Jack of all design, master of design

10 November 2012

In a previous post (or rant) I explained how I prefer to label myself as a designer, not only because I have worked in many design roles but rather due to the underlying design foundation. My degree gave me the basic liberal arts skills that comes with any BA: research, writing and critical thinking. My post-graduate studies and work experience has been built on top of that, however I still started from the beginning again, choosing a design programme that focused on design theory and foundation before progressing to a specialty in corporate design.

Today I found myself having a few conversations with some really talented people in the industry, and I was explaining my current role, which is pretty much a jack of all trades within design. And if I had to specialise, I would not be phased because I have a solid background (though sometimes it’s a gradient or image). In my day job I oversee the visual identity, ensure consistency and cohesion across all products and platforms, and often produce a bulk of the designs for the product on web and mobile (plus some of the printed campaigns and collateral). I could pick out a number of tasks I do and turn them into a full-time job: user experience designer, interface designer, interaction designer, advertising designer, or mobile designer.

It has been a while since someone asked me if use one design application over another, but the same response I use applies for design; I learned how use a hammer, not a specific brand of hammer. Though that’s very simplistic, understanding the principles of design and the basic tools, picking up a new application is easy. There was a time I did not know how to use QuarkXpress but this did not hold me back from learning it (and eventually switching to Indesign). I’ve worked in CorelDraw, bleh!, Freehand and Illustrator; Painter, Fireworks and Photoshop. But it’s not the tool that makes one a designer, just as focusing on one role among many is simply part of being a designer. I can easily go full-time on mobile design, however I do appreciate the luxury of being involved and caring about the other parts even if I’m not required to see those other parts through. Design is often a team effort with lots of discussion done before the delegation of tasks to the experts, or so I remember when I worked in a larger team with specialised designers.

Being required to fill so many roles means getting to specialise, though from day to day work can become focused in one are for long periods. Flexibility is important for all designers, and even when one speciality title is selected over another, a designer will be fluid in their thinking, yet with a good job description, have the structure to stay on track.

Understanding every speciality of design is far easier with a solid foundation, and drilling down in one area takes a short period to begin much as tackling any problem takes a moment of research and processing before ideation. I think this is often easier for me versus some areas of execution, for example I don’t consider myself an illustrator so this is one speciality where I don’t execute. Being a jack of all trades designer is appropriate for any designer, yet knowing one’s limits and playing instead to the strengths is key. I have a whole other rant in me on what type of designer I am, so look for that soon.