As with many things, it depends. Different companies are looking for different kinds of roles. After getting to know different environments, my observation was that the larger the company the more specialized the roles tend to get. And on the other side, within the startup world, the tendency is to have generalists just because they cannot afford a larger team. So, many startups hire generalists.

However, the more I was learning about different startups (and large companies), the more exceptions I was noticing. There are quite a few small startups that have specialist roles. Also, many large companies look for generalist roles. This was contradicting my initial analysis. Thinking through this further, my understanding has shifted from company size to the design team size. The larger the team size, the higher the level of the specialization goes.

Later, I learned about some companies that had a large design team size, but quite a low level of specialization. Though it’s not as common, I decided to seek better patterns for what determines if a company looks for specialists or generalists. And my (current) conclusion is that it all ties to the level of maturity of the design practice at a company. This is not directly connected to the company or design team size, but I have noticed that with larger companies and larger design teams, there is a higher chance of finding more mature design practice.

Then, I was thinking of how could one find companies that have the level of maturity they are interested in. And so far, I haven’t found a foolproof method. The way I have been doing this is by using the job description as a proxy. Not the best way, but can indicate some red flags quite fast. For instance, having 20+ items in the list of job responsibilities, or minimum requirements of 3 years of experience for an entry-level position, or many others. (might be worth writing a separate post on the topic of job posting red flags 🤔). Also, the job posting should give you some clues about the specialist or generalist question. Quite often, there will be a couple of lines in the overview of what kind of designers they are looking for. Or the job responsibilities.

My favourite way though is to have a conversation with the design leader and designers at this company and ask them questions about how they do things (as an indication of their level of design practice maturity) and directly about the job responsibilities for that particular role. I’ve seen situations when one company may have both specialized and generalist roles.

That being said, the real question is – “Who are you? A generalist or a specialist?” Make sure you understand what you want to do for your career.

You do you.

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