Ramblings about Design, UX, Process, Code... basically where my thoughts go when nobody else is listening. Est. 2009.

What's a Full Stack Designer

Full Stack, Bro

Titles, titles, titles. Most tech industry people are familiar with the engineering term 'full stack developer' who is someone that can do all parts of development: ui, front-end dev, backend dev, database architecture, dev ops, and QA. This is the prototypical 'unicorn' that every startup wants because they can wear so many hats. Often these full stack developers end up leading the engineering team because they understand the whole process.

Full stack unicorns are badass. In my decade of professional work, I've only worked with two people I can truly call full-stack developers. These truly brilliant individuals are humble, love to mentor and teach, and never try to let on about how much they truly know. So many people use the term 'full stack' undeservedly - touting themselves as being well-versed but in reality are nowhere near. The clichè 'yeah, I'm full stack' bro has grown to meme status in some circles.

Is Anybody a Web Designer Anymore?

I've spoken with lots of recruiters and hiring managers the past 10 years. Whether its those blasting everyone with specific keywords on LinkedIn or someone in-person at a networking event, it is hard for non-designers to talk about design jobs. Hell, it's hard for designers to talk about design jobs. I get a grey hair every time I see an email asking if I'm interested in a "UI/UX Designer" position. User Interface Designer? User Experience Designer? It seems to be the flavor of the month for people that used to post ads for a 'Web Designer'. The ambiguity is slightly maddening. Here's a sample from the past couple months that all asked for a "UI/UX Designer":

As part of refreshing my portfolio, I did a brief audit of the content. All I called myself is 'UX Advocate, Visual Designer, Front End Dev'. Multiple titles? I just listed a bunch of skills that I keep adding to every time I gain a new one, yet I didn't have any specific organization for them. At least not until I read about a better way.

Assessing My Talent Stack

I ran across an article talking about 'full stack designers' and whether or not you should be one (I feel like you become one based on the various needs of places you work, not just seeking to be well rounded... but that's another blog for another time).

full stack designer diagram

The best visualization in the article shows all the different areas that I've worked on in my career: Research and Branding, Landing Pages and Ad Campaigns, UX Research, UI Design, Front-End Dev work, iterating on features, coming up with enhancements and new products, Search Engine Optimization, Social Campaigns, Audio and Video Editing, Slide decks for big presentations... not sure that I ever thought about all my various experience in one cohesive way!

If the Shoe Fits

Thinking about individual skills in terms of the different phases a startup goes through, I really have worn all the hats there are to wear as a designer. Regardless of how I feel about BROgrammers calling themselves 'full stack', it seems very appropriate for someone like myself with such broad experience to use a term like 'full stack' when answering 'what are your best skills?'.

Certainly some areas of the stack are more rusty than others, but I'm going to try using this term out in the wild to gauge the reaction. Hopefully people understand this term better than my 30 second elevator pitch I currently use!

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