Becoming a Specialist: Why and How to be “The Jack of None and Master of One”
Who doesn’t like a good action flick? With their loud explosions, car chases and overall excitement, the action genre is among the most bankable in Hollywood. One common premise in this genre is assembling a team of specialists to defeat whatever terrorist, bad guy, etc. is threatening the known world. Films such as “The Avengers” and “Inglorious Bastards” feature a group where each person has a speciality (knife thrower, demolition, smart guy to name a few) that serves the team — because no person can do every job and be as effective as a guy who only has to concentrate on one thing. (James Bond is the only exception to this rule.)
The same principal can be applied to the creative world. With new startup companies and entrepreneur ventures beginning every day, there are more (and larger) interest-specific markets, and it can leave you stretched a little thin if you’re trying to do it all yourself. Whether you’re looking to market a craft beer to a specific audience or there is a specific type of platform that can serve as a vehicle for messaging, being a specialist can help you to become a more confident professional and lead you to a promising and secure career.
Becoming a specialist can seem limiting at first because you are immediately limiting your market, both job and audience-wise. However, few things are as overwhelming as becoming a “jack of all trades.” With the rise of mobile design, new tablets being released every year at different sizes and a slew of ever-changing technology standards, learning everything is simply becoming less and less feasible for today’s creative professional. The great thing about picking a single “discipline” is that you know exactly what you’re getting into. You’re able to be confident in your work, which many people relate to leadership. You come off as strong and reliable, which is what most employers seek in hiring creatives. But what will keep people coming back to you is that you’re the best — you know everything about your subject, and you are passionate about it.
Types of Specialists
When most people think of a specialist in the creative profession, they tend to focus on technology, mobile, email, etc. There are, however, other areas of specialty that you may have not yet considered. Here are the main three that I have found:
(example: Sunday Best) Audience specific is when you use multiple talents for one specific audience of clients. As designers, we often think to ourselves, “Man, I wish I could design for them all the time,” and in this instance, that’s exactly what you do. If you’re still on the fence about specialization, this is a great place to start.
(example: Pulp Fingers) This is the most commonly thought-of specialty: when talents are used towards a single piece of technology or platform. These include mobile design studios and application development studios. This type of specialty is good for people who love one aspect of design and who want to continue designing for that aspect. Be warned that in a world of changing technology, this specialty is for those who are good at adapting and accepting new ideas.
(example: Playtend) More of a goal-oriented specialty focused on a specific outcome or message. Think of it as choosing an audience and creating something for them to USE rather than create something FOR them.
Becoming a Specialist
Most people hear “specialist,” and they get a little nervous. Images of having a lot of knowledge and no customers become an instant fear. But there are several ways to become a specialist, and although some specialties have a narrower audience than others, they all have an audience that is willing to pay for expertise.
Like anything else, the best way to become a specialist is education. Familiarize yourself with EVERYTHING about your specialty. If you want to be a mobile web design specialist, know every phone and every tablet screen that comes out. Be aware of how they interact with each other and what the best option is for almost any scenario.
Other than education, you will need passion for your specialty. Looking over the same topic over and over again has the danger of burnout written all over it, but if you are working on a topic that you are genuinely excited about, learning all you can won’t seem like work, but rather you improving skills and knowledge.
I know that becoming a specialist looks like a difficult and risky road on paper, but remember that along with becoming a specialist comes a distinction of being one of the best at what you do. This can lead you to confidence and knowledge that is rare among the “Jack of all trades” guys. But most of all, it can set you apart from the creative crowd and make people take notice so that when someone is assembling a team of creative “Avengers,” you will be one of the people they call.
Currently working as an interactive art director for MediaCross in St. Louis, Missouri, James Fruth has been in the advertising industry ever since graduating with a Communications degree from Southern Illinois University (Edwardsville) in 2006. Although he began as a print designer, he soon dedicated himself to designing for the web. A self-described “Frankenstein’s Monster” of creative, Fruth has experience in everything from development and action scripting to creating storyboards, designing logos and creating mobile websites.