Unicorn, Generalist or Specialist?

When I first heard about UX unicorn, I was really curious to know what does it entail to be one. The discussion in UX at the moment is about whether to try to be very good at all different skills that UX requires or whether to specialise.

What is a UX Unicorn?

Firstly, it seems to me important to differentiate UX generalist and UX unicorn, they are sometimes used as synonyms, however, I can see a difference in levels of skills. While generalist is a person with solid understanding of different areas of UX, unicorn seems to be ‘hands on skilled’ at these areas. While unicorn theoretically does not need a team of people, generalist does. Although one can easily remark that one person simply cannot do it all.

There is a great article on Medium written by Conor Ward devoted to this topic. His article comes with a nice picture that I re-sketched and have on my wall just for inspiration:

Image sketched by LAB based on Conor Ward’s image

Doesn’t this picture answer perfectly the question? I love it.

UX Beginners

In UX, especially at the beginning, it seems to be really important to become quite a generalist, explore different areas, or as we often say, wear multiple hats. UX process is complex and only experience can tell us what to specialise in. The drawing of the unicorn is useful because it shows those different areas.

Work in Teams

Today’s trend in UX seems to go towards specialisation. For example Phil Gilbert from IBM emphasized this in his talk in High Resolution podcast. The idea is that for a good design, it is best to have a good team composed of the mix of people, including multiple designers with different specialisations.

Update after Sydney UX meetup in Mable (26 September 2019): both main speakers, Nima Idelkhani (We Discover) and Aviram Vijh (Harvey Norman) agreed that specialisation is important. Aviram opened the topic and emphasized this trend in his talk.

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