In digital product development the term “unicorn” is thrown around a lot. The definition alters depending on who you’re talking to but essentially means one very talented person who does everything – most often referring to someone who designs and codes.

This seems like a great option right? Why hire two people when it’s possible to find one person who is great at both.* Whether or not people like this really exist is still a subject of debate but that doesn’t stop employers asking for them. A better question to ask would be why would you want a unicorn? After all, a unicorn is just a horse with a weapon on its head… sounds dangerous.

The concept of the unicorn exists within the field of design as well. A Design Unicorn is someone who can take on the entire customer centred design lifecycle – UX, UI and Customer Research.

Certainly these people do exist more readily, although you will still need luck on your side to find them, and more than likely a hefty chequebook.**

But the question still remains – why would you want them? Cost saving is an obvious but short sighted answer. Partly because anyone who truly IS a design unicorn will cost a fortune to employ. More likely though, what you will end up with is someone who is competent but not an expert in your desired skill sets, which leads to mediocre results. There are a lot of fake unicorns out there and mediocre results cost money.


Beware the fake unicorn!


But let’s put all that aside and assume that you were lucky enough to find a Design Unicorn. Part of this person’s job is to conduct user testing. Your business wants to find out what and how your customers use your product, the things they like and the things they… (gulp) … don’t like.

As a designer this can be really hard to hear. But the process is always informative, essential and valuable. Inviting customer feedback is the very best way to make your designs better. A Design Unicorn would be required to coordinate, facilitate and synthesise this customer feedback themselves.

To remove their ego and resist the urge to manipulate or dismiss difficult feedback, even subconsciously. To move past surface level gripes and delve deeper to uncover true insights. Therein lies the danger of a unicorn.

Observing the neutrality that a specialist User Researcher displays – it is a gift that not many designers can truly claim to possess. A designer without an ego. LOLs, that’s the REAL unicorn right there!


I can say that ONLY because I am a designer


On the flip side, splitting these disciplines into separate, expert roles means not only more professional results all round but also a more natural interaction between customers and the designers who serve them.

Hiring full-time design and research specialists isn’t the most affordable thing a business can do, particularly as a startup. This is one of the reasons we founded Kickstand. To apply our respective customer centric design skills to companies who aren’t ready to hire the full-time equivalent resources. Do you need a unicorn in your business? Let’s talk.

* Good luck with that
** May the force be with you