Risks of UX Unicorns



I stumbled upon this video.
I do believe it provides a bunch of points to think about, especially if someone wants to start/move his own path on the UX Design.

What do u guys think of it?


I think it’s vital that UX leaders start speaking out against the unicorn trend.

That said, it’s not surprising me we’re seeing more and more UX unicorn job ads. UX is at about the same point of maturity in terms of non-UXer understanding and acceptance of the various disciplines as web development (read: HTML & CSS because that is pretty much all we had back then) was in the late 1990s/early 2000s.

Back then, you’d see job ads for “graphic designers” with requirements like this:

  • Must have 3-5 years experience.
  • Degree in Graphic Arts or Design preferred.
  • Must be an expert in QuarkExpress or Pagemaker.
  • HTML skills a plus!

Which is basically “We’re looking for someone to layout our print publications and oh yeah, we know we need one of these websites people keep talking about but aren’t really convinced so we don’t want to pay for a specialist and have decided to lay that off that responsibility onto the poor graphic artist too.” Or you’d get the opposite: web designer ads with “Experience with QuarkExpress and Pagemaker preferred.” :roll_eyes:

UX is in the same boat right now. The prime example: the rise of job ads looking for some horrible mutation they’re calling “UX Developer.”

Don’t get me wrong, I think UXers should know some code, and know enough about code to be able to talk with coders, but I agree with Alan Cooper: we don’t need to be coders perse.

In most cases, a company expecting one person to be able to do qualitative and quantitative research and synthesis, do visual design, do content strategy, IA, and content production, and do front and back end development doesn’t understand what they need or is so cheap working there will be a nightmare


I enjoyed the video. Thank you.

My favorite line was, “that’s how you get mediocrity.” Maybe that’s a paraphrase, but that was my takeaway.


I fully agree on this point. In my experience, the best way to increase the teamwork is to try to understand what the other members are up to. Of course, I don’t want to write JS and at the same time, I want to be able to design a concept for a bunch of interactions that can be done with a specific framework.

You’re right here too.
I’d like to add that is not always the company’s fault. A lot of people are calling themselves “designer” because they learned how to use photoshop or other similar tools, or because coming from the “code” they believe that adding some extra colours or a bunch of font-sizes means applying design principles.


when you search for UX+Designer and the outcome is a superhero


A phrase that comes to mind: “Jack of all trades, master of none”. I like what he said and it makes perfect sense. As solo UX-er at my company, I’m well aware of my shortcomings in some of the areas within UX - referring to research and data analysis specifically. Obviously some constraints need to be taken into consideration, like our team cannot expand so I need to juggle everything but it comes with a price.

As for coding, transitioning into UX Design from a front-end development position, the amount of value is given me is almost priceless. Especially if you are working with developers that, let’s say, need a little motivation to work. I’m assisting devs & ensuring that they don’t cut corners almost on a daily basis and this is NOT due to a lack of knowledge but purely because a lot of dev’s are chancers - generally speaking! UX-ers don’t necessarily need to code but knowing the mechanics can help you A LOT!

Great video!


@anne_dougherty, I totally get what you’re saying. There’s also a new thing making rounds now here in South Africa and that for UX Designers to do “Advanced HTML” - apparently you don’t need to do any backend but just help assisting the developers by writing advanced HTML. Still trying to figure out what on earth that is…



When you find out, do you mind reporting back? These weird hiring language things tend to make their way around.



You forgot the second part of the phrase. :wink:

Jack of all trades, master of none,
though oftentimes better than master of one.


So, I am torn after listening to his video.

On one hand, I reflected on my freelance design job I’m doing for a startup where I do the whole design process for their product.
That experience is a whirlwind.
I feel like I’m hopping between many dozens of only somewhat familiar hats and I also feel like am gaining a breadth of experiences from doing so.

