Should X do Y?

I’ve been around these parts just long enough to have seen “should designers code?” and all the variations come up about 500 times. And it always feels like people answer that question at a level of abstraction or theoretical purity.

Should a spherical cow do research?

There is no spherical cow. There is no single way that design, development, devops, writing, strategy happen. Everywhere is context.

I spent the first 2 years of my web career with the web as about a third of my job. The rest of it was administrative support, print design, IT support, and event management. (It was a weird job.)

The next decade I was a webmaster. The last five years, I’ve been on a small team. There’s no luxury of “leaving code to the coders” or “leaving design to the designers.” There’s only work that needs doing, and by god you’d better figure out how to do it.

On the other side, I know people who’ve worked in Fortune-whatever companies where they have literal researchers in actual white coats. So yeah, maybe there you don’t need to know how to do the thing, only how to incorporate it effectively.

But you do have to know how to use what’s around you. You have to know your context: both the resources at hand, and how your work fits into the whole. I worked with a couple of print designers, years ago, where one kept giving me design ideas that just weren’t possible (this is circa 2003, so, like, anything with a curve), but the other helped me get better at the design I needed to be doing.

He gave me tools to understand the concepts, so I could apply them to the raw materials available. I got better — “good enough” — at design so that I could make something that worked with the brand while being true to what the web could do then.

When I got here, as I got settled, as I figured out what it meant to be on a team with other web people, I could still see gaps in what needed to be done. I got us doing usability studies and content strategy, even as my job was developer, because those things were important and I was willing to learn.

Should X do Y?

First of all, if Y is “writing”, then the answer is always yes. Everybody should learn how to write clearly so you can express what the hell you think you’re doing and why.

Otherwise, does Y need to be done? And is there a Y-master on hand?

If not, are you kinda interested in Y? Then just do the thing. Learn as much as you can, do what you can to make your Y not suck.

If you have a Y-master: is Y adjacent to your X? Do you like being a responsible team member? Then at least know enough about Y that the Y-master doesn’t hate you.

Author: Elaine Nelson

Elaine Nelson was directionless with an English degree in the late 90s and then: GODDAMN INTERNET. In her current gig, she wrangles content and content management systems, but her last job was Webmaster, so she's dabbled in all sorts of web work. She's an editor at The Interconnected, previously published in The Pastry Box, and once had a poem published in an anthology of GenX writing, when that was the big new thing.