Nathan Barry, author of The App Design Handbook, recently wrote a great post about his professional journey to master not just design but development and marketing too.
A common critique of that approach is the age-old aphorism:
“Jack of all trades, master of none.”
What sounds like a truism is actually an excuse for not taking the initiative to learn things outside your comfort zone. In fact, some of biggest names in our industry are the tinkerers, the curious ones.
Just look at Loren Brichter, maker of Tweetie and Letterpress. This guy is an amazing designer but he also is a fantastic developer with a knack for marketing. In a recent interview he described his prototyping process as thinking, then coding. He doesn’t wireframe things out on paper. While I personally prefer to prototype with paper and Photoshop, Loren’s obviously got a good thing going, a process that would be impossible had he not learned to code.
Check out more examples on Mike Rundle’s blog.
Why are these people so successful? I think the various disciplines inform one another. They force you to think in different dimensions. They also make you a great product person because you understand the nuances of what it takes to build successful software from beginning to end, even if you don’t always execute each step of the process yourself.
The main danger is spreading yourself too thin, too fast. It’s always good to master something and make sure you are always on top of your game. Thats why I am a designer who also happens to code and market. I spend most of my time designing and staying current in the design world, but I also spend some time every week on marketing and sometimes coding. It’s really fun to switch between different sides of your brain and takes a lot of the tedium out of work. I think it’s also great to have hobbies beyond technology because I’m a strong believer in Steve Job’s emphasis on the intersection of technology and liberal arts.
I’m not saying this is for everyone. I think some of the best designers and programmers in the world are extremely focused on one discipline. But I think exploring unfamiliar disciplines can be a ton of fun and help you think differently. I also don’t think it’s as hard as people think. I’ve learned enough about design, development, and business to release a couple pretty successful apps and I’m only 22 — it doesn’t take decades to master this stuff.
These skills can be learned and mastered so why not be curious and take a few hours a week to learn them? I think it’s time for a new aphorism: Jack of all trades, master of some.