The Unicorn Myth

I was recently called a “unicorn” – a term being bantered around to describe people who have multiple skills.



Here’s a quote from

“Dear outsiders,

Silicon Valley calls us unicorns because they doubt the [successful, rigorous] existence of such a multidisciplinary artist-engineer, or designer-programmer, when in fact, we have always been here, we are excellent at practicing “both disciplines” in spite of the jack-of-all-trades myth, and oh yeah – we disagree with you that it’s 2 separate disciplines. Unicorns are influential innovators in ways industries at large cannot fathom. In a corporate labor division where Release Engineer is a separate role from Software Requirements Engineer, and Icon Designer is a separate role from Information Architect, unicorn disbelief is perfectly understandable. To further complicate things, many self-titled unicorns are actually just programmers with a photoshop habit, or designers who dabble with Processing. Know the difference.”

Here’s David Cole on the “The Myth of the Myth of the Unicorn Designer“. He says:

“Design is already not a single skill.”


There are valid arguments on either side of the debate as to whether designers should be able to code. What do you think?


4 thoughts on “The Unicorn Myth

  1. Dear all,
    I think, and hope, all 21st century human beings could be “unicorns”, as opposition to 19th century men. Multidisciplinarity is always promoted in many universities, but, in “real” world, market urge us to be only “borgs”…
    “I have a dream…”
    Hugs for all, from Brazil.

  2. I’m working in real estate, and it becomes more and more focused on the new technology. You cannot be successful, if you don’t know how to use every gadget and app that is available. It sometimes drives me mad to realize how much work is actually put into something that used to be so technologically simple.

  3. E.O. Wilson coined a term, “consiliance” to indicate an individual’s ability to bring together unrelated kinds of knowledge as a way to solve widely differing kinds of problems: the coder who knows some art history and the designer with a feel for statistical analysis are these kinds of applied thinkers. A “unicorn” ( an unfortunately unclever term) is someone who has width as well as depth to their information reservoir and can figure out which “knowledges” will apply to which situations. They also know what to assess determining success, how to look elsewhere and when to stop.

  4. Few need to be an expert in many different fields simultaneously to do well at their job, but it certainly does help when interfacing with others, if you have at least a little bit of cross skill sharing with the experts that you do need to interface/interact with.

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