Ramblings about Design, UX, Process, Code... basically where my thoughts go when nobody else is listening. Est. 2009.

All This Talk About Unicorns

Whenever one of the great minds that I follow on Twitter tweet out "hey awesome company X is hiring. Check them out" I always end up clicking on the link. Not that I'm desperately flailing for a new job -- I just think it's fascinating how many different ways people ask for a front end dev or a designer. I can't count many times have I've read a job description for a "UX Designer" that should be great at building HTML/CSS by hand as well as wireframe and do content strategy and IA... and they need to be a rockstar visual designer as well as do a bit of video editing.


What's Wrong with Unicorns?

So what's wrong with wanting someone that can do it all? Taking a project start-to-finish can be very rewarding and gives you the power to control message and branding... but if I'm honest, it's just inefficient. It's also unrealistic for most organizations to find someone that's good at everything, let alone someone that likes doing all of the tasks. Having both worked in the agency world and as part of an in-house team, the best environment to work in is one where people get to do what they love most and do best. Here's a few reasons why you should stop looking for unicorns and start looking for subject matter experts.

1) Unicorns Get Screwed on Workload Distribution

The few unicorns you run across end up frazzled when forced to do tasks that aren't their favorite. If your unicorn is the only one that can work with .net, then they're gonna get those projects instead of the Ruby project that they actually wanted to work on. Necessity ends up sticking the unicorns with the crappiest work.

2) Unicorns Can Be Hard to Keep Happy

As a consequence of workload distribution woes, unicorns don't always get to work on the kinds of projects that fulfill them and up doing drudge jobs. If there's a rush project, since they can do it all unicorns are often used for putting out these rush-job fires. This can lead to resentment of others in the team that seem to never have to work on projects that are outside of their comfort zone.

3) Unicorns Demand a Super-Salary

If you need a designer that also hand-edits databases and can rock out Cinema 4D and Final Cut, you're gonna have to pay them for these skills to get them working at your organization. Sensitive to the demands of your highly compensated creatives, when you make sure unicorns only have their favorite kind of work you are wasting a part of their skill-set that you are ultimately paying for in their salary. Walking the tightrope of employee morale and utilization is hard.

The Caveat

So why are unicorns sought after in the workplace if there's baggage that comes along with them? The unicorn shines the brightest at startups. The "just get it done" is perfect for the multifaceted designer and they can pick up the slack when the team is lean. Some times the unicorn IS the team and that helps maximize dollars spent on developing an offering while maintaining a singular voice / tone when creating and marketing a product. Do unicorns want the stress and long hours of a startup so that they can fully spread their wings and flex all of their skill-set muscles? That's the thousand dollar question.

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