Why High-Skilled Freelancers Are Leaving Corporate Life Behind

Photos: Rawpixel.com via Shutterstock

Photos: Rawpixel.com via Shutterstock

By Lisa Baird


On a sunny November day in San Francisco’s Mission District, inside the offices of Stamen Design (a studio known for cool-looking maps), I met what you might call a unicorn of the modern knowledge economy. Her name is Nicolette Hayes.

She and I sat down, and she walked me through her latest two client projects. The first was an interactive model of the Amazon rainforest designed for a popular geography magazine. The second was a visual design language for human emotion, where sadness was represented as a deep ultramarine blob with soft blurry edges. These disparate projects called upon a range of visual, interactive, spatial, and psychological concepts that many would struggle to understand, let alone weave together cogently.

Knowledge workers with polymathic competencies in multiple disciplines are still rare, but they're becoming more and more common. Take Hayes—a Berkeley geography grad with a design masters from Pratt. She is a data-visualization designer who regularly handles user interface, user experience, visual design, interaction design, and design research on behalf of clients. What once might’ve been a three- or four-person team is now simply Nicolette.


Buckminster Fuller might’ve called someone like Nicolette Hayes a "comprehensivist"—the opposite of a specialist. According to constructivist psychologist Spencer McWilliams, "Fuller was highly critical of disciplinary specialization, believing that it was originally instituted to support the interests of a power structure and keep intelligent individuals from knowing too much." (Read More...)