Gregory Ronczewski is the Director of Product Design at TeamFit platform – view his profile on TeamFit


Yesterday, I found a copy of The Applied Arts 2019 Design Annual in the mailbox. Walking home, I thought how different it is now receiving it by mail. I remember the thrill of seeing a new issue of Communication Arts, Print or Applied Arts at the News and Magazines store. Those stores are gone, and this theme of change—not to much surprise—continues with the editorial for this issue written by Will Novosedlik titled Design Disruption. Nothing new here, I am afraid. Design as a profession, along with almost every aspect of our lives, is changing. I found this quote in the next article: “We are the typesetters of our generation.” Yes, we are. Typesetting was a noble craft since Gutenberg started the mass printing business. The experts who master the art truly knew all the aspects of print. Their knowledge was priceless. And then, just out of the blue in the late 1980s, they become redundant. Replaced by a small, grey box called Mac. We can still find traces of their expertise in the newest tools that designers use – upper case and lower case letters come from the days when the metal type was kept in the upper case and lower case. I wonder, how long it took them to gather all the awareness and support it with hours of practice.

Was it the ten thousand hours that Malcolm Gladwell suggests in his book Outliers or something less? How many hours of typesetting before you can call yourself an expert? Before Gutenberg, monks spent entire lifes working on one or two illuminated manuscripts. Gladwell des cribes The Beatles and their path to fame. Did you know that before 1964, the group performed live an estimated twelve hundred times! A massive number compared to other bands. They just got very good at this. Practice makes perfect.

Which brings me to a little calculation. Ten thousand hours gives us about five years of work, seven days a week, five hours per day. I don’t think it is achievable. So let’s add a year to compensate, and still, it will require a lot of integrity and stamina to master skills. I started to use Photoshop daily in 1994. It was version 2.0 with no layers – twenty-five years later, I am still using it but not as often. Instead, I use Sketch most of the time. I am not a Photoshop master. I know that. There are many functions I am not even aware of, but over the years, I can say I have become better and better. At the same time, the need to plan even the simplest modification disappeared with layers. The ability to edit text was added, and the endless copy/paste was no more. Practice makes perfect. But how do you measure your success when there is not enough time to practice? All the prototyping tools we are using now were not available five years ago. Not a chance to put ten thousand hours into mastering it. It is a moving target. Before you can say that you know it, it will be gone, replaced by another, better(?) tool.

At the same time, those technical tools are now less complicated. A lot of foundational knowledge is replaced by smart algorithms. Plenty of presets make designers lives much more straightforward. What is then that you need to measure when someone asks for an assessment? Technical skills? Knowledge? Application? Boundaries are blurred. Designers learn to code and engineers are good at spotting design inconsistencies. Knowing Photoshop and Illustrator is not enough if you want to call yourself a designer. All the motion tools need to be added to your tool belt. Many shared principles govern them, but there is always something new.

One of our clients asked the other day – how can we show changes in the use of skill over a given time? For me, the more significant challenge is what type of data we should look at and where this data will come from? As the time compresses annual reviews become useless. It is almost as you need to “monitor vital signals” of the skill profile—taking a pulse of your talents. But again, what to measure? The application or the result? Or the ability to communicate with others and the effect of collaboration where skills merge and add to the overall performance.

We have become passive consumers of information. It is not that hard to clock hundreds of hours on Youtube or Instagram. And there is still TV. I guess some people keep watching it. If you remove time spent on information channels and social media, then the ability to master something quickly fades away. There is not enough time left. Combined with the speed of how everything is disrupted, we have a situation when we are ok at many things but far from being great at any. It takes time to become a master and time is in short supply. So the better we are at identifying skill gaps and finding learning resources, our chances of getting one thousand hours under the belt are real, but ten thousand hours? I don’t think so, besides, what is the point? Things will look very, very different in five years.