Most people I know who work on web products focus on a single skill, like design, then work hard to become really good at it. They even make it a part of their identity when they proudly state, “I’m a designer.” I know that’s what I did.
At least until a couple years ago when I started to get interested in development. When I first expressed interest in learning to program the common response was “why?” After all, I had a skill (design) that was in demand. Why learn something entirely new?
I started caring about the entire product. Not just what it looked like, but also how it was used, the stability, security, and most importantly, if people actually paid for it. That required a new set of skills. In order to have a true product focus I needed to learn programming and marketing.
Normally design, development, and marketing are found in three different people, but they are all learnable skills, right? So why couldn’t I become good at all three?
Feeling confident in my design ability, I started on development next. At the time I was very interested in designing iOS apps, so developing them as well was the next logical step. At first progress was slow. I started by designing an app and then gradually implementing more and more of the design in code. This slowly got me familiar with Xcode and Interface Builder as well as Objective-C. After a few months I was trying to develop my own apps (with a lot of help). 1.5 years later I had three apps in the App Store. Each one I had designed myself and done the majority of the development.
But what good is a product if no one knows it exists?
With a few products released I knew it was time to focus on marketing. I started by finding sites that would be interested in writing about my latest app (Commit) and sending them an email. Nothing complicated. A few sites wrote reviews, which grew into reviews on sites like TUAW and Lifehacker. This showed me what was possible, and I started to put more effort into learning.
Then I learned something critical: teaching is the best form of marketing. I’d been told this by many different people, but it wasn’t until early 2012 that I took it to heart and started acting on it.
These lessons ultimately led to writing two books on design (The App Design Handbook and Designing Web Applications) that have together made me nearly six figures. I’ve also grown a popular blog, built up email lists, and actually made a small name for myself. Pretty crazy, right?
Focus on your weakest skill
The books have been such a wild success that I realized I’ve made a lot of progress learning marketing. That means it’s time to spend more time where I am currently weakest: development. That’s where The Web App Challenge comes in. I am going to be working on a new Ruby on Rails application to continue learning to program. Really it will take all three skills to make the project successful.
I find it beneficial to periodically evaluate your current skills compared to where you would want to be, decide where you are weakest, and focus your energy there for a while. This constant rotation will make sure you don’t neglect a particular area for too long.
One person can have all three skills
The biggest myth I hear often repeated is that designers and developers are two different kinds of people (and marketers are another species entirely). I don’t believe it. All three are skills and they can be learned, even mastered, by just one person.
I still have a long ways to go, but I’m working hard towards that goal.
If you want, add your best resources for learning design, development, and marketing to the comments.