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Should You Be Good at Everything Or Great at One Thing?

Creative Market March 31, 2021 · 5 min read

Creativity is a beneficial trait to bring to any job but also a fairly nebulous one. Creative workers have the ongoing challenge of having to quantify their value, whereas people in fields such as accounting or finance do not. One question that often comes up in creative circles is whether it’s better to be really great in one area or to be a jack-of-all-trades with skills in every discipline.
In the current design environment there is a demand for both. Professionals possessing skills and knowledge in a variety of creative fields, who can tackle or provide some insight into a number of different tasks are just as sought after as pros who are extremely adept at just one. Here are some of the pros and cons of both being a jack-of-all-trades or being a specialist in your field.

Expertise

The old adage “Being a jack-of-all-trades means being a master of none” is an outdated way of thinking. These days, it’s possible for Jacks (and Janes) to become masters of many trades. It’s not fair to confuse master with being the number one expert in the field. In fields like art direction, photography and web design, it’s sometimes necessary to master multiple trades in order to devise the right design solution for a project. One can be well-versed and accomplished in an assortment of areas and therefore be much more attractive as a potential hire.
At the same time, having an extremely well-versed and studied history in one specific field is very appealing to certain clients. Sometimes people worry that having too broad of a scope only muddles the vision of a project rather than being able to see it both at ground level as well as the big picture.

Lean Design

The principles of lean design, which are revolutionizing project management in the design world, stipulate that everyone in the company should know what’s going on in every department. This helps to facilitate success and stimulate innovation, which means that generalists sometimes have an advantage over those who are only able to communicate about one certain subject or discipline. Being able to see the big picture is becoming more and more important these days, at all levels of employment.
On the flipside, others argue that having too many moving parts or having too many people contribute to the conversation only clouds the process. Sometimes having specialists who work independently and can contribute something that no one else at the company can is the most efficient way to get work done and not have to deal with conflicting opinions or potentially bottlenecking processes by encouraging everyone to try to shout over each other.

Confidence

With more expertise comes confidence. Having confidence in your abilities motivates you to “play the field” and avail yourself to new opportunities and pursue exciting new ventures. Sometimes having more in-depth knowledge of a specific field or trade enables you to communicate your ideas more clearly and relate better to colleagues.
At the same time, being a jack-of-all-trades helps you to appreciate a broad range of thinking and accomplishments, which can be handy for managerial roles. Some companies or work situations call for more collaboration and your confidence may be bolstered by being somewhat of a dilettante in every aspect of the design process. So though you may not be an expert in a number of different languages or programs, you are still able to thoughtfully contribute to a conversation when needed.

What’s Your Idea of Fun?

At the end of the day, it boils down to a personal choice and what you actually like doing the most. Having a broad skill set means that employees and entrepreneurs might get to interact with colleagues, collaborate and offer opinions more. If, as a designer, you aren’t limited to strictly one program or way of thinking, you may find plenty of different opportunities to pursue.
Specialists, on the other hand, can often be restricted by their disciplines in terms of taking advantage of different opportunities or having more flexibility on a certain job. However, if your idea of fun is getting to be the best at a certain task and learning the ins and outs of it then you can leave the other tasks to everyone else and keep filling your knowledge base with the newest info and trends in your field.

How About You?

It’s clear that there is a lot to be gained from both having more general knowledge about all things design-related as well as becoming an expert in a specific skill that needs to be mastered and perfected over time. Everyone has to make their own choices when it comes to their individual career, but consider the career choices you want to make as a professional designer and which one will allow you to add more value to your environment.
Leave a comment below and let us know whether you’re a dedicated specialist or someone who likes to dabble in a bit of everything. We’d love to hear your thoughts.


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11 Comments
  • This has honestly been one of the most consistently difficult choices to make in my professional life - focus on a specific trait, or to continue expanding my knowledge in a variety of ways. In the end my favorite thing to do is learn. I love learning new skills, I love solving problems, so I've decided to continue to pursue any avenue that I find interesting. A side benefit for me is that as I learn new skills, it gives me new material to teach other people via tutorials. I've figured out that the more you learn about any subject, the more you learn just how little you actually know. I think if you choose to be a specialist, or have a broad range of knowledge, you'll always have something new to learn and expand into. =D 8 years ago
  • Personally, I have no choice but to be "good at everything"... my brain simply won't allow me to ONLY to one thing!! (Still, I think I'm pretty great at a few things...!) :-) 8 years ago
  • True Detective — Life's barely long enough to get good at one thing! 8 years ago
  • Being a true Renaissance man or woman and a polymath - it's not a new thing, it's possible, and for some people it's not a matter of choice at all :) 8 years ago
  • Absolutely true, having experience in a wide variety of fields certainly helps in creating better products and doing things smoothly. I have experienced this over and over again. :-) 8 years ago
  • All of the above! I am over 60 and can speak from personal experience that if you are born curious, you can never close yourself off to new learning. Long ago i was earmarked by an art gallery to be one of their 'artistes' but after a year of lectures on 'specialization being the road to success', 'creating a personal image', 'selling my personality', i decided it was never for me. I know that fine art is a different field altogether, but creativity is universal. It really does depend on whether you want to remain in your 'safe zone' or be challenged at every turn. I have no professional clients as such, coming to digital skills way too late, but i am still useful here, haha, and having amazing fun, and learning so much from all you youngsters. 8 years ago
  • I've been recently struggling with this question, but more about the styling of design products. I am a graphic designer/fine artist who is trying to develop design products to sell. After viewing many Etsy stores (where I want to start selling) and on other similar websites, it seems that each shop focuses on a certain style, or product. All of my life I've been eclectic in my design choices, styles, methods and inspiration. I believe this is the mark of a true artist... to be inspired by and to appreciate all design. But I am wondering if I can bring different styles and types of products (i.e., printed & digital) to the marketplace. This article has helped me feel not only that I am in good company, but more confident that it's okay to be creatively diverse. Any thoughts on this specific subject? 8 years ago
  • i like to learn new skill... but right now i'm trying to focusing into graphic designer even my basic is architect... 8 years ago
  • It seems as creatives we all love to continuously explore new things. It's in our blood! 8 years ago
  • Love this. I was struggling with this today as I was browsing and marking a whole lot of fonts and stuff that emulate hand illustration. I was wondering if it would feel "cheap" to me to use someone else's hand made font instead of playing with watercolor myself and scanning it in and tweaking it. It makes me uncomfortable, but if I can embrace using some of the clip art or fonts that will look hand made, I can crank out lots of designs. I'm torn! 8 years ago
  • I think, one of the main problems is, that if you read some job advertisements, you should be great at everything and should have no will to earn money. 7 years ago