When I started working for a startup I had the label “designer”. I got hired to do front-end development and design for their website. Before I knew it I had to design the mobile apps and website for TravelBird together with 4 iOS and Android developers. I was responsible for the information architecture, Interaction design, visual design, some front-end development here and there and the overall user experience of the product. I carried this responsibility with the entire team. Everyone had the ambition to design and build a human centered product.
As you can see my responsibility as a designer in that role was going in a lot of different design topics. I loved it and I learned a ton.
Starting at a design consultancy I got hired as a visual designer. Why? Not quite sure. My experience was a lot wider then just that because of my previous job.
It felt like a random label that was on top of my contract and other then that doesn’t have much meaning. I guess they had to throw me in one category simply because the company worked with these job labels.
It is fine to be better at one of the many different design niches. Some people prefer to think about information architecture instead of trying to get the visual balance right in a screen. It is not a bad thing to be a specialist but it is to a certain extend. I think on the long run these labels and specialism can be limiting. Let me elaborate.
How I see the effect around me at the moment.
Since a lot of design agencies label designers as Interaction designers and visual designers everybody in the team has their own responsibility. Though as a team you have a shared responsibility to make each other better. Because of my wider experience in the past I like to challenge the wire frames and information architectures the Interaction designers shows me. I do this to improve the experience we are designing, improve my own interaction design skills and improve the skills of my colleague. If you are not able to do this as a visual designer you have to do your homework regarding interaction design. Otherwise you are just coloring the wireframes the interaction designer gives you. Which designer wants to just color shit in?
Working for a design consultancy you often have to win a pitch before you can start collaborating with a client. These pitches need presentations to communicate a story. These presentations need to be designed. Designing these bad boys is not always the most thrilling job in the world but it’s a great opportunity to play with story telling, typography, and visual balance. However, in the agency I was working at, 9 out of 10 times the visual designer needs to do this. Mainly because everybody in the company know that visual designers are good at making things “look pretty”.
I struggle with this a bit since this can also be used as an opportunity for other interaction designers to improve their visual design skill. It also seems to me that they are not always thrilled to take on the responsibility because it’s not their strongest design skill. I think this is a result of the labels that everybody get. As soon as you shy away from a challenge because your job title is dictating something else you are letting your job title limit yourself.
How it will effect your future
When screens started to pop up around us, designers had to make the jump from print design to digital design. Mobile phones became kind of a thing so we had to learn how to design for smaller screens. We now feel comfortable designing mobile first and responsive solutions. However five to ten years ago it was new and it made us all feel slightly uncomfortable. Now Virtual reality and Augmented reality are at our doorstep. As a designer working in the digital world I’m extremely excited about this. I know we are going to have to reinvent ourselves. Define design patterns that are not there yet. Learn skills I haven’t got yet. I know if I get too comfortable in my box with my label “Visual Designer”, I’m going to have a problem. It’s going to make me scared to jump into this new world because I’m too comfortable in the position I’m in. I don’t want to be in that box. I want to stay curious and keep exploring. I don’t want to get stuck in the structure other people decide you should live in. Sure, put it on my contract but I will always strive not to get too comfortable with doing just that.
What is the solution?
Stay curious and push yourself out of your comfort zone. Sometimes it takes time to even realize you’re stuck in it. Become aware and push yourself to do something you don’t fully understand yet. Sure, let the company you’re working for give you a label above your contract but show them in the way you are taking on challenges that you can do more than just that. You’ll learn a ton, become irreplaceable and you‘ll be future proof.
This will be my personal spare-time focus for the next months:
What is your next challenge going to be?
Initially posted on medium