Do Unicorns Actually Exist?

THE SEARCH FOR A MYTHICAL CREATURE

We’re in a creative industry for a reason — the capacity to imagine. And it’s no secret that design is evolving so rapidly, we need new skills to keep up. Imagine out there in the changing landscape exists a rare designer who is a UX whiz, designs beautiful visuals and can also code like nobody’s business. Perfect — they can single handedly manage the project from start to finish. The highly coveted unicorn.

Wait, what?!

While we all love a good fairy tale, a unicorn is just that. The term for an all-round amazing designer-developer-strategist-all-round-rockstar is named after a mythical creature because they’re a myth — imaginary solutions from wishful thinking.

THE MYTHICAL UNICORN

The real problem is the idea that complex design problems can be solved, amazing user experiences can be created, quality visual work and seamless development can be all delivered by one person. Aside from the unrealistic expectations of finding a genius who could satisfy all those requirements, there wouldn’t be enough time for one person to manage that workload as well as deliver projects on time.

Not to mention the pot of gold required to pay them.

DON’T BE NAIVE

The belief that one person could satisfy the process themselves is also problematic for other reasons. It kind of follows that to think someone could single-handedly manage an entire project, then each element of creating functional, influential and beautiful design isn’t that hard. This shows a naivety around what designers and developers actually do, and the value of each. The depth of process for each role requires not only specialised skills, but also breadth of experience.

THE TRUTH

Multi-skilled, even multi-disciplinary designers are NOT a myth. We know the incredible advantage for designers to have a multi-faceted and diverse skillset because that’s what we focus on equipping graduates with. Whether it’s a depth of understanding that sets parameters within which to focus on design, or skills that allow them to visualise big-picture, the concept of multi-skilled designers is appealing.

So let’s move away from the term unicorn, and maybe refer to rare-breeds as they really are; full stack designers or T-shaped people. They’re cross-disciplinary, can jump into a project at any phase and understand enough to contribute and add value. Or, they might have enough understanding of each phase to thoroughly imagine a project from start to finish, which is useful in the planning stage.

Fullstack skills are essential for freelancing, and as managers of projects. Even fullstack designers aren’t unicorns though, they have areas of expertise and a valuable understanding of others, but they can’t execute projects from start to finish — even if they can oversee or contribute.

THE SOLUTION

Creating a lean, mean team without unicorns is very possible. We suggest the following to avoid missing out on amazing designers while questing for mythical creatures:

  • Pick any two. UX design, visual design, coding. Rather than looking for a designer who can do everything under the sun to perfection, pick two and work with that. Applying this to the rest of the team is helpful too — rather than hiring one person per skillset, or one person for the entire skillset — put together a team that between them fulfil the skillset in the leanest way. Another way to do this is prioritise skills. What is crucial and full time versus what is needs-basis or can be done without?
  • Outsource where you can. Once core-skills are identified, outsourcing jobs where you can is an option. Be resourceful with freelancers and consultants where you need to.
  • Use templates and frameworks. Establishing an initial design for user testing should be a quick ‘n dirty process, and generally the first idea will never be the final design. Taking advantage of resources like templates and frameworks is useful and saves time during initial phases of UX design.

Finding the right designer is much like UX itself. You have to fully understand the critical goals of your team so you can hire people with the relevant skills. So here’s to the design unicorn, a mythical creature we’re ready to say goodbye to. Let’s focus on become resourceful, agile designers who are a valuable asset to any team, who never stop learning, who actually exist.

Interested in becoming a full stack designer? Check out Diploma of Web Development. Our next course starts November 16.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.