On Specialization

Once upon a time, there were two junior designers at a tech company named Nudle. Both are new hires with equal levels of experience.

The first designer—let’s call him Jack—is slightly more interested in the fundamentals of design like typography and color. His previous agency job had him redesigning whole sites for clients, and he knows HTML and CSS. He does photography on the side and is interested in both film and TV.

The second designer—let’s call her Jill—went to an art school with a slightly more technical syllabus. She did some prototyping in HTML/CSS and used friends/roommates as test subjects. Jill took all the same art classes as Jack—painting, type, printmaking, animation. Also, she worked in an agency before coming to Nudle. Jill likes music.

Their department manages projects using scrum, and they’re entering the “busy season.” There are two projects on the table: a new marketing page for an upcoming product, and an online dashboard for one of Nudle’s web apps. The design lead and project manager sit down for sprint planning and decide to give Jack the marketing page and Jill the dashboard.

This makes sense to everyone. Jack likes visual design, and he’s super excited to have a new job at Nudle. And Jill feels that her technical experience will really help her to wow her new bosses.


Six months have passed, and both Jack and Jill have had their first “releases” at Nudle! Everyone is very excited; the analytics show both the marketing page and dashboard performing well. Jill has been really busy adding new modules to her dashboard. She’s the most familiar with its design, so she’s the go-to for adding new features to the page. Jack is doing another marketing page for the spring release of Nudle’s flagship product.


A little over a year has gone by, and the company is doing a small reorganization on its digital team. Jack and Jill are promoted! No longer a junior, Jill is now a “UX/UI Designer” and works on web tools across the company. Her work thus far has been stellar, and now she can influence how all of Nudle’s web tools are created.

Around the same time, their teammate got a better offer at another studio. The design leads promote Jack to the newly vacant, mid-level “Visual Designer” position. He is super excited. The company wants to redo their branding, and his last few marketing pages are being used as the foundation for a new living style guide.


It’s been a few years, and the company’s growth is slowing down. No one is too worried; there is still so much work to do. Jack’s style guide is a big success. He helps to roll together some of his original marketing pages into a consolidated company website. The much improved UI just came in from Jill’s UX/Research team, which is awesome. This way, Jack can live in Photoshop and apply his robust style guide to the existing pages.

Jill spends all of her time in Axure and Confluence. So much planning to do! Nudle is doubling the number of web tools that they make. Thank goodness for Jack’s style guide.


Hiring is booming again, and the leaders bring in two new hires with middle-of-the-road experience: Bob and Betty. Neither specializes in anything, and both require some hand-holding.

Jack is frustrated with his team’s new junior designer. The work is fine, but the visuals are unpolished. At least the pages are structured well—not great, but workable. It makes it easier for Jack to go back and fix all the visual flaws later.

Across the company, Jill is annoyed with how much time her junior designer spends on the button colors. They look great and convey both state and affordance… but there’s a lot of UX work, and they already have a style guide to follow. Jill reshuffles the team around her new hire’s knowledge gaps.


Another year goes by, and Nudle’s growth slows again. Nobody seems too worried; in fact, they are relieved! Rapid expansion is stressful, and the backlogs are already full. This breather is well-received by all the designers—visual, UX, and everyone in between.

The web team’s leadership hands out some promotions to smooth over some personnel issues. Bob and Betty are promoted to mid-levels. They kind of float between all the teams, helping with capacity wherever it’s needed. Both work on very different projects from month to month.

Over coffee, Jack and Jill gossip about how stressful that would be. Task-switching is such a pain in the ass.


Out of nowhere, the economy starts to tank. Nudle is in crisis mode. Years of spectacular growth have bloated payroll, and revenue is drying up. As a cost-saving measure, departments are forced to reduce their headcount.

In separate conference rooms across campus from each other, Jack and Jill are called into “quick project update” meetings. When they walk in, their managers are there along with someone from HR. Everyone knows what’s about to happen.

“Something, something,” the manager says, “difficult time, resources, something, something.”

Most of the design staff is laid off, and the managers have to run a “tight ship.” That means anyone who can do two or three different jobs are valuable. Everyone at Nudle is going to have to wear a lot of hats now.

Jack and Jill update their now hyper-specialized resumes. Bob and Betty get back to work.