Purple Unicorn?


“Always be yourself. Unless you can be a unicorn, then always be a unicorn.”

So, what exactly does it mean to be a purple unicorn? Well, your average white unicorn is seen as magical and rare in the publics’ eyes (kind of like having a weather service predict a three day forecast correctly, or the leftover milk after you have eaten a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch). So, to find a purple unicorn is crazy town!

In the digital design industry, the purple unicorn translates into a designer that can equally code and do visual design. The term “purple unicorn” in relationship to UI/IX was coined by Bill Welense, my prototyping class professor, when discussing all the different parts of a UI/UX team.

“And then there are the designers that can code, but you never see that. Finding them is like finding a purple unicorn.”

Although this is easier said than done, I thought the only way I would be accepted and survive in this industry was to become one (or at the very least a white horse with a fake horn strapped to its head like a cheap 3-year-old’s birthday hat). At least that is what I thought the purple unicorn was before I started my first real UI/UX job at a digital agency.

After a year immersed into the Human Computer Interaction master’s program at DePaul, I felt my portfolio had enough design and coding projects to land a job (or that I would pass for at least a baby unicorn). Before that, I had been doing a lot of design freelance, sometimes website design, but mainly print. I had been practicing my coding skills, especially when creating my online portfolio. But, what I came to find out was that at these digital agencies, you do not need to know how to do everything. In fact, they want you to find that one niche thing - research, information architecture (wire framing, etc.), user interface design, or development - that you are really passionate about, and do that. Yes, it is important to understand how all the parts work together, but it’s better to be amazing at one thing. That is what makes the teams at these digital agencies so strong. All of these talented, creative individuals add to the magic potion to create one magically fluffy creature that has the power to overtake a heard of even the best race horses. So, having an individual purple unicorn is not really a necessity. However, that does not mean they are not welcome, they are just rare.

As of today, I naturally fall into the UI design clan, and if I never learned another line of code, I would probably do just fine. But, I tend to not settle for good enough, as purple unicorns in training shouldn’t.

This is my journey to being knighted a real purple unicorn, with some design tidbits along the way.