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Why You Should Be A T-Shaped Web Designer

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What is a Generalist Web Designer?

At its root the T-shaped generalist is a metaphor describing a designer with a diverse skill set.

Let's take a minute to explain what I mean by T-Shaped generalist

A T-Shaped person is the one having deep practical knowledge (depth) and a variety of technical and soft skills in other areas.

With that being said, let’s go through a typical day in the life of a specialist with a very narrow "I" Shaped knowledge base in visual design.

The Specialist

Imagine for a minute - the specialist web designer who has a deep understanding of visual design that is working in a agency environment and they’re laser focused on their one area of expertise.

Each day they come into work and open their Asana tasks and start their visual designing day - oblivious of what is going on around them.

What happens when you come in one morning and your tasks are empty. You go to your project manager and ask for more work and she says I don’t have anything available until later in the day.

So the designer heads back to his desk and spends a few hours surfing dribble and looking for inspirational ideas filling in the gaps between tasks.

Obviously, this would become an issue over time because most agencies work on billable hours.

This visual designer should be working on improving his skills in other areas that could contribute to the web projects coming across his desk. These issues unchecked would start to effect projects in a number of ways;

● Less productivity - The visual designer would be waiting around for their next tasks

● Collaboration - Not being able to convey the technical vocabulary needed to the development team

● Lack of skills in key areas - HTML5, CSS3, Javascript, Interactive prototyping, team management

The Generalist  Perspective

Why do we need more generalists?

We need more designers with a wider breadth of skills. Freelancers and in-house designers are being pressured to contribute in other areas such as research, customer journey mapping, user interviews, writing content, setting up social profiles and some basic coding.

So what would life look like if you started to mentor others on your depth in visual design expertise to fill in their gaps of knowledge. A T-Shaped engineer could do the same in return by imparting his wisdom in coding languages with you to allow you to communicate your designs effectively as they move forward to the development phase of a project.

Being a T-Shaped Designer

As a well rounded T-shaped web designer you are better positioned to work with other T-Shaped people because you have taken the time and effort to add new skills and vocabulary that allow you to collaborate effectively with your co-workers or in other disciplines within your organization.

As a freelancer you can offer yourself up as a multidisciplinary designer that can work equally well in a team environment for temporary projects as well as remotely as a specialist in one area because you have the knowledge and collaborative skills to contribute in many areas not just one narrow area.

Being a generalist can also increase your salary or freelancing rate because you are able to deliver more value for every dollar your client spends.

When you are a specialist web designer your services can become a commodity whereby you are trading time for dollars and this can become a slippery slope when you are having to lower your rates to get projects.

In Summary

Think like a generalist - You need to strategize like a generalist, and deliver like a specialist to have an impact and gain influence amongst your peers.

Never stop learning new skills in UX, Mobile, Wearable Tech, Basic programming, etc..

Be collaborative - Be open-minded to teaching others your craft and hope that they will share their knowledge with you.

Dive into a problem until you have exhausted all options and then ask for help when you need it

Get away from the computer screen - Go outside, go for a run, enjoy the park, have lunch at the museum this will inspire you to come up with creative ways to solve problems.

At the end of the day it comes down to being open-minded to change, working collaboratively in a team and contributing to solving problems that lead to successful outcomes.

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About the author

Brian McFarlane

I love sharing my knowledge, networks and compassion for helping people succeed on the web

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