T’s, E’s, Paint Drips, and Webs: What makes a UX Generalist?

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In the last four months I’ve been doing more reading on T’s and E’s and sometimes triangles than I thought possible. Let me be clear: I haven’t gone completely mad. I’ve been thinking about and trying to visualize the shape of the ideal UX Generalist skill set.

It had been my thinking that when it came to being a well-rounded UX Generalist, it was necessary to have a T-shaped skill set, in which you have deep experience and skill in one area and more general knowledge and skills in two other related areas. The more I talked about this with other folks both in and out of the UX milieu, the more I came to realize that this T-shaped skillset is not quite the best way to envision how to go about continuously building your skill and tool kits. It’s a great starting point, but I think it may be too limiting for certain types of thinkers and makers.

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What is the ideal skill set?

The more I read up on what others were doing to broaden their skill sets in areas of need and interest, I began to think that it was becoming necessary to have more than just decent chops in two other related groups of skills. In fact, it might be more like three or four things that a good
Generalist needs to know — kind of like an “F” or “E”. And some suggested that it wasn’t a matter of deep skills in one area and decent skills in a few others, but rock solid skills in at least three areas — more like a triangle. This made slightly more sense to me, but I was still having a hard time wrapping my head around how one would go about expanding their skill sets in this model, and realized things still weren’t quite ringing true for me.

At this point I ran across a conversation that described this ideal Generalist skill set as being more like a “T” that is covered in paint and is dripping at several points, downwards from the horizontal part of the letter. The idea being that from those two supporting skill sets, you may want or need to delve deeper into certain intersections of those skills with SME knowledge, analytic or user research data, visual design, and so on. This started uncovering what I believe is the true “ideal skill set”, and what it consists of.

Finding your own shape

I started trying to visualize my own skill set and see what letter, shape, or dripping shape came out. Out of many quasi-indecipherable doodles, I realized that what I had looked something like a spider’s web. Now, I’m phobic of spiders and spider webs, so I prefer to think of it as a wet net, and while my first instinct is to say a bloody net (I do love gory horror films), let’s go with a freshly emptied fishing net.

All of your skills are interrelated in some way, and I find it can be very easy to start picturing this like a full-fledged neural network, but that tends to add an unnecessary layer of complexity to this visualization, and I digress...

At some point you came into the world of user experience from somewhere — whether it was as a designer, product owner, developer, psychologist or something else, and some part of one of those skill sets was the launching point for starting this network of skills. But as technology changed, or your role or employer changed, or maybe just out of curiosity you started (or you will find yourself) branching off into other areas of knowledge. Sometimes you went deeper and sometimes broader, but always adding more to the net and connecting it back to what you already know.

This can also be a means of finding launching points for new areas of investigation and knowledge-gathering. Each individual’s UX Generalist Rock Star Network of Knowledge will look slightly different. My desire to dive deep into data visualization may end short of where your interest and knowledge go, but there is little doubt that we both know something about the subject.

Part of the issue is that you don’t know what you don’t know, so unless you keep up on industry trends — both in experience design and the vertical(s) you work in — it can be difficult to be aware of what the next sections of your net could encompass. By reading, listening, and participating in conversations you can keep in touch with not only what’s next, but what’s next for you.

Want to hear more? Come to UX New Zealand!

If you'd like to hear more about how to become a great UX generalist, plus a bunch of other cool UX-related talks, head along to UX New Zealand 2016 hosted by Optimal Workshop. The conference runs from 12-14 October, 2016, including a day of fantastic workshops, and you can get your tickets here.

Published on Sep 06, 2016
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