Current Thinking

Just say NO… to Unicorns.

artwork: Lily Pell


First, let me say that I like unicorns as much as the next person.

But, I only like them in children’s storybooks and movies… never in Design reviews. The unicorns I love to see are playful, magical beings that are clearly not real. They do no harm (generally) and evoke good feelings in the people that see them.

What’s not to love about a unicorn?

Now, contrast that with the reaction of a PM or Dev seeing a unicorn in a Design review. Just the opposite. “That’s a nice idea, but come on – it can’t be real. Why did you think that was possible? Let’s get real.”

Am I right?



One dead giveaway of a unicorn is that it evokes a lot of “Oh! that’s cool! But, wait…” reactions. And the reason that “but” comes in is generally because all or part of what you’ve done is NOT PLAUSIBLE. The unicorn is easy to spot in those cases. There’s something about it that is technically impossible with today’s thinking or technology. Or in some cases, there’s a business reason people will see as a non-starter. I generally see most people agreeing on when something is plausible or not, even though we all have different experiences and areas of expertise. Plausibility is a bit easier to judge than good or bad art.

Another way to spot a unicorn is when the people you show it to immediately start figuring out how to discredit it instead of how to build it. Great ideas that are hard to do will evoke an excitement about the challenge and problem solving aspects. Great ideas that are unicorns will find themselves under attack from non-believers almost immediately.



So, does that mean Designers should stop dreaming big and pushing for true innovation?  NO!

But, we do have to understand the difference between a vision of what’s possible, achievable innovation and what’s not realistic at all.

It starts with an understanding of the customer, marketplace, domain, existing products and basic familiarity with the technologies. From there, we can project forward in a realistic way while still bringing innovation to bear on the opportunities and challenges.

True Innovation is the anti-Unicorn.

It immediately motivates people to try harder to achieve.
What’s True Innovation? a story for another day.

In the meantime…

Just say no to Unicorns.
Say yes to Innovation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s