How is it that we can sit in an office or a coffee shop and work for 8+ hours and not be able to confidently describe what we do to people that ask? A few years ago I moderated a panel at South by Southwest Interactive to try to get some answers to seemingly simple questions: what is your job title? what do you do? does your title even matter?
The conversation was enlightening and the answers were a little messy, but here’s what I found: (1) As an industry, technology and design pulls from so many diverse fields to solve a problem that what someone can do isn’t always reflected in their job title and (2) things evolve so quickly that job titles almost never keep pace with what will be expected of us next.
So, if they’re not completely accurate, and become irrelevant rather quickly – do we need them?
Yes, job titles matter for two reasons: external communication and internal consistency and scalability.
Externally, a job title helps communicate roles and responsibilities to each client. It allows clients to understand that there’s someone managing, someone directing, and someone executing. It can help clients see the kinds of skills being applied to their project and tell them who to ask about what. Other than that, titles typically serve only to build up someone’s ego or to make a company appear more qualified than they actually are.
Internally, job titles are a tool for consistency. Imagine you’re a Senior Engineer in Tokyo and you want to transfer to London. It’s important that the responsibilities and skillsets required in one role transfer over to another office (and by that rate, another company). It’s an attempt at a single, agreed-upon shorthand for who someone is and what they have to offer. A task that was a bit easier to manage only few decades ago.
But the smaller your company gets, the less job titles tend to matter. Which for the record, more than half (56.1 Million) Americans work at companies with 50 people or fewer – and that number keeps growing.
That’s why it’s been a pet peeve of mine when a designer internally promotes themselves to a creative director in a 2-5 person shop. Who are you directing? Yourself? Great, that makes you a designer.
You are expected to be yourself and never limited to your job description.
But maybe that’s because your responsibilities can change more often based on the size of your company. In a large company, there are more specializations. You’re called upon less for your breadth of skills and more for your expertise. On a 10+ person team, you are solely a UX Designer or a Visual Designer or a Senior Motion Designer, etc. In a smaller company, employees exercise their diverse range of skills and experience to take on whatever role the project or product demands. You pick up skills that you didn’t know you had and you get the job done.
That’s why smaller companies hire people, not positions. People bring their full selves to a problem. They tackle complex technical and design challenges with everything they have; their degrees, their hobbies, their softs skills, their auxiliary skills, and most importantly, their ability to keep learning new skills. Positions only do what is expected of them— within bounds and within reason, no overstepping and definitely no over-delivering.
Accomplice hires people. We make things for people and by people; the kind of people that never stop learning, that push themselves through uncomfortable growth and that try and fail and research and challenge and try again so that they can stretch, expand and create with everything they have to offer. Here, you are whatever project you are on. You are expected to be yourself and never limited to your job description. And you’re always expected to bring it.