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This week Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt announced Google’s intention to introduce their own Android Tablet as early as in the next six months. Although plans had reportedly been in the works for some time, according to the Inquisitr, this was the first time anyone from Google attached a timeline to the project.

As I read through articles with what by now has become typical “will this be an iPad killer” rhetoric, one question was conspicuously absent—“What does this mean for graphic designers?” On the surface the answer would appear to be simple—just one more device to design for, right? Well, not exactly. Tablets, as well as eReaders and smart phones have neither one common operating system nor user interface. Among them there are no less than five different operating systems, iOS, Android, Java ME, Symbian and Blackberry’s QNX. Not to mention the differences in performance speed and screen resolution.

Successful design for each device can largely be measured by the degree to which a designer is able to maximize the unique advantages of each. Sean Clark sums it up nicely in the introduction to his interview with Tapworthy author Josh Clark “‘Thinking mobile’ goes beyond scaling down an existing app to fit a smaller screen or making decisions about what content to include. The ability of an app to delight its users is largely dependent on the context in which it is being used. Because the app can be used anywhere by nature and the interface is manipulated with thumbs and fingers, there are much more than just aesthetics to consider.”

As the number of different devices in the market increase so does demand on the designer to maintain and develop an ever larger arsenal of skills, encompassing at a minimum an understanding of, and at maximum proficiency in, UX/UI and web design and development—in addition to their basic design skills. Finding a designer who not only has these skills, but also is equally strong in all of them is unusual enough that these rare individuals have come to be referred to in the industry as unicorns. Braden Kowitz’s blog post “Hiring a Designer: Hunting the Unicorn” does a great job summing it up “Even if you find a unicorn designer with all those skills, actually doing all those things at your company is a huge amount of work. One full-time person probably isn’t going to cut it.”

This is not to suggest that we should all sit on proverbial laurels and not adapt. In fact, I’m a firm believer in continuing education and learning new skills. But more to acknowledge the challenge designers face in keeping up with the ever quickening pace of technology and what it means to be a designer in the new age.

Please post your thoughts and comments.