On the other hand, the video gives me a vision where I can see large companies breaking of the UX design job into smaller pieces and handing those focused fragments to specialists who will do that job awesomely (like the video said).
That sounds like a complicated puzzle.
Are there Interaction Designer degrees? Where does one find a specialized Interaction designer, when all the bootcamps I’ve seen are for ‘UX Design’? Do they tackle multiple products? What jobs do you assign them to in a company to keep them busy? What exactly is their role, and is that role understandable to people who haven’t studied/practiced UX Design?

I would figure the UX Design specialist route to be hard to train for and hard to find training for it. Such a specialist would need to be a, well, special human being who has spent a lot of their time studying and practicing that passionate thing in order to accomplish those extraordinary results that video clip alluded to (with the gold medal analogy).

And, once you’ve done the extra-ordinary… I think people will want what you’ve got.


I’d like to highlight this piece of your comment.

Generally speaking, I believe, it’s not a matter of assigning tasks to someone to justify her/his salary.
As a company, you hire someone because you have a need/problem and this girl/guy could provide support to accomplish/solve it.

When it comes to the design world this pattern gains complexity.
Due to the lack of vision in terms of design topics (eg usability, accessibility, mobile first etc) often managers and recruiters believe that one person could be enough to follow the entire product lifecycle.
This is impossible, it’s a matter of fact.
What is possible, is to list the needs/problems and prioritize them according to the business needs. Once the management has this view, it will be crystal clear which type of designers is required for that precise project/task.

Whit this approach nobody will think of keeping designers busy…


I have no professional UX experience to speak from, but I feel that the concept of unicorns should be completely foreign as a UX/UI job description. In fact, the nature of the discipline is so collaboratively focused that it organically shifted my entire career goal from being freelance to wanting to work as a member of a creative collective.

While there are some stellar individuals out there who produce phenomenal designs, there is always room for improvement through the diversity of numbers. Any employer is going to find a far greater return out of an UX team versus unicorn due to the synergistic result of a team.


Here´s a good read and counter to the Nielsen “specialist” route. You may already have seen this but it also makes a good point that specialism breeds its own issues. How often have I been included in a team of specialists all pulling in different directions, all unwilling to see the other point of view.


That link really is pertinent to our other discussion, too.

In my case, I’ve go work to do in the “Creativity” and “Finesse” categories :slight_smile:


I read the article and I think that the author is not asserting the “UX Unicorn” myth.
He’s pointing out that, as a designer for the digital products, you should be able to understand, evaluate and take decisions on several topics (eg UI, UX research etc).

This is completely fine if you’re part of a team and you can always validate your opinion. What is wrong and dangerous is when you’re a unicorn because you’re the only one taking care of all these items.

Thanks for sharing!


I agree he is not asserting a myth, but Nielsen´s article leans towards the idea that specialism is somehow a preferable state of affairs. I have found that in reality, such specialism generally leads to a bureaucratic approach where no one is prepared to take the lead and projects wander into a morass of procedural decision-making. In my case, as the only UX designer on staff (an easily common situation), it is often part of the role to take the lead and make those decisions because no one else will. Does that make me a unicorn? No, I don´t believe so, it simply means I have to abandon specialist tendencies and gather all the opinion around me in order to make the right decision. I agree that we need to be experts in our field but we need to be so much more than just that.


I don’t have the same experience and due to the complexity of the design topics I don’t see any other way than having a proper design specialist to deliver the right solution in terms of business and usability.

Being the only designer in a company/agency is something that alerts me, when we are looking for providers to help us during the product design process I always ask the same questions:

  • How many developers/engineers your company hired in the last couple of years?
  • How many sysadmins your company hired in the last couple of years?
    I don’t want a designer as a decision maker for topics/problems that are business related or management related.

That’s the point! If you are focused on your expertise for sure you will need to exchange information/feedback with other PROs that can help/support you in taking the right decision for that specific problem. Design should be a teamwork because of the complexity of the products/environments/techs.
IMO this is the message provided by the video


RIP ‘UX’ term. lol. It’s been used wrong. They don’t know what is UX at all.


what do you mean with “they”?


Whoever posted it