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UX Generalist vs UX Specialist gotta be one of the commonly discussed topics in the UX community.
Personally, I like the idea of being a Generalist rather than a specialist. It must have been quite obvious if you have already visited my Resume page, where I have referred me being a generalist using an idea of Key shaped people vs T-Shaped People. It’s not just T shaped or Key shaped people, its always going to be this vs that, T shaped vs I shaped people, E shaped vs T shaped People, I won’t be surprised if someone comes up with new alphabets of their choice to compare and demonstrate this cross-competency argument some day (Side note: Stop discrimination against alphabets you monsters – every alphabet were created equal 😉 ), but the overall idea here is: to be extremely good at one discipline or to be good in one field alongside some knowledge on other closley related subject matters.
So unlike traditional “Jack of all trades and master of none” principle, I like the idea of “jack of all trades and also a master (or somewhere close to that) of one UX discipline”.
The simple comparison of UX generalist might be with a full-stack developer on development field (for you engineering folks), so would you rather do everything on your own or specialize on one part of the stack. While it’s nice being extremely good at one UX field like, let’s say interaction design or User-Testing but while working with cross-disciplined people, one must have little to some knowledge on things including user research, prototyping and other design thinking approaches.
My reasoning based on my experience as a starter is, there is a slightly limited chance to establish yourself as a UX specialist until you have been polished with all these “UXness” from the experience on a real-world. So in order to gain these experience, you must start by being a generalist. You might not be the sharpest tool in the shed but you’ll always have a thing that you are really good at. Starting your career as a generalist might give you the insight on what you might want to specialize in future. Being generalist also motivates UX folks (especially me) to have insight on different trends on UX, where it’s going and what they might face in the future. One common problem I have seen among specialist is when they dive really deep into their specialisation matter and find that that’s not what they are passionate about that indeed is frustrating and sometimes being specialist prevents one from going to, or choosing to between wide career option.
As you can see this post is kinda biased since it’s written by (*cough* Generalist) me, but the problem isn’t about being generalist or specialist. When it comes to hiring some of the startups or hiring manager aren’t looking for generalist or specialist. These hiring managers are after these creatures who don’t generalise in everything and specialize in one aspect of UX. They are after this mythical UX unicorn who specialize in every aspect of designing including UX research, Architecture design, prototyping, UI design, Interaction design, Usability test, Front-end development, project management and pretty much everything that they can think of when it comes to UX. These unicorns are supposed to magically touch these products and sprinkle some amount of pixie-dust on their UX/UI to make it look and work amazing.Oh Oh!!! and don’t forget about that “5-years experience in UX design or research role preferably as a lead”.
These hiring managers have 99 problems but to hire or not to hire generalist and specialist ain’t the one. In this situation, being a generalist might cover the surface of required job description but it’s just a tip of an iceberg that generalists are dealing with. These are kind of jobs that require some generalist along with a couple of specialists, but if the hiring managers are willing to take this risk and searching for unicorns then they might not be able to get one or they might end up getting someone with “Fake it till you make it” philosophy.
Besides these minor issues, to be or not to be UX generalist or a specialist (or unicorn if you are capable enough to establish yourself as one) shouldn’t be a problem since both of them are equally necessary and in demand for UX.
If you are a hiring manager/startups looking for unicorns then: I’ve heard that these unicorns are usually found in the misty mountains next to the portal of unlimited creative freedom (i.e. not in your company) Goodluck finding and recruiting them.