It’s not uncommon, when talking about designers and what to hire for, you hear about “T-shaped people.” IDEO is most commonly identified with this, wherein you hire people with with a strong “vertical leg” in a specific skill, and an empathy that allows them to branch out and engage other disciplines.
Yesterday at Adaptive Path’s UX Week 2007, I sat on a panel on “Skills for Current and Future User Experience Practitioners”. As the conversation evolved, we started talking about design teams. Through the discussion, I had a lightning storm in my brain, where I realized that “T-shaped” is insufficient.
Let me step back a bit. I have long had issue with the fetishization of “T-shaped” people for the simple reason that I’m not T-shaped. I’ve never been able to articulate my “vertical leg”. Throughout my career I’ve moved from activity to activity, from web development to interface design to information architecture to user research to product strategy. And I think my success is due to my ability to understand the synthesis across these skills and disciplines, to appreciate how to orchestrate them, to know how these integrate to achieve optimal affect.
So, where do I fit, if I’m not T-shaped?
On the panel, and, honestly, this idea germinated as I was sitting on-stage, I realized that you don’t necessarily want a team of all T-shaped people. The reality of the world is that you have T- and I- and bar-shaped people, and I suspect that the strongest teams are comprised of all three that work in concert. Me, I’m a bar-shaped person. I’m all about the connections between disciplines, and being able to articulate the power of that integration. Obviously, T-shaped people are important, too, people who can bridge that synthesis and go deep. But perhaps most important is that we no longer marginalize I-shaped people. It’s easy to dismiss I-shaped folks, people who simply want to focus on, geek out to, their particular passion. But these people can be amazing on teams, because once you give them a bit of a direction, they can do amazing work.
Anyway, I think it’s unreasonable to expect to live in a world of T-shaped people, and, honestly, it’s remarkably limiting. Let’s instead figure out how to coordinate across different types of creative people, ideally realizing a whole that is greater than its parts.
This is a subject I think will come up a lot at Adaptive Path’s upcoming MX Conference, taking place October 22-23 in Philadelphia. If this topic resonates with you, I encourage you to attend! (Use promotional code FOPM to receive 15% off the registration fee.)