A mixed roll position - yay or nay?

almost 9 years ago from , Digital Designer at Prodo Digital

I've seen a couple or stories similar to this come and go on designer news, but was looking for more recent opinion on this topic.

At the agency I work for I'm employed primarily as a designer, but currently spend around 50% of my time working on front-end code as well. I like it, the mix of drawing up designs and being able to take said flat design and reproduce it with code fascinates me. I'd even go as far as to say that I love it.

I strongly consider a good knowledge of html/css a huge benefit to my designs, not only knowing the limitations of what can be achieved, but also being able to consider little niceties that go into a design. For example the subtle animations and interactions that you have clear in your head, but someone else not as immersed in the project would understand or consider.

But here is my question, do the masses believe that filling this mixed role is a benefit to their work? Or does it 'water down' your talents as a designer?


  • Ian GoodeIan Goode, almost 9 years ago (edited almost 9 years ago )

    Knowing some markup, or even programming, doesn't 'water down' your talents as a designer. Just like knowing some design principles doesn't water down your ability to code. Or like knowing photography doesn't water down your ability to cook.

    Speaking from experience--I've being doing this mixed role for almost two years now--what will water down your talents is time. The more bases you cover, the less time you have to deep dive into each one. You have to spend more time learning and practising. You have to develop discipline to know what to focus on and when, and when to ship 80% and when to ship 110%. That's the hard part. You also have to manage your time and work/life balance so you don't get burnt out.

    25 points
    • Laurence Earl, almost 9 years ago

      Thanks for the reply, Ian. I wholeheartedly agree!

      If I was to spend more time focusing on one particular job it wouldn't take long to fall out of the loop. Especially with the ever changing design trends and front-end advances.

      These two topics go hand in hand so knowing both (imo) is a great advantage. However I do know some people are of the opinion that not focusing on a particular subject can lessen your skills.

      Interestingly speaking to friends in other agencies it appears that the higher you climb the career ladder the more specialized you become, focusing on one particular area. I've never come across a lead designer/front-end person before.

      I should probably also note that I've also been playing a mixed role for a few years now and have no intention of changing that. Was just interested in the thoughts of others.

      2 points
    • Renato de LeãoRenato de Leão, almost 9 years ago

      Well, my hat goes off to you sir.

      1 point
  • Will ThomasWill Thomas, almost 9 years ago (edited almost 9 years ago )

    As somebody who is looking to hire a designer, I can tell you we only look for hybrids. If you can do both effectively you can massively boost your value to a business.

    11 points
    • Nick SloggettNick Sloggett, almost 9 years ago

      I'm assuming you are paying them near two salaries? Considering a solid product designer is covering roughly 5-6 bases through the process. The time that typically takes is more than 40-50 hours a week.

      2 points
      • Mike HeitzkeMike Heitzke, almost 9 years ago (edited almost 9 years ago )

        I don't know that this logic checks out. Being a multi-discipline designer doesn't mean I work 80 hours a week because I know more, nor does it net me a ~2x salary because I do both. If it were insanely rare to do both, maybe, but I don't think that's the case these days.

        In a smaller team, hiring one person to fill two roles won't work out well for anyone. There's too much work to do for the needed speed of product development. On a larger team, the T-shaped people blur the lines between deliverables and process, which makes for a more effective group.

        6 points
        • Nick SloggettNick Sloggett, almost 9 years ago

          Logic checks out? It's something that inherently comes when asking 1 employee to fill 2 roles as you said. Even in larger companies the scenario is identical.

          Multi-discipline is saying I do a lot of things well but not a specific set absolutely phenomenal. Never have I seen a scenario where a designer is a "half-n-half" that is outstanding at both.

          Let's agree to disagree on this one :) Knowing code is great, asking to do both should command a higher salary. Doing both no matter the organization size will always slow one side down immensely.

          0 points
          • Will ThomasWill Thomas, almost 9 years ago (edited almost 9 years ago )

            I'm not not the guy who cuts the cheques so I'm afraid I couldn't tell you. I don't mean to suggest that you get somebody to do twice the work load. Somebody who can do both is just more flexible, if there isn't as much design work required for a project, you can jump on coding. I work in a small team so flexibility is super valuable for us, I can imagine this being handy for larger teams too.

            2 points
            • Nick SloggettNick Sloggett, almost 9 years ago

              ahh absolutely. I can see the value add, I jumped to the "double work double pay" deal, my apologies amigo. I can totally understand the value add.

              1 point
          • Mike HeitzkeMike Heitzke, almost 9 years ago

            I don't think any of us were talking about 2 roles being filled by a single individual; wasn't trying to be confrontational. Still good conversation, no?

            Multi-discipline in many cases does mean that individuals aren't particularly grand at a specific skill, but the term itself doesn't really carry that connotation. A single person will likely never simultaneously become the design & front-end development lead of a group.

            1 point
            • Laurence Earl, almost 9 years ago

              Absolutely right, I've never come across a lead that covers both departments. I guess you would always be slightly stronger in one area, or consider yourself as an aficionado at a particular skill. For example I work a 50/50 split, but would always consider myself a designer at heart and would focus on that if push came to shove.

              0 points
  • Jase CoopJase Coop, almost 9 years ago (edited almost 9 years ago )

    It does 'water down' your design abilities over time.

    Understanding how your designs work is one thing, that's a must. Coding it isn't. Spending 50% of your time implementing the engineering of your design is 50% less time you spend practising design and improving.

    This stuff isn't like riding a bicycle. Especially around the visual side of design — try not drawing for a year, skills fade over time. You'll have to work hard juggling those plates, keeping up with your peers that are focused on either design or engineering. It can get exhausting.

