Design Technologist

Design Technologist is not a role that is well known in the industry and is often conflated with Creative Technologist from the advertising world. At Airbnb we use the title to refer to someone who is a full-stack designer. We cover the spectrum from Information Architecture through UI Design to Frontend Engineering and down to writing API code.

We manage our own projects and small teams in a lean, Product Management capacity. Everyone on the team has a history of founding companies and shipping product at scale. We primarily build tooling for designers, but we also consult product and service teams when solving large-scale, cross-functional problems.

Anti-disciplinary is the best description of our work, but it doesn't quite capture it. Learning is our core competency. The ability to understand a group of complex ideas, combine, synthesize, and communicate those ideas simply is our domain. We combine backgrounds in computer science, HCI, mathematics, and a DIY ethos to bridge product development disciplines. We recombine these domains to create something that transcends industry standard roles.

A bit more that is not the party line...

I have always played this role, but never had a good way to describe it. When I've been hired as a Product Designer, my colleagues are surprised by the added benefits. Designing a user experience flow from end to end while composing the underlying data schema lifts all of the work. Building design files like frontend code elevates everyone to understand and contribute to shaping design. Having a common thread in our work means we can traverse the traditional disciplines in a more meaningful way.

In product development we often talk about Handoff - when one discipline is done they give their work to the next discipline. A product requirements document being handed to a designer, a drawing of an interface being handed to a software engineer, it is all in silos. Handoff is synthetic, the embodiment of shipping the org chart.

The future we've been able to see as Design Technologists is a world where Release replaces Handoff. This is a fluid process where requirements change, designs improve, and code can be optimized - each reacting to the constraints of the other disciplines. The quality and impact of these reactions are a function of how much understanding is shared across disciplines.

Imagine if there weren't disciplines to share across?

  • Understanding all of the error states as a set of APIs upfront in your design tool
  • User's jobs to be done writing the tests for your code
  • A requirements document updating as user testing invalidates assumptions

These are all possible if we work in a way that blurs the lines of these disciplines. Faster feedback loops that can be captured by our tools means faster learnings and more informed decisions in every team member by default. This is not magic, but the result of clear communication.

I'm not saying any of these discrete roles is redundant. I am saying a single thread encompassing each discipline's knowledge improves product development. Design Technologists have realized this process on a micro-level and it feels like the future.