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Identity Crisis

This weekend, I was staying in Jacksonville, North Carolina with my wife and some friends. It was the first of our friends to be having a baby and this was the weekend of her baby shower. Recently, she announced the name of her soon-to-arrive baby boy and this got me thinking about our names and titles; the way we identify ourselves and how much say we have in each of these things.

What’s in a name?

When we were born we were all given names. We didn’t have any opinion in the matter—and in my case, no one called me Dan until the sixth grade when it stuck (darn that first girlfriend). Although I’ve had one given name my entire life, I’ve been called many things: IT Professional, Home Entertainment Specialist, Phone Interviewer (not a telemarketer), Web Design Intern, Web Designer and most-recently Front-End Developer. But as a freelancer, I ultimately have the ability to define the services I offer and decide on my job title.

If it looks like a duck…

When I redesigned my site a few months ago, I had a terrible time coming up with a definition of what I do. I am a designer by nature—I love to solve problems—but in order to solve problems on the web, we must have (at least) some skills of a developer. I struggled to uniquely identify myself while still fully encompassing the range of services I offer. I went through things like Visual Developer, User-Centered Designer, Interaction Designer, and even the long-winded Front-End Interface Developer. None of these things really seemed to sum up what I do in terms that potential clients may understand.

Circle gets the square

Last year at the Future of Web Design conference in NYC I had the pleasure of listen to Matthew Smith (aka SquaredEye) speak about typography. Toward the beginning of his talk, he mentioned a little bit about the complexity of explaining services to clients. He simply stated, “Everything comes down to circles and squares,” and over the last year, this really had a chance to sink in. I decided simple was better—“Dan Leatherman, Designer & Developer,” it was both broad enough to fully encompass my services, and simple enough that clients, potential employers and peers understand what I love to do.

Who is your daddy, and what does he do?

Do we allow other people to define our identity in the workplace and if so, does it fully represent our passion and who we really are? I think we struggle with identity in our jobs, whether our titles are self-defined or given to us by an employer. I encourage you no matter the profession, to think about how your job-title defines you to those working with and around you.


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