The design function in any organization consists of many different specialized skill sets including design research, interaction design, visual design. In the past, design teams were organized by specialties – the user research team, interaction design and visual design, with each team focusing on a deep specialization in their respective areas.


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Now we see a new trend: teams of generalists with cross functional skills that work together – design research, interaction design, visual design, prototypers and copy writers all in one team. Today, each designer is encouraged to be a “T-shaped” professional. These versatile pros have deep knowledge in one area of specialization (that’s the vertical part of the “T”) but also has a breadth of other skill sets (that’s the horizontal bar at the top). For instance, successful visual designers in the new team set up, have an expert understanding of visual design, but they are also knowledgeable about design research and interaction design. They will be encouraged to broaden their T even further, by learning more about business and technology.

Tim Brown from IDEO, was a big proponent of this approach to forming design teams. At the Design and Co-Innovation Center at SAP we have implemented this for the last 3 years and found the following benefits:



Improved Collaboration

Team members with cross-functional skills learn to collaborate across silos. Teams of deep technical specialists may create their own jargon, and find it easier to communicate among like-minded specialists. While a cross-functional team, learns to communicate across their silos through constant practice.


Learning Mindset

When team members are continuously encouraged to stretch their knowledge beyond their specialized area, they adopt a learning mindset. This leads to a healthy team environment where team members are motivated to learn from each other, and feel like they are developing their skills and growing in their career.


Culture of Creativity and Innovation

An open minded team with increased cross functional collaboration leads to culture of creativity and innovation. Designers who look at a challenge from different perspectives are more likely to come up with innovative solutions.


Strategic Value

A design researcher who also has knowledge of interaction design and business goals learns to ask the right questions. A visual designer who understands the research insights and technology learns to design delightful products. This allows the design function to provide a strategic value to the organization rather than a tactical one.

The Search for Meaning

We find the new emphasis on multi-faceted professionals fits well with the millennial workers we hire, who seek meaning in their professional and personal lives. The way to find meaning is to understand the big picture and to see how your function fits into and supports it. That natural tendency is well supported by design organizations that encourage their people to take a broader view.

If you’re wondering how to nurture multi-talented and creative qualities on your staff, we’ll cover where to begin in our next blog.

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