• Chasm Communications

Searching for a Unicorn

August 1, 2018

You hear it all the time – companies, recruiters, consultants – all searching for the same thing. A unicorn. Ok, maybe not the mythical creature itself, but something just as rare, a UX professional that is fluent in code. We’ve all seen the posts or job descriptions: “Major Company X seeks UX Designer who is proficient at wireframing, Photoshop, Sketch, and has an in-depth knowledge of [Insert latest hip, cool coding language here].” Wait… What? Companies and recruiters alike need to remember a few things. First of all, this is not what UX professionals do. Second, science proves it very difficult to be proficient in both design and code. And last, this is not what you want for your company.  

UX professionals really don’t dabble – especially proficiently – in code. There are many reasons for this – but the most obvious one is – how could they? In the world of UX, there simply isn’t time. For a UX professional to truly do diligent work, it requires a lot more than whipping up a mock up in a design application. Particularly in the world of enterprise application design, a lot more is expected from a UX professional: test plans to creating individual test cases and scenarios, running user research sessions and usability testing, testing mocks and working code for accessibility, usability, learnability, and discoverability, compiling data to compare against design trends and conventions, patterns and components, and more. On top of all that UX designers are responsible for creating style guides or design languages and the coordinating assets, working with clients to help refine requirements through facilitated sessions, creating user personas, use cases, user flows and journeys… And then there are the mock ups and the visual design: sketches, wireframes, low fidelities, high fidelities, and everything in between with constant input from developers and the client alike.  

Who has time to code after all that?

Not to mention, science has something to say about people who design and code. They rarely exist. This has to do with the hemispheres in our brain. Most UX professionals – not all, but most, particularly those with a keen eye for visual design, predominantly use the right side of their brain. See, the right side of the old noggin is associated with cognitive skills, creativity, emotion, and intuitiveness. They tend to be artistic, innovative, but also random, and seemingly spontaneous. Sound like any designers you know? Yeah, me too. The left side of the brain, however, is reserved for critical thinking, and logical approaches. Often these people tend to be clinical and calculated in their judgements and problem solving. Sound like any developers you may know? Yep, me too. The good news is, we are never totally one side or the other. Let’s be honest – a developer has to have some creativity to solve their problems with code, just a designer requires some logical approaches to patterns and designs. However, it is really hard – impossible even – to find someone who excels equally at both. A great UX professional who is an amazing developer? I don’t think so. Awesome developers who fully understand the world of UX? Rarely.  

How could anyone be proficient at both?

Even if this perfect candidate did exist, would you really want them working for you? First of all, you may find a UX professional who can code – but not to the same levels as a dedicated developer, and vice versa. So why risk subpar performance in one of these areas? Not to mention, someone who can do both would more than likely draw a salary in the million-dollar range. I mean, why not right? They can take a project from conception to completion all on the same machine, from the same desk. That’s going to cost you. A lot. Even if that wasn’t the case, and you found one at a great salary range – for quality assurance purposes and other reasons, it would benefit your company to have multiple team members working together, following a process, and bringing their unique and specialize perspective. Developers and designers particularly have a healthy tension between them that balances a team and helps the project strive for greatness. Instituting solid processes where these specialized teams help manage progress and activities, ensures everyone continuously strives for innovation. Would anyone really like an employee who must go through that type of tension and processing internally? There would be no process, no checks and balances, no code or design reviews, nothing. Just a guy building software, start to finish, with no real way to measure the success of the project.  

Who wants a one-man show anyway?  

The point is, unicorns don’t exist. Some potential candidates or employees may claim to be one. They are not. Companies and recruiters alike may seek them, but the likelihood that they will be found is slim-to-none. Finding that unicorn could be detrimental to the project and or company anyway. More than likely, the hunt for these elusive creatures endures because companies look to save costs by seeking single candidates that can cover multiple skillsets. And that is commendable. However, UX and development are not the two skillsets you want combined, unless you want one of those areas to suffer. Instead, look for UX firms and professionals that specialize in that discipline, as well as developers and development firms who do the same.