Jack of all trades, master of one

Design is a field with many subdivisions—from print to web and everything in-between. When I’m asked, “So what do you do for a living?” and respond “Graphic Design”, people normally follow up with, “So can you help me design my website, some brochures and a logo?” As if anyone in the business of Graphic Design is automatically proficient in these sub-fields. But are designers really expected to be a master of every aspect of design?

We are constantly growing and looking for different inspirations and always trying to adapt to new skills, get an edge on the next guy or girl. But on the way we can lose perspective of why we chose this career. We learn things we don’t enjoy doing and then take on projects we really don’t enjoy working on, just because we assumed a graphic designer should provide these services. I’ve been caught up in this awful web a few times, but now I’m fighting my way out.

I think designers fall into expectations, like a bad relationship, of wanting to be the best at everything design-related, eventually leaving us feeling overwhelmed and producing mediocre work. If a person can focus on one aspect of design – say magazine spreads or illustration or logo design – and specialize in that niche, we’d enjoy our work, we’d find fulfillment, we’d produce great work. I’m not saying we should give up learning new advances. Far from it – a basic understanding of everything goes a long way.  Recently I’ve met designers so caught up in learning CSS, Ajax, Action Script or even learning to illustrate, that they’ve become discouraged. What they once loved has become just something to do for a paycheck.

Now what if you wanted to design a website or create a great ad, but it required skills you didn’t yet have? You could just make an attempt at it, producing something usable and learning along the way. But what if you wanted to make it amazing? Collaborate. You would produce an excellent product, and you would learn first-hand from an expert in that area. On a commercial level, collaboration is where design needs to be. Designers can unit, play to their strengths, and produce a product of amazing value and detail. If we stop limiting our visions to only those areas we already know, we will push the industry forward and create more compelling work. So ask yourself if what you’re doing today is taking your life in the direction you want to go? Because to most of us design is not a job; it’s our life.


Jahanzeb Khan, is currently Design Director of WGSN and presently studying Design Management at Pratt in New York City. Previously, he has been under the employ of design firms such as McRoberts Mitchell and FHM, where he provided art direction and brand management. Driven by his passion to enhance the value of his clients and turn their visions into reality, he is able to pursue his primary goal as a designer— to find the balance between beauty and function. Latest work: www.lowfatgraphics.com


  1. 2010/02/23 at 6:45

    thats a simple truth yet the hardest to follow because we are easily distracted from what we need to do. I blame the surplus of information and the mind set of Do-It-Yourself mentality. I am a victim. I suppose the prize is in finding what you are good at and focus on it, but the hardest part is to distracted from doing things unrelated to your goal.

  2. 2010/03/04 at 1:02


  3. bec
    2010/03/21 at 2:26

    nice article. i enjoyed reading it. thanks! which reminds me of a quote from picasso, “You must always work not just within, but below your means. If you can handle three elements, handle only two. If you can handle ten, then handle only five. In that way, the ones you do handle, you handle with more ease, more mastery, and you create a feeling of strength in reserve.”

    hope all’s well! xoxo

  4. Jahanzeb (Author)
    2010/03/21 at 18:42

    Thanks Bec for reading.

    Amazing lesson to learn from that quote. If you want more information of this subject matter, I’m currently reading a book called Drive by Dan Pink; It might be worth a read.

  5. bec
    2011/11/10 at 18:15

    hi! thanks for the book recommendation. i will definitely look into it.

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