Rose Cox

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T-shaped designers: who they are and how to become one

T-shaped designers have a wide range of skills across different areas of the product space, which is the top horizontal bar of the “T,” and deep expertise in their core design skillset, the vertical bar of the “T”. This means they collaborate effectively across multiple disciplines while contributing specialized knowledge in their area of expertise.

What makes a T-shaped designer?

  1. Broad skills (horizontal bar):
    • Cross-disciplinary knowledge: They know a bit about many areas of product design, like user experience (UX) design, user interface (UI) design, visual design, and usability testing. They also have knowledge into other areas related to design such as product strategy, data analysis, design operations, and marketing.
    • Team collaboration: They can work easily with people from different teams like product managers, engineers, and marketers, understanding and integrating their feedback into the design process.
    • Great communication: They can clearly explain their design choices, present their findings and designs, and are good at gathering input from diverse stakeholders.
  2. Deep expertise (vertical bar):
    • Specialized skills: They have advanced skills in core design skills, including UX research, wireframe design, prototyping, and visual design.
    • Expert knowledge: They stay updated on the latest trends, tools, and best practices in the design field.
    • Problem-solver: They can handle complex challenges in their area of expertise and create high-quality solutions.
IBM Design Career Playbook

Source: IBM Design Career Playbook

Why being T-shaped is awesome

  • Flexibility: They can contribute to all stages of the design process, from research and concept development to final implementation.
  • Better collaboration: They work well with team members from different disciplines, leading to a more integrated approach to product development.
  • Innovation: Their mix of broad knowledge and deep expertise allows them to come up with innovative and practical solutions.
  • Adaptability: They can easily adapt to different project needs and pivot when necessary to ensure successful products.

How to become a T-shaped designer

  1. Learn broadly:
    • Take courses and attend workshops in various areas of product design.
    • Work on different projects to gain a range of experiences.
    • Stay curious and learn about related fields like psychology, business, and technology.
  2. Specialize deeply:
    • Find an area you’re passionate about and become an expert in it.
    • Follow industry leaders, read specialized books and articles, and practice advanced techniques.
    • Seek mentorship and professional development opportunities.
  3. Engage in cross-functional projects:
    • Work on projects that involve collaboration with different departments.
    • Volunteer for roles that let you apply your broad skills while deepening your expertise.
    • Reflect on your experiences to see how your broad and deep skills complement each other.

In short, a T-shaped product designer is valuable because they bring a mix of wide-ranging skills and deep expertise, making them a key player in creating innovative and successful products.