Julie Ng

Julie Ng

Still a Designer

I don’t like job titles. They have never accurately described what I do. As a polygot with many, often interdisciplinary skills, I find job titles limiting. But humans like to categorize things. But how do we categorize our identity?

How do we best describe ourselves (identity) and what we do (business value)? In the 2016 Stack Overflow Developer Survey, more developers considered themselves “full-stack developers” than any other roles. I have had that title, as well as:

  • Web Designer
  • Content Engineer
  • Sr. User Interaction Designer
  • Frontend Developer
  • UX Developer
  • Full Stack Developer
  • Responsive Email Consultant

How employers and clients see me

What is a Content Engineer? UX Developer? I don’t remember. And it doesn’t matter to me anymore. Correction: it shouldn’t matter. Job titles can become inflated when they are tied to income - be it salary grades or consulting rates. I am pragmatic and will accept more words to get fair compensation. But it is important not to identify too much with a title, which can limit the perception of your skills.

How I see myself

When I first got paid to make websites in 1999, there was just web designer. At my first full-time salaried job, I started as an interaction designer. As I shifted away from Photoshop to HTML, CSS and JavaScript, I became a developer.

Today I am an “architect” on paper. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it describes what I do. On the other hand, it is very tightly coupled to the enterprise hierarchy where I currently find myself.

And work is not a 9-5 job for me. I “work” at odd and random hours because I see myself as a kid playing with legos, which can be considered software components. How can we fit them together to solve problems and create the most business value?

Hang on. Fitting legos smells like design.

What is a designer?

In Design is a Job author Mike Monteiro gives practical advice on selling design services. An important principle is that the idea of a designer as a creative is a myth. So “what is a Designer?” According to Mike:

  • a designer solves problems within a set of constraints
  • a designer understands goals
  • a designer gathers information
  • a designer imposes order
  • a designer is a gatekeeper

These definitions apply to both creatives and developers. I shudder at visual noise and am a champion of “content is king”. Similarly, I often delete more lines of code than I write. Mystery meat navigation is like spaghetti code. The examples are numerous and a topic for another post.

To summarize, remove the creative myth of design, and I have been doing the same thing for over 15 years: solving problems and imposing order. I am a designer.