Jack of All Trades or Master of None?

Many of us in the tech industry struggle with this question a lot, especially us designers. And I believe it's because, at the core, we love to learn and we love to create, and there are hundreds of different mediums to do this. From learning and implementing iOS apps to experimenting with new interaction design methodologies on mobile, we have the ability at our fingertips, literally.

It All Depends Upon the Person

If I had to give a young junior designer advice on whether to try and master one discipline or expand their knowledge base by studying multiple disciplines, I'd first try and figure out who that person is.

This is so difficult to admit to ourselves, but what you can, and cannot do, does not lie solely in yourself. It's how you were created. Some people learn faster than others. Some are taller, stronger, prone to learning disabilities, and so on. Qualitatively, we are all created equally, but we are not all created equally in our abilities and talents. We each have strengths and weaknesses.

Not only are we created differently, but we've each set up our lives with different priorities and responsibilities. I have a wife and 4 daughters, so that leaves me with little extra time in the evenings to learn or do something entirely new. So, my 6-8 hours at night are not the same 6-8 hours at night for a single woman out of college. It's just how we each have set up our lives. This plays into our stories as well.

But all of this is great! Who wants each person in this world to have the same strength or knowledge or skillset as everyone else? Who wants all people to be in the same relationships, with the same responsibilities? That's just boring.

John Piper's Story of Weakness

I love the story that John Piper (world-renowned pastor, author and entrepreneur) has told about himself and his ability to read. He said that when he was a professor, he just wasn't able to read quickly, so he decided to take his weakness and strengthen that. Since he read slowly, he decided that he wasn't going to read a large number of books, but the books that he did read, he was going to read as deeply as he could. And now he's one of the deepest thinkers of the modern world.

Try it Out

So, if you're wondering whether you should be a jack of all trades or go the other route and excel at a single trade or skill, find out what interests you the most, then try it out. If you end up finding that you're pretty good at one thing, and can't get a grasp on multiple specialties, then maximize your efforts into that one area. If you are having fun with multiple disciplines and see yourself gaining knowledge and skill in each, keep going.

Each person is different. Each situation is different. Don't worry what others are doing. Do what you're good at, and get better. Learn what you love and don't stop.

User Experience

User experience is, at the core, what a human feels while engaging with a company's product or service.

Good user experience engages users with multiple disciplines* of design to allow a clear and pleasant process when using a product/service. Good UX pleasantly surprises people and creates an emotional connection between them and the product.

Bad user experience confuses users and creates road blocks where none need to exist. It leaves a bad taste in a user's mouth that effects all other encounters they have with that product again.

 

* What I mean by "multiple disciplines" is that user experience isn't just creating wireframes. The whole of the experience a user encounters with a product includes the visual design, interactions, branding, as well as the information design.

I Beg of You. Stop Using Lorem Ipsum Everywhere!

Last Christmas (2013), I went above and beyond to purchase for my wife a $200 bottle of perfume. And this thing was tiny! But I absolutely loved the smell, and I wanted my wife to have something slightly expensive and disposable.

Now, my wife's perfume is best utilized in very small doses. If she decides to start spraying this liquid from head to foot, I think it's safe to say that everybody in the room will vomit. 

And that's a lot like Lorem Ipsum. Use where appropriate. And never overdo it.

As a designer, you should know when and where to use Lorem Ipsum. If you don't, let me help you a little. Only use Lorem Ipsum in wireframes or for large paragraphs of text in high-fidelity comps. Anywhere else, use your cognitive skills to write clear and contextual labels, phrases, comments, paragraphs, headings, or whatever. 

You should be quite aware of the product that you're designing, so it shouldn't be too difficult to create mock scenarios, names, times, or locations. Putting a little extra thought into your comps will help the client understand in a much more clear manner the intent of your design. They won't ever have to ask you questions like, "What's all of this Greek doing here?" or raise concerns like, "I thought you were going to let us write the content for the website?" 

To make it a little more clear when not to use Lorem Ipsum, read further.

Don't use Lorem Ipsum if:

  • it's really Bacon Ipsum and you think the client will get a kick out of it.
  • it's a comment section and you don't want to create a comment scenario.
  • it's a user's bio area and you are stumped about who the ideal user is.
  • you can't think of anything to write.
  • you're late on a project and just want to finish up and move on.
  • there's lots of screens and you just need some sleep.

Use Lorem Ipsum if:

  • you are wireframing and absolutely need text in the wireframe.
  • you are creating high-fidelity comps and the section of text is monstrously long. But keep in mind that the client should easily understand why you're using this dummy text. For example, a Terms of Service page is great for Lorem Ipsum.

You wouldn't go spraying perfume everywhere, so let's not spray Lorem Ipsum all over our client's project.

A Good Designer Knows How to Communicate Well

Meetings.

They are a necessary evil. Especially for a product designer working in a small agency environment.

Almost daily, I will have the opportunity to interface with clients, potential clients, and the rest of the team here at JellyJar. And it's wonderful! I'm constantly challenged to work on my communication skills, which directly effects how good of a designer I am. Communication is at the core of design, and a good designer knows how to communicate well.

Think about it. When you design a logo, you need to think about how it's going to communicate the brand that it represents. What are people going to think when they see this logo? How are they going to feel? Will it bestow trust in customers? Will it contribute to the overall experience of this company, or will it detract from the comprehensive message of the product/service?

That's just one specialty of design. What about other areas? Web, mobile, industrial, interaction, or print? These are only a few professions of design, but they all have one thing in common: communication.

As a designer, you must learn how to communicate well. You must. Your clients depend on you to sell your designs to them. Your users depend on you to create a flow that's not confusing, but pleasant to experience. You depend on you to know how to communicate to yourself why you made that design decision. This also produces confidence, which fosters better design.

The best thing you can do for yourself, your clients, and the folks you work for, is to learn how to communicate well. Some practical ways to get better at this include:

  • Writing: this may be the best way to gain a higher skill at communicating.
  • Being Present at Meetings: yes, a necessary evil, but a good place to be forced into communicating about projects.
  • Attending Conferences: go to a conference and meet new people. The best thing to do is sit back and listen to designers talk to each other. It's great for picking up design terminology, professional practices, and new friends. :)
  • Speaking at Conferences: you'll have time to prepare, which gives you a huge window to practice communicating a single theme.
  • Watching TED Talks: the best of the best speak at TED. Listen and take notes.
  • Reading: read tons of books on design. And when you're done, read some more. My sixth grade English teacher used to say, "You can be a reader without being a writer, but you'll never be a good writer without being a reader."
  • Commenting on Dribbble and Behance: giving constructive feedback helps you to identify the particulars of a design. Being able to write those particulars down in a way that truly helps another designer, is both beneficial to you and that designer.

Your job as a designer is to communicate, whether that's with your words or with your SVGs. Now go and be prosperous...with your words.