When I think of unicorns, I think of sparkles, rainbows, fluffy clouds, and cartoons designed to make money off of young girls who will like anything cute and glittery. So why has the term “unicorn” made its way into the tech and design industry?
Unicorns are mythical creatures and are inherently legendary and extraordinary. In more mainstream media, they may be sparkly, pink, or girly, but the tech world has recently adopted the symbol to represent something rare, invaluable, and aspirational. Tech Crunch has a list of companies that it calls the “Unicorn Club.” To make their list, a company must have been started in 2003 or later and be valued at 1 billion dollars. Tech Crunch goes on to classify the typical environment these unicorns thrive in (San Francisco) and the most common business models used (e-commerce, software, and enterprise).
Unicorns as a symbol have also made their way into the design world, which has appropriated and used them in much more creative ways. A unicorn can be a person with a rare and seemingly-impossible set of skills. Nick Fredman on the InVision blog writes that “a unicorn is a designer who also writes code.” It’s someone who can practice start-to-finish design, from conceiving of an idea, giving it visual form, to then bringing it to life with code. Becoming a unicorn is rare because it requires mastery of both sides of your brain and of different types of thinking; you must switch from free-form, creative thinking to rule-based, analytical programming and applications. Achieving that balance and that combination of skills is something that I aspire to and constantly work towards. Even if I’m only doing the design for one project or just the programming piece for another, channeling unicorn powers and my understanding of both sides allows me to predict and solve problems on the other side of the equation, offer insights, and be a better, more empathetic team player.
For some more light-hearted unicorn-related news, please enjoy the following links:
At nectar, we use a task management application called Asana. It not only helps us organize projects, clients, and work, but it does so with a great sense of humor and fun. Upon checking off a completed task, Asana will occasionally give you a celebratory unicorn that dances across your screen to congratulate you. In March, Asana unveiled even more celebratory creatures to add to the unicorn’s team (so far we’ve seen a narwhal, a bird, and a cow)
For more on the dangers that this rare breed of company might be facing, read “Is There Danger Ahead for the Unicorns?”
This one is just for fun: Polar Seltzer releases Unicorn Kisses flavored water