The prevailing wisdom within the web design community is that you should specialise. However, does that really make sense? Is that what website owners are looking for? I would argue it is not.
Website owners have an increasingly difficult job. Not only do they need to provide visitors with an engaging, usable and accessible website, they also have to interact with them through social media, great content and other online marketing channels.
Think about it for a moment. The most effective online strategies consist of at least the following elements…
- An effective website
- Email marketing
- Google Adsense
Website owners also have to worry about…
- Business strategy
- User profiling
- Competition analysis
- Site promotion
- Site analytics
- Calls to action
The list could go on.
When faced with such a daunting task they do not want a specialist. What use is an expert in ruby on rails when faced with such a broad and complex set of issues?
The need for generalists
They need generalists. They need people who can advise them on the breadth of challenges they face.
The specialist argues that they can hire multiple specialists to handle these different areas. However, who brings the pieces of the puzzle together? The website owner? I would argue this is asking too much.
Large numbers of suppliers create serious logistical problems, not to mention the potential for shifting blame. Most website owners want a one stop provider who can advice them on the whole range of challenges they face.
Being a web designer in this new decade is about more than building websites. A web designer will need to have a good understanding of business practices, site analytics, marketing, copywriting, social media and more.
Admittedly those who advocate specialising encourage people to have a T shaped knowledge. In other words web designers should have a superficial knowledge of all areas and a deeper understanding of one.
Although I can see the value in this approach as a way to ensure you work well with other specialists, I do not think it will meet the needs of most website owners.
Web designers need a deeper understanding of a broader set of areas if we are to be of real value to their clients.
The alternative is that website owners themselves have to develop this level of knowledge and that is going to be difficult for anything other than a full time website owner.
How then can a web designer broaden his or her knowledge? The answer is simple – start exposing yourself to a great number of sources of information.
Broadening your knowledge
Web designers should of course be learning about the latest CSS techniques and jquery plugins. However, they should also be reading marketing blogs, business strategy books and even attending copywriting workshops.
Here are a few suggestions to start off the budding generalist…
- Read ‘Made to Stick‘ a brilliant book on how to make ideas sticky.
- Attend Relly Annett Bakers workshops on writing for the web
- Start reading a marketing blog like econsultancy or a blog on customer service.
- Read anything written by Malcolm Gladwell – it will broaden your mind.
I know what you are thinking – “I don’t have time for that.” Well I am sorry to break the news but you have picked the wrong job!
The web is one of the fastest moving industries on the planet and needs an incredibly broad set of skills. If you don’t have those skills or fail to keep them up-to-date then you will lose credibility. You need to make time.
At the end of the day it is simple. Our website owners are asking for advice on everything from design to facebook and if we don’t give it to them then somebody else will. That is the reality of a consumer culture.