I received the following question from a recruiter friend:
I need to pick your brain about a position I have for a Experience Architect that requires that person to be a real cody, digital design, technical person. I’m finding that very rare and difficult to come by. I chatted with a Experience Architect of over 30 years and she didn’t know any real languages, because that wasn’t a part of her job. Am I looking for a unicorn?
The short answer is yes and yes. Yes you are looking for a unicorn. However, such unicorns do exist, but not very many. There are also cars that float in water and some that have wings that attach to become airplanes. But they are usually mediocre at something. Like any combination of specialized skills, a wise person will realize that something has to give. There are sure to be gaps in either or both categories. You might get lucky and find someone with the exact match you need and you also might win at cards in Vegas.
For the number of job descriptions looking for this unicorn, you’d think they were everywhere. This is a common discussion in tech and UX discussion groups.
What you have is an uninformed client. You are right to try to educate them.
Each profession has its own changing dynamics. Staying current in even one of these professions is a challenge with the rapidity of change. Two is too much. How many languages must one learn to be competent? Which ones? The new ones of course!
Flash & Flex? (oh that is so thrree to five years ago) Now its html5 and CSS,right? What about IOS? Responsive design? Photoshop? Fireworks? InDesign? Iconography and graphic design? IA? A/B testing? Object oeriented programming? Agile? What about design patterns for specialized audiences in ecomerce, call centers, CRM, BI, data visualization, dashboards, B2B, B2C, B2E BPE and SixSgma DMAIC? etc. etc. etc.???
What is reasonable is that a good UX person will possess enough knowledge of the technology to design properly for it and coordinate well with the developers. They may even be able to write some code, create pretty good mockups, and assets that a skilled developer can turn into great code.
Similarly, a great developer will understand the basics of a great UI to be able to make the detailed technical decisions that will maintain the spirit and intention of the designer. Intense collaboration is a virtue that cannot be heralded enough.
Having said all of that, the current trend is that these two fields are converging more than ever before. The code world is more friendly to UX-minded people than ever before and the awareness of the importance and basic principles of UX are more pervasive among developers than ever before. So, in effect, the number of unicorns is increasing.
Still, keep in mind that there are also musicians who play multiple instruments well, but not at the same time. There are baseball pitchers who can also play catcher, first base, second base, shortstop and outfield too. A team owner could certainly save some money on salaries!
I think you get my point. Even if someone can do both categories, it becomes a matter of perspective and focus. UX is complex, so is code. The reason for different roles is not skills alone but to track the code and the user perspective in parallel throughout the design process and be able to weigh each carefully at every decision point. If one person is trying to focus on everything at once and keep up a rapid pace on a complex project, something is going to get missed.
But if that’s what the client wants, they may eventually find someone who professes to possess it all. Beware; such people may not know what they don’t know.
It is rumored that the early tales of unicorns were actually based on poor descriptions by first hand witnesses having seen rhinoceroses in the wild. Well, we both know that, aside from having a horn in the middle of its head, a rhinoceros bears a poor liking to the graceful unicorn we typically imagine. But your naive client may not know the difference.
Good luck unicorn hunting!