A Changing Landscape for Designers and Developers

Yesterday I watched a video from the Midwest UX Conference a week ago that my coworkers attended. It was Jared Spool’s “How Do We Design Designers?” and it was excellent. In it, Spool discusses the common theme of employers wanting design “unicorns”. That is, employers want that rare person with design experience, UI experience, back-end technologies, all of the soft skills, etc. They wanted someone who rarely existed.

His beef was that designers didn’t come out of school knowing how to work as designers, and that design schools can’t keep up. His solution was to have design schools function more like medical schools, where first students learned the philosophy of design, and then the techniques of design, and then finally specialized in something while also getting hands-on experience much like rotations and internships. This I like a lot, given that college degrees don’t teach much but yet are required, and getting experience is tough when “entry level” jobs require at least one year of on-the-job experience. There has to be something to bridge the gap. Right now, designers and developers are doing it with personal portfolios and being self-taught. Spool wants to stick with the traditional schooling model and help traditional design schools adapt.

His conclusions, directed at web designers, were the following:

  • Educate in an ever-expanding design universe
  • Unicorns, fueled by passion, are the great designers of the future
  • Specialists come only after they have mastered being generalists
  • Learning doesn’t end on graduation day

I may write at some point about trying to get a UI job in a city that doesn’t value UI. But that’s another day.

I agree that the generalist-before-specialist works well for design. There is a lot that goes into design – color theory, drawing, the tools, user accessibility. But does it translate well to developers? Developers do better when they understand other components such as design, usability, server-side issues, and security. But is it necessary? I don’t see as many employers hammering for developers to be unicorns as they are for designers. And really, it’s because employers do not value what UI can bring to the table, and end up posting jobs for a designer-developer instead of true UI/UX. Frustrating.

For developers, I think the struggle is not so severe. Developers are rarely asked to do graphics on top of their work, unless it’s a startup. Employers value developers and pay them well. It’s the designers that get the shaft.

My question is, how do developers like me get in the job and move onto the next job? Recruiting is getting sucky, at least here in Indianapolis, when we have no developer boot camps and few local conferences. At least Java developers have a monthly meetup! I would love to see more opportunities to internship outside of having spent $100K in a university setting. I’d love to see more coding boot camps that don’t cost thousands and to drop of out of work to join. I’d like to see job postings that actually made sense. I’d like recruiters to get a clue. I’d like to see more women in back-end programming and less in front-end web and in front-end design.

My sign that the local design industry is bad? When my partner, after having talked to dozens of recruiters, drops out altogether to pick up his hypnotherapy business. That’s rough man.


Related Reading:

The Myth of the Commodity Coder by Michael Dowden

The Unicorn Designer Dilemma and How to Avoid It by Patrick Neeman

Unicorn, Schmunicorn: Be a Pegasus by Wayne Greenwood

The Art of the Developer Resume – Improving the Programmer Resume