The Mythical Unicorn Full-Stack Designer

March 3, 2016
4 min read

Want to Hire: Unicorn Designer. You know…. someone that can code HTML/CSS/Bootstrap, photoshop pretty pictures, map user experience, write copy, cheap, and have it all tomorrow?

“Do you think [person] has the chops? Can you take a look at their portfolio and give me your thoughts?”

— People ask

Determine your needs

What is the project? Does it require independent development? Does it need a lot of handholding since it’s my first time or I’m experienced in the design process?

There isn’t a designer that’s one-size-fits-all. Designers come from different backgrounds and have different strengths, which means they think and solve problems differently. How can you determine if this is the right person to work with? Some designers are awesome at visual design, but not all are experienced with the product or executing interaction. Some are generalists, and some are focused on specific areas.

Finding this elusive unicorn designer that is a straight ace at everything will be tough.

Also-known-as-any-of-these-words-combined-in-any-order: Awesome Fantastic Full-Stack Ninja Rockstar Master Designer (ㆆ▃ㆆ)

If you do find this ☆ magical being ☆, they’re probably working in their own company or developing their own ideas. After all, spellbinding design chops only happen when the planets align.

Clients turn to agencies because they provide a supportive team of designers that are dedicated to their project, giving different variations and perspectives. (Shameless plug: If you need an agency, MartianCraft is here for ya.*WINK*)

What if you don’t have the budget for an agency? Or maybe you prefer the attention and personal touch of working with a few designers?

Take some of these different areas of design into consideration:

Product Design
Can the designer explain the process of how users get from point A to point B? Does the process make sense? Are they vested and confident in their direction? Are they able to focus on the pain points in the process and show solutions? Do they look at the project from a user’s perspective? Can they explain why executing the design in this manner is the right way? Are they able to map solutions to business goals? Can they sell this idea and win over the listener?

Interaction Design
Can the designer come up with usability wireframes to illustrate the process in a concise format? Are they able to break down complex user needs into actionable UI and weigh out the best options? Is the UI useful, intuitive, unobtrusive, and reliable? Are all the interactions directly linked to user’s needs, wants and avoids confusion? Is the design simple and delightful?

Visual Design
Are the designs crisp? How are the type hierarchy and visual system? Is it aesthetically pleasing and honest? Was it designed with care and accuracy that shows respect towards the user? Is there a purpose for every element on the page and is it essential? How is this designer’s skill level for executing technical designs? Are they able to produce illustrations, 3D, sketches, or composited mockups? Are the brand and layout designs cohesive?

As you can tell. Designing an effective product takes a lot of consideration. This is probably why designers are allergic to feedback such as “Make it Pop” or “Make it Bigger” since it’s not backed by constructive reasoning. More things that you shouldn’t say to a designer.

What about soft skills?

Can this designer listen and communicate well? Are they confident in solving the problem with tact? Are they easy to work with? Are they able to take feedback well and *really listen* to what’s being conveyed? Can they understand intuitively, because people are unable to express constructive direction?

Sample traits you want to look for:
Empathy, Articulate, Pragmatic = convince a developer to build a feature
Self Aware, Passionate, Systematic = understanding user needs
Pragmatic, Curious, Analytical = research and compare user data
Patience, Fearless, Articulate = sell and educate ideas

Choosing the right person for the right job

Select two out of three and focus on core values, in the order of priority. If you haven’t seen the famous trinity, I have illustrated it below.

(Left) When working with clients, they can only select two out of the three, meaning if you want a design that is fast and cheap, it will probably be ugly. If it’s fast and good, it’s going to cost money. If it’s cheap and good, it’s probably going to take a long time.

(Right) Speaking broadly and generally, you can pick a designer that is:
Great in Product & Visual = may have trouble with UI and UX
Great in Visual & Interaction = may be weak with designing for the user
Great in Interaction & Product = may be weak with technical design skill

With the area that they are lacking, decide if it’s important enough to overlook, or hire another member that will complement the team’s strength. If hiring a member is not possible, there’s always the option of sub-contracting the work to an expert.


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