What’s Your Design Shape?

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Updated October 11, 2023
Land Your Dream Design Job

You’re reading an excerpt of Land Your Dream Design Job, a book by Dan Shilov. Filled with hard-won, personal insights, it is a comprehensive guide to landing a product design role in a startup, agency, or tech company, and covers the entire design interview process from beginning to end, for experienced and aspriring designers. Purchase the book to support the author and the ad-free Holloway reading experience. You get instant digital access, commentary and future updates, and a high-quality PDF download.

Different models exist out there to map out design skills. It’s a rough science and more of an art. IDEO popularized the T-shaped designer—someone who has deep knowledge and expertise in one or two areas (for example, interaction design and research) but has broad knowledge of other areas (for example, service design and brand design). Larger companies, usually with bigger teams, are composed of a mix of designers. Some of those designers tend to be I-shaped—deep specialists in their domain (motion graphics experts, for instance).

Figure: Assessing Your Design Skills

The modern designer will typically have a variety of skills at their disposal.

It’s easy to progress at a skill in the beginning, but it gets harder to reach an advanced level and even harder still to become an expert. It’s important to prioritize which skills are important to you. As you’re going through them and thinking of specific skills, consider:

  1. How important is this skill to me?

  2. Where do I want it to be?

  3. What skills do I want to develop next in my career journey?

  4. What skills play to my strengths and interests?

  5. What combination of skills will help me stand out as a designer and make an impact?

Not all skills are important all the time, and your needs and industry focus will change. What’s important is to be explicit about what you know, where you want to go, and what’s important to you.

Creating Value in an Organization

Beyond understanding your own skills, you need to also think about how your skill sets translate to the needs of an organization. At the end of the day, you’ll be hired to solve another company’s pain point that they are not able to solve themselves. These pain points vary, but there’s some consistency depending on the company’s maturity.

Smaller companies, such as startups for instance, can’t afford to hire many designers, so they typically bring in a senior generalist to start. Typically this designer will have a strong grasp of interaction design and research, and some visual design skills. They’ll help establish a design direction for the company and ship product, while integrating design process into the product development cycle.

Figure: Assessing Design Team Skills

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