This article was written in 2013. It might or it might not be outdated. And it could be that the layout breaks. If that’s the case please let me know.

Blaming the specialists

Yesterday I published a post about a tech radar meeting I attended where I heard about technologies that I had never heard of before. I concluded that all those specialists should get together more often and work together. We should know and understand each other and use each others knowledge to create better products.

Destroy silos

The reaction I heard most on Twitter was that we should get rid of specialists, that specialists are the cause of silo thinking. I don’t agree. I do agree that we need to get rid of silo thinking, or bureaucracy as I’d like to call it, but you can’t create excellent stuff without specialists. Sure, there are some multi-talents, but there just a few of them. The majority is a single issue specialist, and if we’re being honest about it, most people are not even true pros. They deliver a decent job if you encourage them. We can’t expect these mediocre people to learn even more stuff and still deliver some sort of high standard.

Blame the assembly line

So instead of blaming the people, we should blame the process. For as long as I remember we’ve been working according to the waterfall process, where the product is created in the same way as you’d assemble a car in an assembly line. This is of course a crazy analogy. We’re not assembling websites, we’re designing them. You don’t design a car in an assembly line, you design a car with a team of different specialists. After years of designing and fine tuning, hundreds, or thousands of exact copies of that same car are assembled. It makes sense to automate that phase. This assembly phase doesn’t exist for websites. We don’t produce massive amounts of the same site. Every site we make is unique. It’s designed. And designing is something you do with a team of specialists. Together. With UX people, visual designers, and nerds. You can draw a beautiful car, but if the desired motor doesn’t fit in there, it’s not a car.

All part of the creative process

A few weeks ago I was having dinner with three teachers. We were discussing the problems they have with teaching the web, and I was wondering if Fronteers could help. One of the teachers used to design TV’s for Philips. We talked about the workflow on the web, and he was truly flabbergasted that developers were not consulted during the so called creative process. TV’s, just as cars, are designed by teams of different specialists. Really, the only industry that considers itself to be an automated factory of workers is the web design industry, I think. We need to understand that we’re designing complex stuff, we’re not repeating the same task over and over again. Everybody who works on a web site has to realise they’re designing a final product in a team. That’s the only way to get rid of silo thinking. By changing the attitude of the specialists by changing what you expect from them. If you expect them to behave like a factory worker, they will do that. If you expect them to behave like a specialist in a design team, a design team that has to deliver excellent products, then they will do that instead.

You might get rid of silo thinking by destroying specialisms, but you’d probably end up with cheap, ugly rubbish. That’s not what I want to create.