As in many fields, an instructional designer can specialize and devote all professional energy to going in the core of the profession, or he or she can generalize and complement instructional design skills with skills in other areas such as graphic design or programming.
Personally, I think augmenting a core of instructional design with one or more complementary skills is not only a good career move, it can make you a stronger designer. Every new skill allows you to see the world a little differently, and the heart of any design job is the ability to look at the problem from multiple perspectives.
I’d suggest that designers think about their skill base along a number of continua*.
|Instructional Design Core||Newbie||Designing courses that address major principles of instruction||Designing courses that delight learners and show tangible evidence of effectiveness|
|Project Management||Managing self||Managing ID and writing resources on a fairly complex project||Managing an array of resources, including subject matter experts, artists, and programmers, across multiple competing projects|
|Graphic Designer||Using clip art and smart objects||Creating or combining simple visual elements in a clean, attractive manner that clarifies rather than distracts from the content||Creating art that is beautiful in its own right|
|Media Producer||Basic scripting||Scripting, lighting, recording, and editing media||Producing broadcast quality media|
|Writer||Coherent||Clean and economical||Elegant|
|Assessment Expert||Writing basic multiple choice items||Writing a wide variety of effective assessments||Psychometrician|
The question then is one of gap analysis: if you are an instructional designer, where are you on these continua? Where do you want to be? What will you do to get there?
* Each of these categories are obviously simplifications. Each category would naturally have a number of sub-categories. For instance, the core instructional design category would have sub-continua of needs analysis, content analysis, task analysis, and so forth. This set of continua also does not attempt to represent the kinds of professional skills that are common to any career, not just instructional design, such as people management, communication skills, presentation skills, and so forth. One skill I’m trying to decide whether it belongs on the instructional designer inventory is instructor. Is that a complementary instructional design skill, or a completely different job?