Fatten up those T's

April 15, 2011

As Naz Hamid pointed out Thursday, the demand for highly focused specialists in the design community is dwindling and our schools are somewhat responsible. While his post focuses on students fresh out of a degree and embracing “the new design,” the principle extends beyond students to the rest of the community.

Generalist specialists—T-shaped people—are the new design hotness.

The concept isn’t revolutionary, nor impossible for anyone to pursue in their career. As creative individuals, we typically have the luxury (curse?) of having interest in the design of just about anything. Clothing, furniture, cars, and hardware are all common interests amongst people in the Web design community. For many of those people, those interests extend to actual skill backed by a decent amount of experience.

T-shaped people

For designers on the Web, our skills need to spill into other (previously isolated) verticals. Dedicated graphic designers, visual designers, UX designers, and the like may always find roles down the line, but it seems like the generalist specialists are winning out. That’s where being T-shaped comes in.

As a T-shaped designer one should have experience across the multiple disciplines with a focus or preference for one or two. Being T-shaped means you can shift yourself and provide value at just about any stage or type of project—like sketching, wireframing, visual design, and code. While you can certainly train yourself to be T-shaped, most of us end up this way no matter what through life’s course.

If you’re new to a handful of disciplines as a designer, getting to be a T-shaped designer isn’t hard, but it takes time. To get there, you need to fatten up those T’s by getting your feet wet in things you might not have any experience in.

T-shaped people

If you’re a graphic designer, work towards bringing whatever print experience you have to a small single page site. If you’re an interaction designer, start checking out HTML and CSS, and then move on to some basic jQuery. By doing so, you become a much more versatile designer and contributor on any project.

Whatever your speciality is, find something close to it and work at it. You gain a richer understanding of your work and can begin to look at projects from various points of view with relative ease.

So, get out there and fatten up your T by learning something new—you’ll love it, I guarantee it.