Specialist Disease often strikes without warning, such as the day I was a conference panelist at the “Fix My Site” session. People could walk into the session and project their company’s Web site up on the big screen, asking the panel to provide advice. The moment one website was projected, I knew we were dealing with Specialist Disease.
The site was an over-designed mess. Someone had apparently decided that no information should fall “below the fold” (in the lower area of the page that would require the customer to scroll down). That design rule is useful enough for a home page, but the entire site was designed that way. Deep information pages explaining complex financial products to sophisticated audiences had a small tabbed area on the screen that forced you to click five or six times to get a total of ten paragraphs of information.
They had replaced the typical detailed product specs page with a design more befitting a Rolodex.
Misguided designers had run roughshod over the writers and anyone else in their path as this site was conceived. A clear case of Specialist Disease.
You probably don’t call it by that name, but I bet you’ve seen Specialist Disease where you work. You are looking at Specialist Disease when people make recommendations to you that are entirely in concert with their training and background but without any critical thinking, and with no understanding that there are other specialties that affect the final decision.
Each of us exhibits knee-jerk reactions once in a while—we each must actively work to avoid contracting Specialist Disease. Most specialists are able to rise above their specialty when needed, but some find comfort in retreating to their discipline, especially when under pressure.
And it happens in companies large and small. The only difference is that the specialists in small companies usually aren’t quite so specialized. In very small companies, these specialists aren’t always employees—they might work for a digital agency or an accounting firm or be hired on as a consultant when they are needed. Small companies often find the sales manager at odds with the “tech guy.” Big companies find the designers at odds with the information architects. But the disease is the same—people don’t think holistically about what the company or the customers need, but rather view the world through their narrow professional prism.
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