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Timeless Roles for Designers


To build skills that go beyond tech trends, define your career in timeless, human terms. Here is how we’re starting to think about design roles at Fresh Tilled Soil.

Design can feel like a scary field if you don’t love change. Technologies and tools pop in and out of existence, some lasting only months, and others — like the Web itself — transmuting into completely new forms every few years. These changes can leave careers in the dust; ask your local “webmaster”.

As designers, we make things for humans. The hard part to get right is the “for humans”, not the “make things”.  Fortunately, human software has a famously slow upgrade cycle. Human needs, goals and desires are predictable — Maslow’s hierarchy doesn’t need a facelift every few years to keep it fresh.

The timelessness of design itself lets us think about what our jobs mean, independent from current technology. If you know how your role relates to human goals and needs, rather than focusing on the implementation details, you can adapt yourself to any environment. As an exercise, it’s helpful to think about transposing your role into a completely different industry. Ask yourself: What skills would stay relevant?

For example, imagine we found ourselves in charge of a movie production. How would our PM, UX, design and dev roles translate to this new medium?

Project Management: The Producer

Timeless Role: Keeps everything on track and on budget. Understands individual team member strengths & weaknesses, and plans accordingly to ensure everything gets done.

UX: The Scriptwriter

Timeless Role: Lays the foundation. Understands people, their emotions, and how they react to situations. Defines the goals for the production, and establishes the underlying structure to best serve these needs.

Visual Design: The Director

Timeless Role: Understands how we consume the world through our senses. Sets the scene and controls what you see and hear, ensuring that the desired emotional and intellectual impact are achieved.

Development: The Actor

Timeless Role: Through skilled interpretation, makes the production “real”. Lives within the story defined by the “scriptwriter” and the stage set by the “director”, but holds ultimate responsibility for turning concepts into reality.

By thinking about our jobs in this way, rather than just in the context of existing technology and techniques, we can set ourselves a solid foundation for the future. That isn’t to say that “implementation details” are unimportant; if you lack fluency with today’s toolkit, nobody cares how you describe yourself. But don’t define your career by the tools you happen to use today. You wouldn’t think of yourself as a “Photoshop Designer”, so why is “Web Developer” or “Mobile UX Strategist” any better?

What makes your role “timeless”? What skills can you develop and build upon throughout your career, and what are just implementation details?

Author Geordie Kaytes

An artist at heart, Geordie brings his infectious, enthusiastic spirit to every project. He specializes in product and service design and also brings a wealth of experience in new product launch strategy, market research, and process design.

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