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318: Death of the Designer Unicorn

October 16, 2019

In this week's episode, we answer a listener question about why product teams aren't comprised of more "unicorns," and we discuss a Twitter thread that questions whether being a hands-off design leader makes you less of a designer. And as always, we share a couple cool things, including a strangely amazing band and an ultimate guide.

Golden Microphone Patron:

Sisu is looking for a thoughtful and data-savvy designer to help build the next generation of analytics software. You can find out more at

(You might recognize Sisu from our interview with Michie Cao)


Listener Questions:

  • Brandon Weiss asks, "Why are product teams comprised of people who have to work cross-functionally but aren't cross-functional themselves?"
    • A: The quick answer is "unicorns" like that are pretty rare, hence the moniker. The structure and size of a company might determine what roles are needed when that company hires, so while cross-functional employees are super valuable in startups, they aren't necessarily preferable in larger organizations. Ultimately, you'll probably get the best return on your time investment by learning enough about each of your cross-functional partners' duties that you can speak their language, even if you can't do their job.
  • In a Twitter thread unrelated to this podcast, Lily Dart asks design leaders, "Do you get given a hard time for not being 'hands-on' anymore? Does it make you less of a designer?"
    • A: First off, no one should give you a hard time for being hands-off. That's just mean and unprofessional. Secondly, Being a Head or Chief or Manager doesn't make you less of a designer, it just makes you something different than the traditional definition of "designer." But that's okay! Your background as a designer helps you do your new role better, and while you should keep your finger on the pulse of the wider design world, no one expects you to sweat about pixels, and actually, that probably wouldn't be the most valuable use of your time. So ultimately, designers whose careers evolve to a leadership position are better off for having been a designer, for sure, but once the role changes, so too should the label.

One Cool Thing:

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Peace out, nerdssssss! (brought to you by patron Karl Koch)

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