Unicorn: a visual designer with UX chops


Unicorn: a visual designer with UX skills

I was speaking to an entrepreneur the other day when he mentioned he was looking for a “creative director with UX skills.” He added,”…someone whose aesthetic I really like.” I responded ,”Good luck.”

Having recently completed a year-long search for just such a person I’d resigned to believe this person was a in fact a unicorn. This person may exist – someone may have seen one once – but in most cases they’re simply fantastical stories of designers long-since employed elsewhere.

(Update: I was quickly reminded that I forgot to mention that my search bore fruit. I found my unicorn.)

Why is it so hard to find strong visual designers who have interaction and product design experience? In theory IxD and graphic design should go hand in hand and the market should be flooded. The reality is that a perfect storm of historical design inertia is failing to produce these much-needed hybrids.

First, design schools have traditionally not taught interaction design or user experience design skills. There is certainly sufficient material within the realm of academic Design to fill four years of curriculum. If you try to tack on the various fields of study commonly associated with UX (cognitive psychology, information architecture, research methods etc) you’d end up with 6-8 years of classes. However, providing at least foundational material sprinkled throughout a formal BFA program could be a good start.

Second, graphic designers get gobbled up quickly by the agency world. Unfortunately for those freshly minted designers, most agencies (especially the big ones) don’t value IxD or UX design. They throw the words around but when push comes to shove they sell advertising and interactive marketing. Designers are rarely offered the opportunity to witness, much less participate in, true interaction design work.

The experience designers collect through school and agency doesn’t prepare them to solve the challenges of workflow, transactional systems and information organization. This is not to say that they are incapable of this work. It’s just that when a hiring manager inside a product focused company starts assessing candidates, the most common gaping hole in those resumes is the actual design of products. Predictably this then perpetuates the cycle of visual designers going to agencies (where their lack of UX skills are not a barrier to entry) and not learning these much needed skills.

Why do you think there are relatively few of these unicorns?


About Jeff Gothelf

Jeff Gothelf is a lean thinking and design evangelist, spreading the gospel of great team collaboration, product innovation and evidence-based decision making. Jeff is an author, speaker and thought leader on the future of product development and design, often teaching workshops or giving talks on building cultures that support teamwork and innovation. Jeff co-founded Neo Innovation, a lean/agile product firm in NYC. Prior to that, he led the UX design teams at TheLadders and Web Trends. Earlier he worked with and led small teams of software designers at AOL. He is the co-author (with Josh Seiden) of Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience and the upcoming (Harvard, 2016) Sense and Respond (sensingbook.com).
This entry was posted in design, portfolio, Uncategorized, ux team. Bookmark the permalink.