Po-tay-toh, Po-tah-toh!

Or - What is the place of the specialised designer in the consultancy landscape?

Claudelle Girard

Illustration of a full-stack of potatoes

In Norwegian, we call a “Jack-of-all-trades” a potato. A person who, like a potato, adapts to many different contexts (or main meals), but by themselves might lack something to make them stand out. Among developers, this type of competence is called being “full-stack”. Sounds much more fancy! Designers have started adopting this term too- we can now be full-stack designers. We can be pros at all the design buzzwords, from concept development, to research, to testing, to IxD, UI, visual design, animation- why not add in illustration, branding and marketing too? Yay!

So- What is the value of the potato vs the specialist? Which is best?

Flexibility is an attribute for consultants which is highly regarded because it makes them easier to place in a variety of contexts. Does that suddenly make being a potato an exotic fruit?

What about the specialised award-winning website designer? This person is really excelling at their craft and bringing recognition to the firm for their ability to push the boundaries. That’s pretty special. But how much are they worth when those projects suddenly aren’t to be found, and they’re unable to deliver on a branding project, for example? Is being an expert a positive or a negative? Should they branch out into different areas of design, or build on their expert competence and remain ahead of the curve for the next project?

The specialised designer can also be regarded as being lesser then their “full-stack” counterparts because they’re “only good at that one thing”. One could ask “Shouldn’t they be bored of doing that one thing by now?” I often wish I could have the chance to really excel at one segment of the design field, because in order to push boundaries, we need to get past all of the ground work, and that necessitates in-depth research, a lot of practice, and focus.

But- to use a musical example- I wouldn’t want to suddenly feel out of my depth playing lead guitar on a pop song because I’ve only been playing metal all of my musical life.

Obviously- it comes down to what work is available to us, and as consultants we need to have a certain flexibility regardless. Communication goes a long way, along with clear goals and alignment with your leaders. Draw up a road map based on feasible aspirations. Maybe add a couple passion fruits to your stack.

Full-stack of potatoes