To specialize or not to specialize? 

Every person has a unique set of talents, aspirations, motivations, and interests. So, it makes sense to seek specific work roles based on those characteristics. The same applies to companies, with some seeking the right target audience and specializing in a niche industry.

In the end, both people and companies choose if they want to be generalists or specialists. But, bear with me because we will be talking about the design specialization. As you might know, there are a lot of design disciplines. This broad industry can range from fashion design to architecture. Thus, choosing the right specialization in design should be one of the top priorities for both designers and agencies. Here I will talk about those relevant to our agency and clients, and you can read more about disciplines here.

How or why is specialization essential in design? 

Web design is still a relatively new field of design, and for an average person, titles for different experts in the field might be confusing. Since 20 years ago, anyone who could either design or code (usually both) was called a web designer or even a webmaster. Today, as the technologies and market needs are developing further, things have taken a turn for the better. As a result, there are evolving needs and clients who are more familiar with the different opportunities for their businesses.

This change was a milestone for the industry. However, as things got more complex, so did the job opportunities. Today, there are different digital design disciplines: User Experience designers, User Interface designers, 3D designers, IA Architects, etc. Each of these “titles” serves a specific purpose. They are not just some buzzwords for people to boast with. 

For example, 3D designers use a specific set of tools and a niche knowledge of the 3D world wherein a UX designer would primarily be concerned with the “user-friendliness” of a particular product. Critical skills in these two areas are perception and aesthetics, and psychology, respectively. You can see where this is going.

Specialists vs Generalists

Generalists may cover various disciplines, but constant switching from one medium to another disallows them to concentrate on one specific set of problems or one medium. It creates a disbalance in all of the beforementioned characteristics. 

For example, there’s an individual highly interested in illustrations, but they end designing a variety of products loosely related to their primary specialization. Their chances of success in the field decrease because they can’t focus on something they are genuinely interested in. Specialization allows them to work on the projects they are most motivated in and lets them grow in the desired direction as professionals.

By repeating the specific task or a group of related jobs, you better know the subject and are more prepared for whatever comes next. You start spotting patterns, get better at problem-solving skills, and get more experienced. That is the most significant benefit of being a specialist.

Unfortunately, you would say there isn’t always an opportunity to work in a specific area, especially for beginners. Luckily, as with everything else I mentioned before, that changes rapidly, and specialists are in high demand nowadays.

Benefits of specialization for the business

In the case of generalists, there is a long-term cost for an employer, which primarily goes to education and the trial and error process, which can happen a lot in those cases. Employers will have to wait a more extended period for a designer to gain a broader skillset than employing a specialist. And everyone knows that time means money. This can also, and often does, negatively affect the quality of the work and the speed of the delivery.

Another aspect is the client’s expectations, which are very, if not the essential factor in the project. For an agency, this means a lot. How can you design a website if you don’t have an adequate person for this specific role? That’s why clients are more eager to find a specialist rather than finding an all-around agency or a freelancer.

Don’t get me wrong…

Generalists are and can be good designers. Their role is frequently more demanding than one of the specialists. But with that in mind, the best designers are often T-shaped individuals, or in other words, their skills are represented by a T diagram. The horizontal axis represents the breadth, and the vertical axis represents the depth of knowledge. For a designer, it is crucial to get familiar with various other roles to see a bigger picture and gain deeper knowledge in one specific subfield. 

A T-diagram depicting the width and depth of knowledge and skill set

Also, an agency needs to spot the market’s specific needs and find suitable talent for the role. That is the ultimate step for boosting productivity and efficiency.



Author

Viliam Vojvodić

Vinyl enthusiast & craft beer lover. Web designer at Kontra.