Generalization or Specialization?

Recently, I was asked by a student what was better generalization or specialization and frankly I am of a divided opinion:

I’ve heard that being a generalist and knowing a bunch of different things in design waters down the thing that one specializes in and devalues the body of professional achievement.

I’ve also heard the opposite: Applying a diverse background of work often informs a designer by giving that person “fresh eyes” to a problem.

…And read a bit on this: In The Dip, Seth Godin says that the way our society is, there’s little value in being ranked lower than, say number six in any category. So, if one were a generalist, it means they do so at the danger of not adding to their strengths, whose achievement more than pays for itself in benefits (i.e. work, awards, money, etc.)

Well, I opened the question up to the AIGA Baltimore LinkedIn group and here are some responses from our great group members:

“I was asked by a student which is better: being a generalist and being moderately good at alot of disciplines in design or being a specialist? What are your thoughts?”

Lucas writes: “Being a jack-of-all-trades type of person I feel that I have had success through that path. But there is trouble finding a job outside of just freelancing that suits this type of process. I think you run into trouble trying to figure out where you fit in with a 9-5 job in terms of salary, “Am I a Web Designer or more of a developer or am I just a poser?” Also, I fantasize about being a hand-lettering specialist. Do what feels right, do it well and things will come your way.”

Brian writes: “From what I’ve experienced when you start out you have to be a jack of all trades to get people in the door and feed yourself. Then as you season you usually are attracted to a couple of things you are passion about and specialize in thus become known for.”

Stephanie adds: “More and more clients are coming to us (professional talent firm) for that Hybrid Designer / Developer. But more than anything they want to see the passion for what you do and they want you to be able to communicate that with those you work with.”

Just a small sampling of the population but opinions abound. Have an opinion? Feel free to add it to our discussion. Thanks.

By AIGA Baltimore
Published February 4, 2011