This term, that I believe comes from software development, is taking hold in other fields too: individual contributor. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be used in a design context.
Like with other silly business terms, a clear definition is hard to find, but Fudge Dragon Slayer at the Urban Dictionary writes:
The Individual Contributor (IC) is a non-management member of a business team that actually contributes to the goals and mission of the company. An IC typically talks normal, unlike management ablaze with buzz words/phrases like: synergy, low hanging fruit, things of that nature, etc.
So an individual contributor is someone who’s not a manager. Just making sure that we’re in agreement here, because my first problem with the term is that a lot of people don’t actually know what it’s supposed to mean.
I’m okay with recognizing the difference between managers and others. But the second problem I have with ‘individual contributor’ is the first word alone. Now maybe in some hellish computer programming organization someone can completely individually contribute, just acting on commands from their manager. But in design you don’t get anywhere on your own. You need to set up user research and align with the team to make that fit with the planning. You have to make sure your organization understands the outcomes of that research, presenting it to your team and the decision makers. If you’re lucky, you’re designing with one or more peers. Not because you’re incapable to do by yourself, but because solutions get better from diverse views on a problem. And so forth.
I’m not saying novice designers should work without management. But even (or especially) to novice designers the idea of sitting at a desk alone and crank out ‘design’ would be ridiculous. It’s your job to make sure that user-centered solutions are created, so you better talk to the people with the power to make sure that you can work on that agenda and become an accepted, integrated member of your product team.
Nobody in design should ever get the impression they should contribute individually. More importantly: no manager should think they can have a designer work in solitude. Yeah sure, the term ‘individual contributor’ can be interpreted differently too, but that was my first problem with it—it’s unclear.
Occasionally it may be useful to have a term for people who don’t manage others. But really, most of the time the context suffices: ‘the manager and her team’, ‘management and the other designers’, ‘the people doing the fucking work’. If you really need an alternative for that bad phrase, here are some ideas:
- Hands-on designer
- Not management
- Design worker
There all a lot shorter too! Leave your better idea in the comments below or in this Twitter thread.