So What is a Design Technologist, Anyways?
As you've browsed the tech job boards this year, you may have started noticing postings for a role called "design technologist." So what exactly is a design technologist, anyways?
After spending the last ~9 months working as a design technologist, I wanted to share some insights on this role, and why it may or may not be a great fit for you.
The core focus of a design technologist role is usually to serve as a liason (or "glue", if you like analogies) between design and engineering teams. Since designers and engineers, even those in front-end engineering roles, often come from very different backgrounds and have different skill sets, there is often a gap in understanding between these two roles or teams. This is where design technologists come in.
Design technologists often have a hybrid skillset of both design and front-end engineering. However, because the UX/UI design and front-end engineering fields are so broad even on their own, it's very common that a design technologist will be stronger in either design or front-end engineering. For example, I have taken a bunch of design courses and have done some UI design work, but I'm definitely stronger on the front-end engineering side of things.
Design technologists commonly serve as key partners to a design team, empowering them to do their best work. What can this look like in practice? Here's some common responsibilities for a design technologist.
Design System Champion And/Or Contributor
Design technologists often are found at companies that have a design system and design system component library. They may serve as a champion for the design system component library, helping teams to adopt the library in their own projects or even contributing new components to the component library. They also may help designers ramp up on the library and contribute additional design system documentation.
Design Tools Developer
Designers often have workflows and processes that could benefit from automation. That's where design technologists can come in. Design technologists often build tools to support designers, such as custom Figma plugins or entire web applications for internal use.
Over the past 9 months, this category has been where the majority of my time has been spent.
Designers can easily create designs for a new product or new workflow for an existing product, but how do they know if its the right design and something that's feasible to build for the web? Design technologists can work in a prototyping capacity, collaborating closely with designers to build out a new UI feature in code. The goals of the prototype can vary quite a bit! A prototype can be created to help designers visualize what a design will look like on the web, allowing them to explore multiple ideas. Prototypes may also get created to help make sure that a UI feature will be performant, intuitive, and accessible, or even to serve as a UI to use for user testing by UX researchers. The fidelity of the prototype also varies quite a bit, depending on how it will be used.
In my time as a design technologist, this category has been another one that I've spent time in this year, and it's my personal favorite 🙂
Design technologists can also have a specialty in a certain area, such as accessibility. For example, a design technologist well-versed in WCAG standards may help designers to design with all accessibility concerns in mind, or they may help front-end engineers to built fully accessible UI components.
Is the Design Technologist Role for You?
If you like design and front-end engineering, and you enjoy collaborating with designers and engineering teams, the design technologist role might be a great fit for you. It's a great role for "unicorns", often called hybrid designer/developers or UX engineers. In addition, it's a great fit for front-end engineers who want to try something a bit different from design system engineering work, and who enjoy working on a couple of different things at once, instead of having a single focus.
If you prefer primarily interacting with engineering teams, are focused on having a specific engineering job title, or concerned about not being considered a "real" engineer in what would be a hybrid role, a design technologist role may not be a great choice for you.
For more food for thought, check out the design technologist club's description of the role.
That's all for now! I hope this provided some insight into the design technologist role. If you have thoughts or questions on this role, drop a note in the comments.
Featured image by Jess Bailey via Unsplash