If you’re looking for a designer that can design great UI, create your website, your identity, brand and code all of it - you’re in luck, there’s many of them out there. I can accurately say, the fabled concept of the traditional unicorn now exists!
However, the label that summaries someone that can design and develop, doesn’t necessarily speak towards the quality of work they produce, the depth of knowledge within creative direction or development and doesn’t necessarily mean they’re an effective designer.
In recent years, many designers have dropped sketching, concepting, for development and essentially starting labeling themselves as product designers, aka Unicorns.
The problem with labeling people as unicorns is the complete disregard of other skill sets and experience that is truly valuable, yet not as hyped. Individuals are moving towards creating, not necessarily crafting and definitely not towards building better quality product. A higher likelihood of successful products depends on people who understand the landscape and environment of the organization they operate in and not necessarily the industry trend.
As much as I hate the word - I’d argue, a true unicorn, is a designer that embraces business goals and utilizes design to achieve measurable results - conversion goals, user sign ups, reduction abandonment or whatever other metric that is valuable to the success and growth of the underlying product. Typically considered a marketers job, it’s important designers identify KPI’s and work towards leading a successful product through design nad goals and not design & development.
Unicorn 2.0 is essentially an individual that produces thoughtful work spanning user-goals, business goals and sustains business growth. They’re aware, but not necessarily masters of, KPI’s and other metrics that are key to success and growth of their overall product. They make informed decisions and architect experiences that are successful with and without the requirement of aesthetically pleasing, and precise front-end development.
They craft brand values, messaging and speak towards communication - the main reason design exists. A designer should be able to write well and craft messages - effective communication before being able to develop them. The medium will change - from websites to apps to TV, the messaging doesn’t.
What happens after the user is happy with your product but isn’t engaged? We need a level of designs that look beyond coding as a means to end and see measurable metrics as a method of growing a business altogether. You’ll also need someone to set a foundation of creative direction that speaks towards both design, the pretty stuff, and the content. Someone who crafts a quality message to a prospective user, is more important than re-developing lines of HTML and CSS.
As a “designer”, I’ve navigated areas between graphic design, content strategy and front-end development and I can re-assuredly say, I’m not a master of any of the three. All of the skill sets which are self-taught were to support the team I was working with and to create the highest quality product within constraints.
We need team members to work well together. Designers who can code provide value to an overarching team by being able to ensure their thoughts in design transfer well over into development. Debugging CSS for example is a key area where designers knowing CSS provide extrinsic value to developers who’s main goal isn’t CSS/HTML accuracy but to ship a product.
As designers, we should think about shared responsibilities, overlapping in skill-sets and an empathic approach towards users and business goals alike that leads ultimately to success. A designer who can ultimately make everything is indispensable to himself, but someone who can support multiple designers, developers and content strategist, is even more valuable.