    But of course there's advantages, you can build stuff. That's empowering. You have a lot more options when freelancing.

    This is something I'm trying to work out myself. For my clients my ability to design and code saves them money and time. Though when I work with front-end developers I notice how focused I am on the design compared to when I code it. That focus results in better design. I'm working on this, it's a challenge to make sure I don't get spread too thin, respecting my design and engineering process and making sure neither eat into each other.

    9 points
  • Wes OudshoornWes Oudshoorn, almost 9 years ago

    I think the real question is not what effect it has on your skills. The question is, what role do you wish to have? Do you want to be an isolated specialist (pure visual designer) or a T / π shaped team player (designer & frontend developer).

    5 points
  • Account deleted almost 9 years ago

    I think it's a huge benefit for you to know both with a massive "BUT...".

    If push comes to shove, what are you the best at? If someone walked up to you and said "Tell me the one thing you kick ass and chew bubblegum at", what would that role be? How would you define yourself?

    See... I think being solid at multiple things, but not great at any one of them will hurt someone down the road as you strive to become more senior. Being really great at one thing, but knowing other stuff really well is much better. Why? People are hired for a particular skill to make something great. Unless you're management, it's crazy to expect someone to have responsibility and focus in two different things. You want to be specialized, but diverse in your knowledge and abilities where you have an understanding of how what you do impacts others.

    The one thing you don't want to be is a "generalist". You're not marketable that way at all when push comes to shove. Of course we all want hybrids... but we also want someone primarily for a specific role. If I'm building a new app and need a new hire who rocks design, I'm gonna probably gonna pick the person who's 10/10 at design and 5/10 in code over someone who's 7/10 at both... because I NEED a kick ass designer first and foremost.

    I've seen/heard of people being left behind in aquihires and such because they weren't really great at any one thing. Strive to be an "a-player" at something.

    Part of what takes you to the "next" level is your knowledge and interest in the other stuff. This is where some people can mess up. The trick is to know a lot of different stuff, but still be an "expert" at something. Many assume it's all about "breadth" and just try and learn a ton of different stuff. They then wonder why they aren't being promoted or not getting that job they want so badly. There's a subtle, but very important difference here.

    • Being great or known for one "thing" and knowing a lot about other/different things related is good...

    • Knowing a lot about other/different things, but not being great or known at one of them is not good...

    Look... learn as much as you can, grow as much as you can... but find out what you really love and be sure to make that a focus. Never put yourself in a position where you can't say "I'm kick-ass at (A) AND I know some (B) and (C), but I (A) is my passion".

    3 points
  • Peter MainPeter Main, almost 9 years ago (edited almost 9 years ago )

    As others have mentioned, I think this is an argument of time and focus. For startups of 3-4 people, having a jack-of-all-trades is great and allows you to move fast, with minimal communication problems.

    Soon, however, the workload will exceed what any one person can take on, and duties need to be divvied up. For larger companies having somebody of real calibre in a certain field (UX) becomes a must; the goal is to integrate that person with a clear, defined job role.

    Any good designer/developer in their respective roles, in a large enough company, will almost certainly have enough on their plate to mean they are strictly doing their particular discipline, in my opinion.

    2 points
  • Tyrale BloomfieldTyrale Bloomfield, almost 9 years ago

    This is a polarizing topic. I lean on the more is better side.

    Gaining knowledge can never decrease what you already know. The idea that learning anything new will diminish you in anyway, sounds like something from the Inquisition.

    Learning is good, not learning is bad.

    1 point
  • Johannes IppenJohannes Ippen, almost 9 years ago


    This is what developers have been doing with DevOps for a while already: "You it, you build it, you maintain it".

    This is also what we're doing at Wooga: You design it, you will implement it. This does not necessarily water down your abilities as a designer, it will rather change the way you design.

    1 point
  • Nick SloggettNick Sloggett, almost 9 years ago


    One thing to consider is this. Where do you want to go with design? My team has some hybrids but it's pretty damn rare they flip flop back and forth. They more act as a bridge of design and front end. Most product designers will be jumping in and out of

    1. Design and Business Research
    2. Data analysis/User testing
    3. Prototypes up and down the fidelity spectrum.
    4. Business/Market validation
    5. Visual Design which includes everything from color, to type, to iconography to illustration.

    Thats a huge gamut for one individual. To include front end coding, something is going to have to either suffer or get pulled out of that list. Knowledge of code is fantastic, but to fill the roll above plus front end development is too much. Hope that helps.

    1 point
  • Charlie ChauvinCharlie Chauvin, almost 9 years ago (edited almost 9 years ago )

    I started out as a designer who could build simple websites. The more I got into it, the more I liked it. The more I liked it, the more I found there are people that are better than me at it. At that point, I realized I was neglecting the design aspect. I now try to surrounded myself with developers so I could learn from them. I primarily design but I love to get in the code as well.

    To answer your question, I think there is a huge benefit to filling a mixed role because I've come across several developers who can't design. You need to be comfortable with your role as a designer first or else you start going down the road of learning to be a great dev who kind of knows design and not the other way around. At that point, yes, your talents as a designer could get watered down if you lack the passion to return to the design side of things.

    1 point
  • Simon GoetzSimon Goetz, almost 9 years ago

    I don't think it in any way 'waters down' your design skills. If you are primarily a UI designer I think it brings a lot to the game. A huge issue in agency work is the disconnect between designers and developers. If you understand how developers have to render the page you can improve the interactivity of the site. Thinking outside of the norm and creating something that not only is feasible but a great user experience. In the end it's simple. Knowledge in one field will not water down your ability in another. (@ian Goode )

    1 point