How I define a Design Technologist

"Are you a designer, or a developer?"

This is a question I am asked quite often.

The title "Design Technologist" has only recently become established, and it represents a somewhat unique position, so I can understand the curious response I get when I hand someone my business card.

What does a Design Technologist do?

The simple answer is that a design technologist works to bridge the gap between design and engineering.

How?

We do this by having a our heads, and our hands in both technology and user expereince design.

As a member of a design team, we add value by delivering prototypes, enabling teams to learn faster, and make better design decisions.

As a member of a product team, we add value by improving communication between design and engineering. Most importantly, we bring the ethic of design into the core of a product team. Design is often kept as peripheral practice by engineering teams. With a Design Technologist on the team, the values of design have a better seat at the engineering team's table.

UX Design and Digital Technology

The phrase "Jack of all trades, master of none" applies to Design Technologists quite well. Obviously it is nearly impossible for any one person to attain expertise across so many domains and practices. Design Technologists don't seek expertise though, because we are hackers (in the good sense of the word) and instead seek to gain only enough understanding to accomplish our goals, which are design goals.

Design as the goal

Design Technologists have goals shared by the other design disciplines. People often get confused about this because Design Technologists use some of the tools and techniques of engineers. But we use them in different ways, to contribute to a design process, not an development process.

Similar to Information Architecture, Product Design, Service Design, Interaction Design, Visual Design, and other design specializations, the Design Technologist role has a set of specific capabilities that can add enormous value to a design team.

Prototyping Specialists & Technology Generalists

Design Technologists are specialists in prototyping. The paradox of this is that in order to be great at prototyping, you need to be able to quickly bring together many different materials, and leverage the disparate skills of a team. This means you need to be a technology generalist.

Skills

According to a post by Dan Harrelson on the Adaptive Path blog, a Design Technologist has:

  1. A comfort level with front-end programming (web, desktop, mobile, device)
  2. A tool belt filled with techniques for creating interactive apps
  3. The ability to quickly pick up new tools
  4. An itch to dive into code and “just built it”
  5. Communication skills to bridge the gap between UX and development teams

The last point is the one I find most important. Just as a Design Strategist ensures clear communication between design and business, a Design Technologist plays an important role "bridging the gap between the language of the designer and that of the developer."

I feel as at home at a tech conference as I do at a design conference.

You probably know a few people like this, even if they don't have Design Technologist on their business card.

Case Study

At GE Digital, I think my contributions as a Design Technologist have been instrumental to the success of the Predix Design System.

I helped make technology strategy decisions via user research, technology research, and facilitation sessions during the early planning stages. I led the Predix UI team to define a contribution and governance model for design and code contributions from other teams.

I have directly coded components for Predix UI. These components are now used by thousands of users worldwide.

I pioneered Developer Experience research for our product, in an effort to improve the experience for our primary customers: Developers.

These contributions exemplify how the unique perspective and skills offered by a Design Technologist, coupled with a design process, and supported by a design team, can lead to improved UX.

Do you need a Design Technologist?

Do you want your design and engineering teams to work better together? Email me at: and we can discuss your team's particular challenges. I'm always excited to hear about what other people are working on.