Generalist is more a behavioral mindset than it is a learned skill.
UX is – by definition – an umbrella
We can bicker over what actually comprises the UX skillset (and we UX-ers love to navel-gaze on that topic). But we all agree that it’s “a lot”. For context, here’s a grab-bag of some of my favorites:
Information Architecture, Presentation styling, Interaction Design, Wireframes, Prototypes, Workflow, Content Management, Tags & Taxonomy, Documentation, Process, QA, Strategy, Testing, Customer research, Best Practices, Standards, Online Assistance, Accessibility …. the list goes on and on.
The definition of “the stack” often revolves around breadth and depth questions – and there’s a great deal of dispute over the question of dirt-under-the-fingernail skills (i.e. “Do you code?)
Being full-stack simply refers to someone who is cross-disciplinary and able to take a project through to completion.
Let’s de-construct the Code-words
” Full-stack “
… actually speaks to the issue of being multi-skilled. And I believe it comes from the programming arena. Which is significant.
It kinda implies tech- competency .
” Unicorn “
… is elusive and even mythical. This is the most lyrical of the terms. No comment on abilities. The unicorn is – by definition – unattainable .
Now, that says something – Doesn’t it?
” Ninja “
… implies exotic and alien power .
This indirectly addresses the “everybody is an artist” trope.
Yes: Everybody has their opinion. But only a few of us get paid to do it.
“Jack of all trades. Master of none.”
Yeah. Yeah. But here’s the thing: You can definitely be mediocre within limited boundaries . A UX-er is expected to demonstrate competency across a range of skills .
Truly “full-stack” UX-ers represent the ideal fullness of UX.
UX came into existence in order to fill in the gaps within a development team.
The Economics of Competence
Price vs Value
The full-stack UX-er may be able to accomplish only a mediocre job, but that’s probably because he’s paid too little to accomplish too much. Let’s face it; Bureacratic Bean-Counters understand job slots, but have a hard time doing the math on a professional who fulfills several roles. The dilemma for UX-ers – especially Full-stack types – is establishing the value proposition for budgeteers. Bottom Line: You kinda get what you pay for.
We all recognize that UX is an umbrella – a very BIG umbrella. A lot of us can do a few of those things. Very few of us can do a lot of those things.
Sadly, I’ve seen some colleagues claim that some skills are ‘not really UX’.
- It would be a mistake for those of us who can do a lot to dismiss those who can’t as “not real UX-ers”.
- It would be an even greater mistake for those who can’t do a lot to get resentful and dismissive of those who can.
Make it Measurable
At various points over the years the UX groups inevitably re-explore the notion of having some kind of verification or certification of UX skills. That remains to be seen. But the challenge persists. Anybody with some skills can call themselves a UX-er. It’s also worth having a unique label to identify the professionals who have a lot of skills.
The larger challenge is to educate clients & stakeholders – in part by informing them of the skills that you do – and that you DON’T do well. It might help them to understand the UX space and budget accordingly.
The beauty of UX is that you can do a broad range of things in any combination, so:
- find your passion(s)
- assess what you’re good at (and not)
- create your service package(s) and articulate it concisely
When you’re a UX-er, you aren’t actually stuck in any market niche. The niche is just your ability to “talk the talk” of the business vertical (which is valuable, and can be learned).
The practice of UX transcends market niche
Crossover from one vertical to another is based on the huge similarities among most business service types. For example:
- Intranet sites – across the board – are like … intranets
- Order management is like order management – no matter what the product
- Client maintenance , inventory management , process verification – These are all commonly-shared business services which can be addressed as best practices. They are fundamentally consistent in terms of function and behavior.
That’s not to say that “niche knowledge” (i.e. talking the talk of your current market vertical) isn’t valuable. Your cultural acceptability is essential in establishing the Trust Factor. But that’s another rant…
Focus: As a professional Generalist, I’ve done a lot of different stuff. That can be daunting for a recruiter or stakeholder who just wants to see me regurgitate whatever’s on their job description. “Too Much Information! Don’t confuse me!”
A Short-term Solution
My website Portfolio presents my experience in chronological order – That’s a standard resume-oriented approach. Still, most visitors to my website want to see what interests them. And that’s reasonable. But it can get a little unwieldy, because – as a UX Guy – I’ve worked on lots of different tasks across lots of different market areas.
So, I’ve “tagged” my Portfolio engagements with topical keywords (like Financial, Intranet, or SharePoint) that are based on domain experience and organized them into showcases.
Now you can find relevant examples quickly.
I’ve grouped some of my recent engagements by topic area keywords, so that you can see all of the work I’ve done that is “like that”.
the Keyword is “self-service”
Value Proposition: The Vision Thing
UX came into existence in order to fill in the gaps within a development team.
The Project Manager has the keep-us-on-track responsibility , plus several other roles – but the scope of that management overview is daunting. UX is a natural ally because we articulate the model (vision thing) and tend to havea holistic perspective.
In earlier days UX was by definition a Generalist function, We were perceived as being in a PM-supportive, “vision thing” role. Now that we have more specialization within the UX practice, the question becomes whether the team still needs the generalist/integrator function. Agile methodology and collaboration sort of assumes that “everybody is a generalist” – or should be.
You need a Usability Generalist onboard if you are to have a well-integrated, usable product.
Generalists are the heart of interactive, self-aware information.
The evolution of interactive services pretty much demanded that UX emerge as a “full-stack” competency. Now that UX is more established, the business mentality looks for the convenience of specialization and the commoditization of creativity .
Value Proposition: The Budget Dilemma
Truly “full-stack” Usability Professionals are both rare (Unicorns) and powerful (Ninjas). They also represent the ideal fullness of UX. The full-stack UX-er may be able to accomplish only a mediocre job, but that’s probably because he’s paid too little to accomplish too much.
Bureaucratic Bean-Counters understand job slots, but have a hard time doing the math on a professional who fulfills several roles. The dilemma for UX-ers – especially full-stack types – is establishing the value proposition for budgeteers.
Bottom Line: You kinda get what you pay for.
As the marketplace moves towards user-centric self-service, breadth of scope and flexibility of implementation become increasingly important.
The Full-stack Unicorn Ninja who has competency across a range of UX-related skills AND across a range of market verticals is able cross-pollinate and integrate across a broad spectrum of experience. As ever, the market need precedes – and should guide – the structure. The Full-stack Unicorn Ninja has implications for enterprise success at the level of implementation and at the level of strategy.
The Full-stack Unicorn Ninja isn’t just a cost-efficient multi-tasker. We bring surprising, valuable – and necessary – insights.
First published on LinkedIn (July 20, 2015).
Waste not, want not.
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