Design: Wide versus Deep

2 minute read

Today Gianandrea linked me an article by Tim Brown that highlights the divergence between the choice of going deep (profession / specialization) versus the choice of going wide (hybrid / generalist / polymath).

“Choosing to go wide versus deep should be made consciously, not accidentally. Each path offers tremendous reward if followed with passion and commitment, but each requires different skills and approaches to be successful.”
— Tim Brown (2014) The Career Choice Nobody Tells You About

I wonder what would have changed if I’d had read this article about 15 years ago.

But not because it was an actual choice for me: the way I approach the world is inherently wide. I go deep, but in bursts, as a way to satisfy my wide curiosity. So I don’t think it’s a choice, as he says. I think it’s connaturate in the person, as a way this specific psiche relates to the world. Or at least, that’s how I am.

The reason why I ask myself what would have changed if I’d have read this article 15 years ago is because it would have explained to me that my approach wasn’t worse, wasn’t something to hide, wasn’t an anomaly in a system that accepted just people going deep.

It would have said to me that I could be that, that I could invest on that early.

“Going wide, on the other hand, is about making connections between what you already know and what you’re curious about discovering. It requires systems thinking in order for the whole to be greater than the sum of the parts. It means developing the skills to collaborate for the purpose of learning. It’s about seeing the creative possibilities in breaking down boundaries and describing the world, your organization, the problem in new ways. It probably means having a difficult time describing to your parents what you do.”

Knowing all of this now, through experience, doesn’t make any easier to explain what generalist really means, or any easier to make a “depth” person understand that yes, you know also about that even if not in every detail.

But it makes easier to actually be the mediator, the connector, the person that talks with business, development, marketing, design, human resources, and so on.
Connecting the dots.

Now I know that I need to have people that go in depth, but that going depth is not my role in a team.

That’s why that I don’t know about the future, but currently I am a designer, regardless of its specificity: that’s a role accepted in companies as the role that can go wide.