Reading Design

Great article by Dean Allen on typography in A List Apart about being able to render/communicate ideas clearly using type. Includes "An Entirely Incomplete List of Things a Non–Illiterate Designer Should Know Before Being a Designer".

[T]here are talents and hacks on both sides of the [design and editorial] barbed wire and landmines that lie between editors and designers, none of whom benefit from ignorance of what the other side is doing. If you design with editors, study what they know, and have the same reference books at hand. And above all, read what you are designing, and imagine reading it for the first time, like someone who just found it.

He also argues that designers need to be in the thick of design and to avoid specialization. He says this about design in large agencies. Would be interested in hearing peoples opinions on this.

[O]ne thing remains constant: that designers need to be able to render ideas clearly. It’s very nearly impossible to do that in an art–directed environment, of course, which is why most commercial design looks like wispy crap. Committees and org–chart hierarchies never add in the way of improvement, flinging subjective taste and private agendas in the way of clarity at every turn. People sometimes ask me how to improve the design work that comes out of large organizations, and I inevitably answer, “You can’t.”

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avoiding specialization

Enter the world of the hybrid designer. I find that sites are more effective if the designer knows the concepts of other aspects of the site (the designer may not be doing the programming for example, but they know what is involved to accomplish the task). I left the web-agency world because I was pigeon-holed into a web development role. Hybrid designers are those who know both the design and development aspects of the project and perhaps even the programming aspects. Note: when I say design I mean everything from typography to branding. Also note that when I say development I mean everything from XHTML to CSS and DOM.... programming would be from Perl to PHP and JSP.

- Nick Finck

Agree, but what are your options in this economy?

When I worked at an agency, I hated doing only front end site development. I had grown accustomed to inteface design and information organization/architecture work and did not like the idea that the only work I could do was HTML and JavaScript.

Why do large agencies need to take such a narrow view of the site development process? It seems to me that well-rounded individuals that can work across disciplines get frustrated when they're only allowed to own one part of the process, one type of deliverable. The only direction within a large organization then seems to be becoming a "project manager", "engagement manager", "design director" or some other client-facing, high level decision maker that has their hands out of producing deliverables.

Seems the best direction for a Rennaisance Person (designer/developer/whatever) is to go to a small agency that values a diversity of skill. Or better, yet, go out on your own or freelance. But in this economy, those types of moves might be risky. I went to a large corporation to work in-house within a small group, but ended up with a management that is disabled by their bureaucratic lack of speed and myopia.