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Finding your T-Shape as a Specialist Designer

November 2022

Article

Article credits
Ade Omole
Simon Child
Faith McAllister

While many designers at Spotify identify as generalists, there's a group of people who have chosen to meander down the specialist path. Last time, we spoke to two generalists about their T-shaped journey; in this second installment, we pass the mic to the specialists. What do this rare breed of creatives get up to at work? What do their niche skills bring to the band? What kind of problems are they solving? Find out from UX Motion Designer, Ade Omole, and Senior Art Director, Simon Child as they lift the lid on what it’s like to tread the less-beaten track at Spotify Design.

Ade Omole, UX Motion Designer

What's your specialist area? How did you get into that?

I first became interested in UX Motion in 2017 when I was looking for a new motion design role and met Romaine Reid whilst working at a big ad agency. In a very brief conversation about motion roles, he mentioned that some cool things were happening within product design and most projects lacked true motion designers. From there, I did a bit of research and started looking at product design agencies for roles. I discovered very quickly that it was a very niche field. Fast-forward to six weeks later, and I had managed to secure a motion role at a digital design agency, where I rose from Motion Designer to UX Motion Designer over four-and-a-half years. At this point I was approached with an opportunity at Spotify which was perfect for me because of the variety of projects in the pipeline. So far, I have been able to work on video, product, and innovative projects which have all been the right amount of challenging for me.

What's a benefit of being a specialist that people might not expect?

Now, it's not a myth that motion graphic designers typically possess – or are expected to possess – a ridiculous amount of skills, ranging from 2D animation to film visual effects. So, yes, I do have an array of experience with different categories of motion graphics. However, the benefit of me being a motion specialist in product design is that the combination of these skills gives me foresight when it comes to how UI moves and animates and how users expect products to behave. With my skills and years of experience in motion graphics and product design, I’m able to see the feasibility of a design quite quickly and the chances of motion being implemented in a product that reaches the market

What's your advice for people considering following a specialist path?

I would always advise people to follow a specialist path only when they have had relevant general experiences. For example, on my journey I’ve been given visual design, illustration, UI design, and film directing tasks and I’ve even taken classes to learn JS and React to have a better perspective on how things are built. What I'm saying is, don’t shy away from opportunities to grow and understand yourself a bit better.

For me, my success in this path is a combination of having a Master's degree in Architecture, nurturing my passion for motion graphic design and discovering that I found product design just as interesting as architecture. I only discovered all of the above by taking chances.

My career journey has made me a confident specialist, passionate about what I do; a journey where I have picked up so many skills, making me a unique type of motion designer and an asset to Spotify. I would say to anyone who desires a specialist role: don’t be afraid to take on opportunities which align closely with your niche, and make an effort to pick up new skills. It will make you a better specialist.

How much of your career path has been strategic planning vs chance?

I’ve always believed that not having a plan is a recipe for disaster. When I think about my career, I know that I’ve reached this point by having a plan, and where I go next is part of that plan. My plan five years ago was to be in this very position I’m in now. 

I also know wholeheartedly that I did not get here by myself. I’ve always prayed to God about this plan from the beginning and more than my efforts, God has made all of this achievable for me. He got me through this tough journey, up to this point. Some may call it “chance” but as a Christian, I firmly believe I’ve played my part and God made all the difficult and impossible parts happen.

Simon Child, Senior Art Director

Tell us about your specialist area and your journey down this path. 

Just to rewind a little, I studied Graphic Communication at university, a course that enabled me to sample a wide variety of design disciplines. I was at Norwich University of the Arts for three years where I was encouraged to take on each brief with a different medium or execution – digital art, book design, typography, video, animation, and product design, to name a few – which ultimately gave me a very diverse portfolio of work. I left university and got a job as a UI Designer at a digital product studio in London. Back then, the term “product designer” was less common so my role was known as a UI Designer for a while. This unintentionally kept me on a path, one that was visually focused. A while later, UI designers and UX designers were combined into the role of “product designer”. I still worked on projects as a Product Designer but my skill set was definitely tailored towards visual execution as opposed to user experience. I started to gravitate towards icon design, design systems, and ultimately branding. I had found my calling. 

What kind of work do you do as a specialist?

There is never a typical day for me. I work on the design ops team where I am the sole designer out of around 20 people. My role is to support our design community and elevate and amplify Spotify Design’s presence both internally and externally. I frequently get multiple design requests from within the organization. These requests vary: logo and brand design for internal squads, illustrations to support external facing communications, custom internal communications, and more. One week I could be supporting the design and development of an internal tool, the next week I could be designing some tote bags for a design event. While the work varies, I still have a common goal and that is to unify the visual language of Spotify Design both internally and externally.

What does a specialist bring to a team?

My role as an art director means my intentions are always to focus on a particular space. Most generalists will seek out opportunities to solve problems. As a specialist, I’m on the receiving end of a request to solve a problem. People will come to me because I have a particular skill set that they need; I have a more concentrated vision. A great example of a specialist would be an illustrator. They have a specific skill that is required to solve a specific need.

What’s something you never thought you would be doing as a specialist that you do now?

One aspect of being an art director is that you’re trying to maintain a visual language or system, and that can sometimes mean outsourcing talent. A certain photography or illustration style might be something you are trying to achieve and the best thing to do is go straight to the source. I wasn’t expecting to find and hire illustrators but I’m extremely lucky to be associated with such a fantastic brand so reaching out to people and asking them to collaborate has been a really nice surprise — on both sides. One of the initiatives within the Spotify Design brand is to amplify underrepresented talent. They’re always great collaborations, filled with mutual gratitude.

As a specialist, people approach you because they know you have a unique skill set that can solve a specific set of problems. However, we’ve observed how specialist skills are built on generalist foundations, so there’s nuance across these binary terms. (Not to mention the varying T-shapes of both our generalist and specialist designers, which look quite unlike T’s, due to the depth of skills and experience.)

For Simon, it was an intuitive pull towards visual design and branding that determined his path, while Ade spotted a gap of motion design experts within product design and filled it.

Whether it’s all in your five-year plan or happens via an organic flow of opportunities, a specialist path could be for you if you like solving specific problems. Do you consider yourself a specialist? Are you a generalist who’s tempted to niche in one area? Don’t forget to check out the generalist blog post and stay tuned for more content around this hot topic.

Credits

Ade Omole

UX Motion Designer

Ade (pronounced aa-deh) was born and raised in London, UK. When he’s not designing, he enjoys NBA basketball, travel, and church.

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Simon Child

Senior Art Director

Simon is an art director and casual illustrator who's often designing with his needy Patterdale Terrier, Franklin, at his feet.

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Faith McAllister

Content Strategist

Faith supports the Spotify Design community by editing, writing, and curating stories on the blog. When she's not geeking out over grammar or adding to her list of favorite words, Faith leads vinyasa classes and sound baths across London.

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