Photo Credit: Stefanie Lategahn

Stop talking about unicorns

In the digital design industry, a “unicorn” is a designer that can create outstanding identity, websites, web or application UI, user experience flows and studies as well as implement their work. Basically, a talented design generalist.

The moniker of the “unicorn” came into popular usage due to the apparent rarity of this type of designer. Although, in common usage its a bit different. The implication is that only an awesome one stop shop designer can fill a role and considering a specialist is treated as a concession.

Just like many professions there are many people that are good at it. They are good in different ways. Some are specialists, some are explorers, others are generalists and so on. The prevailing opinion seems to be challenging the conventional notion of a generalist. Essentially, the ” jack of all trades : master of none” mantra.

For me, food always offers clarity:

The Cheescake Factory is what you might call a generalist restaurant. Sorry, a “unicorn”. They offer a large and varied menu representing multiple types of cuisines. Generally, they are considered a great dining experience. Should we start claiming that a steakhouse like House of Prime Rib or a hot dog chain like The Varsity should learn to make everything just as well? Seems silly.

I don’t believe digital design is special snowflake of a multifaceted industry. All industries are varied and require generalists and specialists. Sometimes a generalist is just what the doctor ordered but sometimes you want a good steak ( I know I am mixing metaphors).


To look back at design : I don’t think we ought to talk about a “unicorn” like its the crown jewel of being a designer. I agree that a talented generalist is just as rare as a great iOS designer or a great automotive UI designer.

I consider myself a generalist. The value I offer is that I can touch many disciplines with skill. If you don’t know what you want out of a product then I am your guy. While I am equipped to help in many areas, I may not be the best choice if you needed a tricked out application flow document.In that case, a great UX designer would become your unicorn. I think there is need for all types of designers. If you think about what your project really needs and then seek a great designer who fits the bill, the results will be great. I think we should stop talking about unicorns. It’s become a pretty useless label.


Updated, 8/15: to give better context to my assertions.

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