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

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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That’s a good point Hawk! Yes and of course, whilst you might be good at two different tasks, you can’t perform them both at the same time. Whilst I’m designing an interface, I am not writing code at the same time. I think a lot of recruiters and project managers tend to forget that.


Nope! But as with any relationship, both sides (you, and your employer) need to be on the same page, and have the same understanding of what is expected. If not, issues are bound to arise.

Communication is the key here.

If you’re just starting out, I find that this has a lot to do with the size of companies that you’re applying to. If you’re applying to startups, chances are you’re going to be expected to wear lot’s of hats. In general, I’ve found that the larger the organization, the greater your chances are of being given the space to stay specialized.

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I quit my previous job as a recruiter because it was very repetitive. When I quit it I didn’t know anything but one thing: I did not want to have a predictable and repetitive job. And then I found UX, which in theory was a blessing. Sadly, the market forces people to become specialists instead of generalists. And I really believe none of them is worse/bad/wrong. It all depends on the context. My goal is to become a generalist, at least for the next couple of years. Simply because it’s more interesting and lets you see the start to end process. You can see how stuff grows, how it develops and how mockups become a real thing. If you’re still not convinced by me, here’s a list of few pros of being a generalist:


I think “Do the thinggy with the thinggy please” may be the best button text ever. Thanks for the laugh, Hawk. :joy:


I’m self-studying to become a unicorn, kind of…

To be fair, self-study is likely the only way to become a unicorn.

I know it’s somewhat different than just UX, but being a founding student in my lab was basically a pure unicorn position. Need new equipment? You get to compare all of it. Need new code? You get to learn how to program and figure out how to compare available libraries. That analysis looking funny? Those graphs aren’t going to plot themselves.

There are two downsides to being a unicorn, however.

  1. Jobs may be held by being a unicorn and great at many things, but jobs are gained by having specific focus talents. If you spend a long time doing a very wide variety of things, you seem unfocused, even if you’re good at them. When you land a position, you can prove your worth in multiple directions, but people seem to want what is specifically the job requirement.

  2. A common leadership problem is the unwillingness to dedicate sufficient resources to problems. Stretching to 8 different roles quickly becomes doing 8 different peoples’ jobs without the commensurate pay, support, or appreciation. If you’re the multi-talented, adaptable person in your organization, you really want to make sure that loyalty is a two-way street.


The point no. 2 is the biggest dowside, I’d say. But it has its perks too. I mean, I’m at the beginning of all this and doing all these variety of things… couldn’t be more interesting.

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I believe, one should always aspire to be a UX Unicorn. Especially in the early stage of a designers career, one should try to get their hands dirty on the entire user-centered design process and different methods which are there throughout the process.

A Full Stack UX Designer in the current industry needs to have T-shaped skills, wherein he/she should be a jack of all trades and should know UX Research Skills, Interaction Design Skills as well as Visual Design skills with a specialization in any one of them.

An Interaction Designer who does not takes design decision in the interaction design stage of a project based on the personas generated by conducting user research is not doing user-centered design.

Similarly a Visual Designer will not be able to intricately make the visual style guide containing GUI components without knowing the behavior of each component in the UI guide made by interaction designer.

It is important for all these different roles of designers in a company to work in conjunction with each other to honestly follow user-centered design.

Generally, early and mid-stage startups require such designers who can do everything from user research, interaction design, visual design to user testing for the company. This is generally due to a lesser budget or if the company stakeholders don’t understand the value of UX.

On the other hand, companies, who have a dedicated design team and realize the value of UX affecting business will generally have different roles defined for different purposes of the design process such as UX Researcher, Interaction Designer, Visual Designer.

So, in my opinion, if you get the opportunity to learn about different parts of the design process in a practical hands-on way, you should be excited about it and learn as much as you can. One advantage of this is that you will have a better understanding of the holistic product design in a smaller company which you might miss out in a larger company where specific roles are defined.

@Roi_France in the context of the UX industry, a Product Designer is a better term to define such a person with such a wide variety of skills sets.

@jaisonjustus i agree to you in terms of coordinating with front end team, but whether a designer should code is debatable. Check out this article to know more about whether the designer should code or not.

All the best and enjoy being a UX Unicorn :+1:

For me, this coordination comes easily…because I do all of the UX roles :slight_smile:

I wonder if the definition of UX Unicorn (or UXicorn, as I like to say) can be interpreted not just as a UX designer who is also the UI developer, but a UX designer who IS the whole UX department, responsible for all of the deliverables, such as user-research, information architecture, wireframing, visual design, etc. (with or without the coding ability, though I admit that at least some technical understanding seems to be a requirement of unicorn status).

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Hello @hphillips_ux,

Interesting question !!

I have talked more about whether designers should code or not here.

Typically a “UX Designer” does not need to actually code in an organization with good UX maturity. Yes, but having an understanding of it lets them empathize and communicate better with the developers. Often people having a good amount of experience in design, business, development are Product Managers. UX designer in a team is just there to advocate about user needs to stakeholders which itself is challenging work.

Coding in context of Design Schools

Coding as a skill for a designer is more prominent in design schools focusing on “Human-Computer Interaction” where often a lot of students are from computer science, electronics background. In schools like CMU, MIT Media Labs, they would ask to have a basic understanding about programming languages like Java, C, HTML, CSS, and Arduino to be able to make prototypes as part of Physical Computing course. These schools are slightly more technology oriented and talk more about Human Computer Interaction from a reserach point of view and around devicing new kind of interaction methods.

Whereas in some different kinds of design/art schools, they would not teach to code at all, because these schools have a different philosophy around design, which is around Design Thinking and Creativity.

Design at the core is about solving problems :smiley:

YES! When interviewing candidates, I look for the T-shaped skill set when hiring. You want to hire for your team of the future not just the role you have open today. Especially if you’re a startup or small company. Specialists that say “not my job” just aren’t as valuable for a small team. Not too say I don’t like specialists, but I would rather work with them as part-time independents or in a big organization.

I like the “X” term. Someone who started as a T shape will probably become an X as they get more senior.