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Blog Post

Why Bother To Specialize?

I’ve had conversations with a friend of mine about how he feels pigeon-holed. He’s a front-end web developer and it’s a job title that has only taken on a special meaning in the last few years. It’s the sort of job that sits in the middle of other disciplines; he’s a whiz at programming and implemention, but he’s also adept at design, wireframing and user experience.

He crafts interaction scenarios (the what) and implements such interactions (the how). Designers like to call these moments of delight, but there’s a whole slew of knowledge that is needed to make databases talk and pages load. But as a programmer, he still has to make choices about what to deliver and how to implement these moments of interface joy. And, his skill makes it look natural and expected.

He doesn’t have a design degree and, instead, has a Bachelor of Science in computer science. But if you were to look at his work, you’d still see some thoughtful designing happening in his work.

So, he wonders, why doesn’t anyone ask him to get involved in design?

He’s suffering from a programming speciality. It’s the text on his college transcripts and the designation on his degree and his LinkedIn profile lists more programming languages than design software programs in the skills section. His former employers eventually called him a “WordPress expert” to clients, even though he never bragged about or claimed to be a WordPress technical expert.

Designers don’t do code, or they do it haphazardly and don’t respect those who do. I’ll admit that I’m guilty of hacking together a slew of jQuery and Drupal pages, learning the code and structure as I went. But I always felt like I was missing some basic principles behind the languages I was teaching myself. I knew many designers who wouldn’t even learn a minutiae of HTML, because “I’m not one of those people.”

User can be our partners, but developers are just “programmers”. Co-creation has been a hot topic in design for a long time, thanks to Liz Sanders and others for their work in bringing users into the process. Developers, or “code monkeys” in a more derogatory slang, aren’t considered users because their expertise is seen as so specialized and that they could never be our partners, they just implement our vision to our designer specifications.

Particularly in my field, I’m learning more and more job titles and it’s staggering how much the work differs between them: Design Planner, Design Strategist, Design Researcher, Business Strategist … the list goes on. We’re drowning in specializations and it’s only making the field more siloed and more difficult to relate to. An unfortunate byproduct is the exclusion of participants like my friend, who doesn’t want to become a designer, but wants to aim for the greater good.