For the longest time I have marketed myself as designer-developer, developer-designer, UI/UX Developer & Designer, Front-End Developer/Designer, or some combinations of those words. I wasn’t quite sure what to call myself.
It turns out the web development community has coined a term for someone like myself and has been using it for some time. A web professional who excels in User Experience (UX), Front-End Coding (UI), and visual design is referred to as the Unicorn Designer or Unicorn Developer. The definition specifically reminds that unicorns are not generalists. If they were, they wouldn’t be that rare and therefore, wouldn’t be called unicorns. Unicorns are experts across all said disciplines.
You can Google ‘unicorn designers or developers’ and read all about them and varying point of views. Many discount unicorns simply as a myth, some believe unicorns exist, and few have claimed they have worked with one. At any rate, the reasoning goes, those who possess expertise in all three disciplines (UX, UI, Design) are called unicorns because they are extremely rare and expensive.
My background is in visual design and advertising. Along with related studies in psychology and photography, I took few web design/HTML classes. My first job after graduation was at an internet start up as a ‘digital artist’ (we thought it was a cool way of saying web designer). I started out as a visual designer with limited experience in HTML. I should also mention that early on I had a good mentor who helped me spark my interest in things back-end as well. Jumping into related skill sets happened naturally for me mainly because I passionately wanted to know how all of the pieces that make up a web project worked. And over the course of my career I have learned and gained control over many of the related technology and skill sets. Somewhere in the midst of all this, I delved heavily into social behavioral science and psychology, which gave me a boost in my Design/UX focus.
Some may argue that unicorn developers’ skills are spread thin. But then, that would be describing a generalist not unicorns. It isn’t rare for a skilled musician to play the keyboard, drums, and a guitar at an expert level. Many musicians, in fact, do possess these skill sets. For some it is crucial that they have absolute control over the things that are crucial to their artistic vision. A passionate web professional can behave the same way. So it’s not that difficult to understand what makes a unicorn.
So there you have it. Unicorn developers do exist. And they are not all that mysterious. All it takes is little passion for learning. If you absolutely love what you do, learning new things that are tightly related to what you do it isn’t all that difficult. Being an expert at what you do is cool. Being an expert at multiple things that directly affects your vision is sublime.