Design skills need to be expanded

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

The Logic+Emotion blog has an interesting analysis of Nike’s online strategy which is well worth reading especially if you are interested in social networking. Towards the end of the article, it reiterates what a lot of people have been saying for quite some time (since the early days of the web, in fact, if memory serves): being a designer isn’t just about creating the look or the structure, but about much more besides, and companies like Nike or the agencies that work for them need to be investing in different design skills:

In 2008—if you think this is a direction you want to invest in, here are a handful of skills/people you may want to look for.  Keep in mind, these are not actual titles, they are more skill sets.

Digital Information Designers

Not all designers know how to design lots of content in the online space.  One you get into scrolling pages with lots of content, multimedia and features—you need people who know understand the art and science of information design.  More specifically, you need good digital information designers—there’s a difference.

Content Analysts/Architects

Content-rich sites require content analysts who can organize and categorize large amounts of content in their sleep. While flashy micro-sites relied heavily on talented flash designers—content sites rely on content analysts putting some deep thought into the best ways to display, distribute and serve up content (think multiple devices, feeds etc.).  These individuals will also understand how to integrate and aggregate content that may be coming from the ‘outside’ also known as ‘user generated content’.

Community Facilitators/Curators

People who understand the nuances, cultures and social etiquettes of online communities will be in high demand.  Those who can moderate, facilitate, create and maintain conversations will be critical to adding life to site experiences like this.  In addition, people with skills in this area understand how to reach out to existing communities and can help extend brands into this space without being too heavy handed or contrived. 

Niche Editors

Going up against content-rich providers on the internet such as Web MD is probably a waste of time, however the internet thrives on highly specialized niche content.  People who understand how to edit and serve up this specialized content—making it both valuable and convenient will be in demand.

There’s a vast range of skills here but in summary the article is saying interactive media design needs people who understand society and culture, who are able to tap in to diverse networks (often outside their own areas of interest that they will need to respect), know where the experts are (a key journalistic skill), and the information organisational skills of a librarian.

In other words, more than just what I think most people think a ‘designer’ needs to be taught.

There is of course another argument – that projects like socially-based websites need to stop relying on jack-of-all-trades designers (and expecting courses to produce them) and instead start recruiting journalists, subject specialists and librarians. But to do that we have to stop building little fences around ‘design’ and start attracting people from other professions and disciplines in to the field.

This has to start with truly interdisciplinary courses – in education we have to stop using ‘the portfolio’ as the entrance requirement (especially at postgraduate level) because that will stop the scientists, medics, athletes, lawyers, accountants and so on studying design. We also have to reassess what we consider to be ‘core’ skills for a designer.
I think there’s a fear that opening up our gene pool to others will produce unpredictable mutants, and that there’ll be a loss of the ‘traditional’ designer.

That’s actually the point.

(Via Logic+Emotion.)

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