You might be a self-professed newbie to the world of design, but it’s unlikely you haven’t heard the phrase ‘full-stack’ tossed around. Perhaps it’s cropped up a few times during a job search, or you’ve heard it mentioned by team members. If that’s the case, you’ve probably been left wondering what a full-stack designer actually is, and why on earth it’s the word on everyone’s lips.
As the lines between design and development become ever more blurred, full-stack designers are sharply on the rise. On the heels of the full-stack development era, the changing landscape of the startup scene calls for more cross-disciplinary training from designers— meaning demand for designers who are also coders, copywriters and project managers rolled into one.
Overwhelmed? Don’t be. In this piece, we’ll break down the anatomy of a full-stack designer: what it is, what the benefits are and why it’s important. For those looking to get into full-stack design, we’ll cover all the possible routes and experience required to become a full-stack designer in your own right. We’ll take a look at the following:
- What is a full-stack designer?
- What are the benefits of being a full-stack designer?
- How do I become a full-stack designer?
1. What is a full-stack designer?
In today’s world, everyone is more than familiar with the ‘many hats’ job description. A marketing executive might straddle social media, editorial and copywriting. A CEO might partake in the occasional customer service e-mail. As it’s becoming increasingly difficult to pinpoint and define our skill sets, many of today’s job specs are multi-disciplinary—meaning you’ll wear many hats as part of one role. A full-stack designer follows this same protocol.
Put simply, a full-stack designer is a designer that gets involved at every stage of the user experience design process, from research to implementation. Where a normal designer might take charge of one segmented part of the process before handing off, a full-stack designer will see the project through to its execution, focusing on the full picture of the project from day one. Typically, this means a full-stack designer has a range of skills including UX and UI design, coding, project management, copywriting and an understanding of the development process.
2. What are the benefits of being a full-stack designer?
Resourcefulness is both a hot topic and a high-priority in the start-up world. As such, the ‘generalist or specialist’ debate has been raging since the dawn of the start-up era. Expansive and multi-disciplinary skill sets often come under fire for being too broad or too much work—evoking the fear that you’d be doing the job of 3 or 4 people for the salary of one. This criticism has meant it’s highly tempting to want to hone in as much as possible when it comes to job specs, and opt for a career that means you’ll excel at one thing rather than being a jack of all trades. However, being a full-stack designer and having a skill set that straddles multiple disciplines is hugely advantageous.
Full-stack design is especially lucrativeif you’re a freelancer.Why? Because, put simply, you can add more value than two specialised designers. Alongside being so much more than just one small cog in a machine, you’re able to track the progress of the project.
Being a full-stack designer also has huge benefits when it comes to the handoff process. Generally speaking, there’s still a noticeable discrepancy in both understanding and communication between design and development—or, in other words, an ‘us vs. them’ mentality. A full stack designer understands the entire process and is able to design with a real concept of the limitations and tangible goals from the development side. They’re then able to listen to the niggling problems and propose solutions, making the entire hand-off process as smooth as butter.
While having such a broad inventory of skills might seem overwhelming, there’s a level of flexibility and freedom that comes with being a full-stack designer. Full-stack designers are able to choose where they invest their time and prioritise one skill over another if necessary. Where a conventional designer might have to retrain if they’re growing tired or bored of their specific skill set, a full-stack designer could fill any design role that comes up in the job search. Win-win.
3. How do I become a full-stack designer?
Perhaps you’re already a UX or UI designer looking to expand your skill set, or you’re new to the game and looking to gain the broadest possible spectrum of skills under the umbrella of design. Many designers start off with the goal of becoming a full-stack designer and plan their education and career path accordingly. Being a current designer in the field is naturally a huge plus, as it’s easier to become a full-stack designer if you’re building on a pre-existing skill set. An understanding of development (both front-end and back end), as well as an understanding of server-management, is equally paramount when elevating yourself to full-stack designer level.
With regards to the other skills needed to become a full-stack designer, you’re in luck—there are so many options when it comes to expanding your current skill set. If you’re currently in the field, start off by swapping skills with your co-workers and setting up some lunch n’ learn sessions between teams. This will help you to identify gaps in your knowledge, and gaining first-hand experience from the same people who are working on the projects you’re working on will allow you to contextualise what you learn.
The most conventional road to becoming a full-stack designer involves enrolling in an online course that offers fundamental design skills, such as UX and UI. This will allow you to gain the necessary qualifications and get the most comprehensive insight into the different areas of design.
Before you make a decision about how to go about becoming a full-stack designer, start by having a brainstorm about the skills and experience you’ve currently got. If you’ve had the opportunity to work across both design, coding and/or development, it’s possible that you already are one (congrats!) Even if that’s the case, it’s still worth considering classes in copywriting or project management to truly become the full package. Good luck!