is value in having a rounded skill set and a collaborative approach to design projects.
Brown, T. (2015) Interviewed by Hansen, M. IDEO CEO Tim Brown: T-Shaped Stars: The Backbone of IDEO’s Collaborative Culture | Articles | Chief Executive – The magazine for the Chief Executive Officer. [online] Web.archive.org. Available at: http://web.archive.org/web/20110329003842/http://www.chiefexecutive.net/ME2/dirmod asp?sid=&nm=&type=Publishing&mod=Publications::Article&mid=8F3A7027421841978F18BE895F87F791&tier=4&id=F42A23CB49174C5E9426C43CB0A0BC46 [Accessed 19 Jul. 2015].
Neeman, P. (2013). The Unicorn Designer Dilemma, and How to Avoid It. [online] Usability Counts. Available at: http://www.usabilitycounts.com/2013/07/24/the-unicorn-designer-dilemma-and-how-to-avoid-it/ [Accessed 19 Jul. 2015].