Specialist or generalist?

Here’s an age-old problem I’m sure bothered you at some point in your design career and maybe it still does: should you aim to be a generalist, a jack of all trades, a modern-day uomo universalis, or should you hone in on one subject and become the ultimate master? In this article I’m throwing in my two cents on this issue.

Design is a discipline that has a modest amount of theory in comparison to other subjects such as physics, medicine or maths. I believe our craft is based mainly on principles rather than strict rules. This is especially true in he fast-paced, ever-changing digital field where tools and requirements change dramatically every decade or so. Principles can and should be studied from a variety of angles. This brings insight and deep understanding of a subject. Therefore, studying a multiple fields of design can broaden your horizon and give you insight.

Here are a couple of examples. Baseline grids are an old print paradigm. Altough web design has little to do with print, the use of baseline grids in a website layout can bring that extra level of polish and finesse that makes a design go from good to great. Another example is the saying I’m sure you’ve heard and repeated at some point – “Form follows function”. Altough this expression was coined by American architect Louis Sullivan without him having in mind web or print design, it is a principle that should guide any project.

 

I believe every designer should strive to become a so called…

T-shaped professional

This is a corporate-esque term that sounds degrading but it encompasses my case here very well. The T-shaped professional has a is familiar or has good understanding of a broad range of subjects while also having an area of expertise that capitalises on his natural talents and interests. Notice if you flip the T upside down (and make an effort not to image something vulgar) the base that holds the column is essential. Similarly knowledge of a number of adjacent subjects contribute to a strong understanding of your key subject.

 

Skills improve creativity

Ever had an illustration project where you could really use some 3D elements to blend into your artwork? Or maybe you would’ve loved some custom lettering for a composition? What about some animation to breath life into your UI work? Sounds familiar? Developing new skills increases your ability to imagine anything, think freely, without the anxiety that you can’t make your vision come to life. On the contrary, mastery of various tools and techniques can enrich the ideation process and take your creativity to then next level.

I highly recommend lynda.com if you want to learn something new or if you want to keep your skills sharp. If you want to learn code it’s best if you go for a dedicated platform. I should checkout teamtreehouse.com and freecodecamp.com.

 

Design is everywhere

Design is in architecture. Design is in interior decoration. Design is in print, in web, in branding. Design is in industrial products. Design is in fashion. Design is in nature. Any and all areas where you can study design will develop your creativity and inspire you in ways you don’t expect. I found in my work so far that inspiration is synesthesic (if that’s the word). I’m sure you’ve had at some point a creative problem where struggling with and later had an aha moment while reading a book, browsing a magazine, watching a movie, enjoying a walk in the park or visiting a museum. This goes to show how receptive your brain is to all stimuli in your environment and how inspiration can come from unexpected places.

Therefore, don’t limit your area of interest. Be curious. Explore. Learn something new. It will build on what you already know, it will deepen your understanding of your specialty and maybe will spur a new passion that will take you on a whole new adventure.

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