Do generalists have more fun?

I’ve just finished David Epstein’s book “Range – How generalists triumph in a specialised world” and I’ve come to the conclusion that generalist designers have more fun.

All designers should strive to be a bit more generalist at some point in their career. It’s the weird and wonderful lessons you learn doing a variety of things that allow you to have a wider perspective and generate novel ideas.

Having lead design teams and trained many designers, I’m still shocked to discover that a great number don’t understand the processes behind the physical manifestation of their work – how it’s printed, displayed digitally or even built.

As much as it’s important to be good at designing on a computer it’s just as valuable to understand how the machine that folds cardboard or the code that runs the back-end of a website works.

I’m a generalist with some specialisations

Print, digital, strategy, product, brand, retail, corporate, promotional, motion, exhibition, clothing… the list goes on. I’ve done all these things aver the course of my career.

I began in a printery. I quickly had to learn the relationship between (olde world) digital design tools and the real world machinery that brought designs to life. This gave me a greater understanding of physical objects and ways you can push them to add a new dimension to your work.

These days I can barely look at an object or design without pulling it apart (physically or mentally) to rebuild it. Discovering how something works is cathartic and then I can apply it to my own work. This analytical process was drilled into me by my high school design teacher.

So to the book…’s book explores the idea that complex problems are better solved by people with broad knowledge rather than specialised knowledge. It is the diversity of inputs that help create novel solutions.

He cites many examples and studies to make the case that successful people don’t do only one thing well. I think his argument can be made across industry boundaries and any vocation from design to medicine and art to science.

If you’re looking for a bite size taste of the book check out Epstein’s interview with Kara Swisher on Recode Decode Podcast.

This book has guided me to think generalist designers could have more fun in a career because they’re not tied to any given medium. They can take on different projects across different client industries giving them diversity and excitement ensuring no two days work are ever really the same.


Thanks for reading.

If you’re looking for a designer for your next project get in touch. I’ve worked with global businesses from UNICEF, Nescafé, Stella Artois and Hyundai right through to local brands such as Sense of Security, Heart Foundation, Foxtel, and The Butcher’s Dog. I’m always on the lookout for the next interesting project to pique my curiosity.


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