• What Makes a Design Technologist?

    More and more I am hearing UX practitioners talk about making the thing that we design. This often turns to discussions around prototyping and bridging the gap between design and implementation. As a Design Technologist, this is right in my sweet spot. For years my career was focused on the engineering side of projects and I cannot help but have that programmer part of my brain light up when working on design or strategy.

    I sometimes get quizzical looks at my title, followed by questions about what qualifications I look for in a Design Technologist. Here’s some thoughts around that question. I think you will do best looking for someone who has a development background. If you find an individual with a history of “making stuff” then they will naturally have the right mindset to build something interactive. Usually this includes:

    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. A itch to dive into code and “just built it”

    You also need to find that special someone who appreciates design and wants to be a member of the UX team. A design technologist uses her skills to solve design problems, not to code the final working application. A lot of developers will balk at this since they feel most productive when users are clicking on something that they actually built. A design tech needs to be satisfied knowing that the UX of the software is better because of their work. A prototype is often her end deliverable.

    Also, this person may start to feel isolated since they work day to day with colleagues who don’t code and don’t swap stories about programming logic and MVC frameworks. She’ll instead work with IA’s and IxD’s who talk about design patterns and user research. Your design tech should help to bridge the gap between the UX and development teams. In doing so, she may be able to satisfy her desire to kibitz with other techies. It’s important that technologists stay connected to communities of programmers as lessons learned from that world are often very applicable to UX design problems.

    My ideal design technologist job description probably wouldn’t mention specific development apps or programming languages. That’s a moving target and often this person would be asked to “just get the job done”. I would talk more about approach and project experience. If you are working for a company that make mobile devices then perhaps you want someone who’s worked a bit in the consumer electronics space or mobile space. I’m not saying that you’d want a Java-guru with years of experience shipping J2ME apps, but someone who understands the mobile context and is excited about the opportunity to try loading a prototype onto a phone.

    Are you a Design Technologist even if your business card says something different? Do you want to learn techniques for translating your designs into prototypes quickly? I’ll be leading a day dedicated to this very topic at our Good Design Faster workshop in April. Register with the promo code BLOG for 10% off.

    There are 11 thoughts on this idea

    1. ARJWright

      Oh my. I read this and immediately thought of myself. Sure, I understand the coding methodologies, but I’m much more concerned with the UX and interactive elements.

      What you describe is exactly how I worked on a Maemo Linux project as a UI developer. I didn’t have to know the code, only what the end-user needed to do and make it as easy as possible for the developer to see it.

      You might have just screwed in a light bulb for me. Thank you.

    2. Marcus Blankenship

      This is EXACTLY what I want to be when I grow up. After 15 years coding I finally figured that 90% of what I’ve created is unusable by normal humans. I love the title too, as it hits in the sweet spot between “requirements gatherer” and “head-down coder”. Thank you!

    3. David Armano


      I like the description and it’s pretty solid. The ability to “sketch in code” so to speak. The label I’m undecided on. Something about “technologist” doesn’t sit well with me. The folks over at R/GA have been calling themselves “creative technologists”. Similar solution. I could be off my feelings toward the label though.

      Regardless, I like the mindset. Use the tools to support a smart design process vs. being a siloed discipline. That’s where it’s at.

    4. Daniel Szuc

      This reminds me of a conversation I had over lunch at the recent IXDA conference about the tools developers and designers use to build stuff today.

      Rewinding a little … I remember getting excited at the prospect of MS Access and Visual Basic in the early 90s as it provided someone like me (who was less interested in programming and more interested in GUI design) with outputs the Developers on my team could use and understand.

      Question — So are tools maturing to a point where Designers can Design and create, outputting useful code that Developers can use?

    5. Dan Harrelson

      It’s invigorating to see such positive feedback. I’m glad to see that I’ve touched a nerve with a few of people.

      David: I agree, the title “Technologist” is not ideal, but the best I have seen. Perhaps the catch-all “Interaction Designer” will suffice?

      Daniel: I’m pretty steadfast in the belief that the design process should not create usable code. Tools and techniques used by designers should support rapid ideation, rapid iteration and concept realization. Caring about the underlying code does not support any of these. Design prototypes must be disposable!

    6. Craig Melbourne

      I’ve been a Design Technologist for about 10 years whilst never having a job title/description that truly describes what I do. Now I do. Thanks. Now if I can just get recruitment peeps to understand it…

    7. Dan Harrelson

      Daniel: The optimal UX is one that sees the light of day, right? If it can’t be deployed to your users, than the design is useless. It’s important that the larger design team include all stakeholders from UX, development and business. The earlier folks get involved the better.

      The Design Technologist plays an important role here bridging that gap between the language of the designer and that of the developer. The Design Strategist goes the other way, ensuring clear communication between design and business.

    8. Daniel Szuc

      “Tools and techniques used by designers should support rapid ideation, rapid iteration and concept realization.”


      But does that create disconnect between the Designer and the Developer? OR are we saying that both should be working so closely during the design process that the questions of – “can this be implemented?” is answered along the way as one designs? OR do we ignore that side of it, and just shoot for the optimal UX?

      In one project we worked on, we designed UI’s that we thought worked well for the business, but come time to show IT and integrate into back-end systems with consideration of resources needed to build it, things started to break along the way pretty quickly. Ouch! And lesson learnt!

      Perhaps there is something to be said about the relationships and how you build the team in the first place.

    9. Daniel Szuc

      “The optimal UX is one that sees the light of day, right?” – Absolutely and like the distinction between DT and DS.

    10. On Technology, User Experience and the need for Cr

      […] the opinion is not mine alone. Another great read is the article by Dan Harrelson from Adaptive Path (you know, the company that coined the term AJAX) on “What Makes a Design […]

    11. William

      Thanks for this, I have been wondering what I was all this time… Lead Designer / Lead Creative, this makes so much more sense.

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