Cassie is a designer at Mozilla in Toronto. She’s had many lives so far; having grown up in Florida, she tried London before moving to Canada, experimenting with agency life, freelancing, creative writing, and in-house design at a hospital. She founded the interview series Women&&Tech and is in the early stages of writing a book about design. She’s also a new mum. Previous publications include A List Apart, Smashing Magazine and Distance.
Macro-Micro Design Strengths
What if instead of categorizing designers by discipline we sorted them instead by the scale of their expertise? Some designers are much better at the holistic, macro level understanding of the problem they are trying to solve. They get the business logic, the marketing strategy, and how to tell the overall story through linking together separate product elements. They develop skills like product management, sales, or team building and process refinement. They are usually great at communicating with people at all levels of a project, facilitating consensus, and are adept at writing or speaking.
Other designers are talented at the micro-level skills required for finished designs. Their plan for implementation across various devices includes an admirable attention to detail. They painstakingly revise their designs until they achieve perfection or something nearing it, and they may have trouble passing their work onto others due to their perfectionism. You can be confident their work will be finished, polished and ready to go when the deadline comes.
You would want both kinds of designers on your team.
Today, given the division of labor between designers and developers, micro characteristics make a designer more likely to move into the hybrid designer-developer space; designers who can code well are often those who are focused on specific details or components. In the macro-micro division of labor, however, hybrids would be designers who understand a project from both up close and far away.
Under this lens, hybrids would still be immensely valuable, but there is no more talk of ‘should or shouldn't designers code’; skills at all levels are finally recognized as important to achieving great design. There is room for everyone.
Freeing designers from the labels of what they call themselves, be that UX expert, interaction designer, web designer, front end developer or visual designer, and losing the distinction of whether or not they can code, illustrate or manage a team, also frees designers from the limitations of expectations. Designers are able to follow their interests when it comes to growth and skill development instead of trying to live up to impossible qualifications that do not match their natural inclinations.
This raises the bar for designers, because without the type of job title that emphasizes one skill over another it can be assumed that designers might know a little of everything. This doesn’t necessarily mean a designer becomes a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’, as design is inherently a practical skill and can be put to use no matter what, but the shift is toward designers as masters of whatever skill means getting the job done. In an ever-changing landscape of technologies, over a span of a career, isn’t that how we realistically approach problems anyway?