Let’s try “Full-Stack Designer” instead of unicorn

Posted May 18, 2015 in Thoughts

At An Event Apart last week, one speaker asked, “How many of you refer to yourselves as designers? … Developers? … Or maybe you design and develop…so…unicorn?”. The latter had the most hands, along with a few modest chuckles.

Let’s take a step back here. Because there is no better way to describe our set of skills, we have a roomful of people (myself included) identifying with a mythical beast that does not exist.

In early 2012, Sacha Greif wrote about unicorns. He described them as:

… a designer who can come up with your identity, design your site, create UIs with great user experience for your web and mobile apps, and on top of that code his or her work in HTML/CSS (and why not throw JavaScript in the mix!).

This skill set is not so uncommon anymore. Sure, in all likelihood these individuals are happily employed or working for themselves, but they certainly exist, and the “unicorn” metaphor no longer applies (and arguably didn’t before, I think bluefin tuna is more accurate).

Full-Stack Designer (previously unicorn)

I propose we try out the title “Full-Stack Designer”. I’m not sure who coined this (give a shout if it was you), but I’ve seen it around a handful of times and it’s growing on me.

As a Full-Stack Developer works in all aspects of “the stack” (back-end through front-end, or more), the Full-Stack Designer works across every aspect of the design process; from the initial conception and identity of a product or website, through its content strategy, visual brand, UI/UX, and front-end implementation. While it might not be a perfect solution – the title could be interpreted as designing the stack in an engineering sense – I think “Full-Stack Designer” does a reasonable job indicating the more seasoned designer/developer hybrid we often refer to as a unicorn.

If we must use the term unicorn, let’s redefine it to be the “Full-Stack Designer and Developer”. Same as with Sacha’s unicorn from 2012, I’m sure they exist in some capacity, but good luck finding, let alone hiring, one.