Forced to become a unicorn. Has that happened to you?

Yes, it is. Thanks for clarifying – I imagine others were wondering the same thing.


Yep :smile:

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Thanks for the confirmation. :slight_smile:
For me as a newbie I’ll work as a generalist for a while to experience all the design process. What do you think guys? :slight_smile:

I agree with @jaisonjustus. For as long as I’ve been working in the industry it has been my experience that the person willing to wear a lot of different hats is the person still working when layoffs occur.

I consistently try not to be the guy that says, “that’s not my job.”

At the end of the day, being able to do lots of different things is what provides insight to pain points and processes. All of these combined make you more valuable to the organization.

With that said, being able to properly prioritize a large variety of taskings is probably the hardest thing about “being a unicorn.”


That is a VERY good point.


Not only is this a great strategy for surviving in a down economy, but it can really help your career along the way.

I’ve been able to rise up the ranks in the design and development world by adding value to the companies I worked for. By picking up new projects and skills, you only highlight what you’re capable of doing, and you help people see you for what you could be, instead of simply what you currently are.


Can anyone help me out here please… what exactly is a unicorn? I thought I knew but now I’m doubting myself! :confused:

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Here you go: the UX Unicorn

It essentially refers to someone that is expected to be able to do all of the things.

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That link is amazing!

So is a ux unicorn not a good thing? Or is it a bit like Jack of all trades, master of none?

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It has a reputation as not being a good thing, in that employers tend to be unrealistic about their expectations, but as @jaisonjustus mentioned, there are definite benefits. I think it’s all about communication and making sure what you want and what you ask for are the same things.


I’m self-studying to become a unicorn, kind of… where I live there are lots of startups, and one way to get into the field/get experience is to pitch my skills to them. And they don’t have money for a 10-person UX department.

It’s a bit daunting at first… but I’m getting my learning schedule figured out so I stay hopeful. :grinning:

Also I don’t know what I might be asked to work on for my first job so I’m broadening my skills. I don’t agree with the “master of none” ending to the adage. I believe that you can dabble in many things and eventually deepen your understanding of your favourite things and stay up-to-date in the rest.


I would put a slightly more specific spin on the popular definition of a UX Unicorn as being someone who both designs the UX and then can actually CODE the real product - so a designer/developer.

If a person is a UXer but is also say doing interaction design, visual design, animation design, info architecture or any of the myriad closely related disciplines I wouldn’t consider that necessarily as being Unicorn-ish but I am, admittedly, being picky on my definitions here.

My reasoning has to do with the perceived split between “designer” types and “developer” types in terms of what they feel most comfortable, most qualified to do both in terms of interest and capabilities. There are always going to be a few superstars who actually feel equally comfortable in both areas but, I’ve found any way, most people who call themselves Unicorns actually only dabble in one area while considering themselves professional in the other.

I am a BIG proponent of designers being technically aware and trying to learn as much as they can about development but I don’t think they actually need to be hands-on coders themselves - unless they want to be Unicorns!


I’ve been at my company for a number of years. The team is small, and I was initially hired as a junior web designer/front-end developer, but throughout the years I’ve had to learn print design, animation, mobile design, interaction design, creation of iPad apps, Wordpress administration/customization, PHP, user interface design, information architecture, you get the picture… the culmination of which has evolved into my current role as a User Experience Designer. I love to learn and have been fortunate enough to get paid to do it.

It has been a magical ride, but I am no Unicorn. I would consider myself to have a T-shaped skill set. I have skills in which I excel, and some that I am merely proficient in, and I have the wisdom to know which is which :wink:

I wouldn’t change any of it. I’ve benefited from all of it. However, it can be a daunting position to be in. Technology changes at breakneck speed, and keeping up with - as an example - the latest libraries, frameworks, accessibility issues, standards, etc. takes a lot of time and energy. Look at this list of deliverables for UX alone. I get tired just looking at that.

I would never discourage anyone from learning as much as they can, but expectations need to realistic for both yourself and your team/manager/company.


I’ve never heard of this I, T and X shaped person, sounds very interesting. This might be a stupid question but how do you work out what type you are?

The following is subjective and my interpretation only. I would classify I-shaped as someone who has a depth of knowledge in one area but unable to effectively collaborate or understand the perspectives of other roles - many times because of lack of experience; T-shaped as being multidisciplinary with a specialty in one area and an ability to bring that knowledge & perspective into projects; and an X type as a Super-T with experience in management, strategy and leading teams.

For instance, a UXer that is T shaped and has learned about programming logic or web technologies will have a better understanding of a technical constraint that a developer might have with a particular feature that they’d like to implement. So, if the developer says she can’t do x-y-z because that’s client-side and this stuff is server-side - they understand that - sometimes not wholly, but enough to figure out a work around.

In my opinion, most UXers appear to be T-shaped. If you look at this venn diagram of the disciplines that make up User Experience, it’s quite expansive. I think it would be difficult to not incorporate that knowledge in a collaborative environment.

BTW - note this quote when reviewing the diagram in order to avoid the onset of panic (ha ha):

To think anyone could be an expert in each of these circles is sheer absurdity. Scratch that: To think any designer could be an expert in each of these circles is sheer absurdity, but to recognize that every end user is an expert in each of these circles is highly important.

You can also read Tim Brown’s original interview.

Thank you, this clarifies it a lot! :grin:

For what it’s worth, this is a big reason why employers tend to value practical experience over degrees or certifications. In our line of work, you learn so much more in an actual job than you do behind a classroom desk. For instance, since I started work an hour ago, I have already updated my company’s WordPress site, custom coded a PHP popup for said site, put together a Power Point slide show for senior leadership, participated in a couple of morning standup meetings, and started in on a new workflow for our product (before getting distracted and stopping by here for a few minutes).

From whom much is expected, much is given. I’m very happy with my job, and wouldn’t change it for a thing at the moment. Being a unicorn isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so long as you know and are comfortable with what you’re getting into.

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Wow, that’s a big mix! I also feel that a person has to possess the desire/ambition/curiosity to learn new things even if they don’t have the experience. Not everyone enjoys or feels comfortable with doing that (and that’s OK). Admittedly, it can sometimes feel like baptism by fire.

Right on Swishie, when I started out in design, being a unicorn wasn’t such a big thing… people would view my resume with scorn. I remember sitting in an interview at a large "prestigious’ ad agency in Sydney and the stern Creative Director kept asking me “…but how can you be good at retouching, AND also know how to code html? They’re very different skills”. Once upon a time, cavemen carved weapons, knew how to catch wild animals and which berries not to eat. That’s a big skillset. Leonardo Da Vinci was a great artist and engineer… I just don’t understand why people find it so difficult to understand that you CAN be good at multiple things, especially multiple things that are actually related.


Completely agree with all your points but do you think that this is the main unicorn ‘issue’ (that people assume we can’t multi-skill)?

I think it’s possible to be good at all those things, but the problems start when employers expect that everyone can or should. If I want to be a specialist researcher, should I have to know how to do those other things?

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