Learning as a designer can mean a variety of things: from strengthening technical skills, to trading workflow tips from fellow designers, to staying up to date on industry direction and topics on the mind of the design community from online communities.
It is crucial to continue learning, even beyond the traditional structure of a classroom, and develop a habit of lifelong learning. The natural inertia of change in a workplace, and isolation from the larger landscape of the design industry can force a designer to gradually learn toward developing expertise in one area.
IDEO, or more specifically Tim Brown, formulated the concept of a “T-shaped” designer: mastery of a few design skill sets and a breadth of general skills, which “provided empathy for other disciplines and, in turn, fostered greater collaboration.”
It is worthwhile and ultimately increases empathy when a designer develops a breadth of skills, as this can offer more perspective throughout the process of problem solving.
For example, development experience can help a designer become more empathetic to technical constraints and implementation realities that they otherwise would be less receptive to without that background.
While it may seem that taking time away from specialization would be the trade off for developing a breadth of skills, the reality of design in the workplace is one that involves collaboration among many different stakeholders and people from various specialties.
Having skills that increase understanding are particularly useful in a team environment–and any team that operates in a silo will end up having more issues with miscommunication and misunderstanding.
Ultimately, its beneficial having periodic refreshers throughout your working life as a designer. Try attending design conferences, engaging in the online or in-person communities for design (AIGA, IXDA as a few examples) in order to understand how the design industry is changing and where it may be moving next.
As Jonathan Cutrell rightly states:
“Lifelong learning and pursuit of knowledge is an endeavour that is always worth pursuing” – Lifelong Education is for Everyone
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