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Is specialist designer an oxymoron?

Gulari, Melehat Nil; Fairburn, Susan


Melehat Nil Gulari

Susan Fairburn


Erik Bohemia

William Ion

Ahmed Kovacevic

John Lawlor

Mark McGrath

Chris McMahon

Brian Parkinson

Ger Reilly

Michael Ring

Robert Simpson

David Tormey


Jack-of-all-trades, master of none is a figure of speech that suits generalists well. Having special knowledge is usually confused with being an expert. Does it mean that a non-specialist or a generalist is not an expert? Curriculums of many design schools provide a generic design education, which enables designers to work across fields. Maintaining disciplinary boundaries may deepen in-depth knowledge within the field; on the other hand, developing a design curriculum encouraging students to move across disciplines produces designers who are able to work well in collaborative teams or facilitate other domain experts. This study examines the influence of this dichotomy on how we perceive expertise and recognise its value by investigating its roots in design education. Twenty-four semi-structured interviews with individuals representing SMEs and external designers were reflected on to investigate difficulties of communicating design expertise resulting from the specialist generalist dilemma. The results of this paper will inform a designer's job identity, protecting and sharing design territory and providing insights for design education.


GULARI, M.N. and FAIRBURN, S. 2013. Is specialist designer an oxymoron? The value of specialisation in the design field. In Bohemia, E., Ion, W., Kovacevic, A., Lawlor, J., McGrath, M., McMahon, C., Parkinson, B., Reilly, G., Ring, M., Simpson, R. and Tormey, D. (eds.) Proceedings of the 15th International on engineering and product design education conference (E&PDE13): design education - growing our future, 5-6 September 2013, Dublin, Ireland. Glasgow: The Design Society/Institution of Engineering Designers [online], pages 246-251. Available from:

Conference Name 15th International on engineering and product design education conference (E&PDE13): design education - growing our future
Conference Location Dublin, Ireland
Start Date Sep 5, 2013
End Date Sep 6, 2013
Acceptance Date Sep 4, 2013
Online Publication Date Sep 4, 2013
Publication Date Sep 4, 2013
Deposit Date Mar 17, 2017
Publicly Available Date Mar 17, 2017
Publisher Design Society
Pages 246-251
ISBN 9781904670421
Keywords Specialisation; Specialist; Generalist; Design education; Expertise
Public URL
Publisher URL


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