Independent Design & Technology studio working with organizations revitalizing urban communities.

Category Culture

Becoming a Generalist: How Burning Out Changed the Way I Work

Great teams are built on the principles of learning and collaboration and you’ll often find developers that have a deep understanding of design principles, and designers that aren’t afraid to sit in front of an editor and hack away. Generalists, in the web design world are a unique mixture of design and development, leading to a better understanding of the nuances of our respective crafts and in turn, better collaboration.

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For the first few years of my career I solely defined myself as a designer. I worked on everything from interfaces to branding, and while I had a working knowledge of HTML and CSS, that’s as far as my engineering experienced stretched.

For a couple of years, that’s all the experience that I needed; then things changed. I started to feel like the work I was doing wasn’t good enough. No matter how hard I worked or how many hours I put in, it just wasn’t enough. I got frustrated with the industry and burnt out. I decided to take some time off, which would slowly turn from a little time off into a few years off. I pursued other opportunities, went to college, left college, and eventually found myself right back where I had started.

I was at a crossroads. During the time that I wasn’t actively working in the tech industry I still kept up on emerging practices and technologies. I had seen the internet evolve over those few years. I watched the rise of frameworks like React and Angular. I saw as JavaScript went from being a utility language to dominating the face of frontend development. It was like I was standing at the top of a waterfall, I could continue to observe, or I could take a risk and jump in.

I jumped in and fell in love.

Code went from being a clunky way of making my designs functional to being at the core of what I do. While I may no longer spend my days deep in the depths of interfaces or manipulating paths at 6400% to get an icon just right, I still incorporate the foundations of design that I learned all those years ago into my everyday work. My experience as a designer has immeasurably influenced the way I work as a developer. For years the trope in the the industry has been for designers to learn to code, but that’s only half of the problem. Developers need to understand design principles, too. Understanding what we do from both sides has benefits that go way beyond being able to mock up a webpage or interface element in Sketch.

Focusing on improving our non-technical skills is how we become better developers. Having insight into why a particular design decision was made allows us to adapt the way we write software for the demands of each unique problem that we may face along the way. The same goes for designers. Nothing is more toxic to the outcome of a project than conflicts between the design and development teams. Conflict is like a brick wall in our industry, and in far too many teams that wall is an immovable object surrounded on either side by an unstoppable force.

Understanding each other’s point of view allows us to work together. It encourages us to tear down that wall, brick by brick, until no barriers remain. Understanding is the gateway to collaboration, discussion, and teamwork, which enables us to have fun and productive discussions that lead to unique experiences, innovative features, and a better final product. Most of all, it enables us to love what we do. And the more we love what we do, the less we are at risk for burning out. And trust me, it’s not fun.

At Authentic Form & Function, we embrace the the concept of the generalist. We all wear many hats, and you can see that through our work. Helping clients understand the unique problems and solutions to their projects will not only lead to better communication, but to better collaboration on both sides. Great designers and developers alike know that creativity is at the cornerstone of what they do. Embrace your creativity. Learn what your colleagues think. Discuss, collaborate, and make. Do this and an endless number of doors will open.

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