Posts Tagged ‘unicorn’


Sunday, February 16th, 2014
CSSquirrel #108: Unicorny

Unicorn has become something of a loaded term, especially when “UX” joins forces with it, creating a web design Ubermensch that rivals the Jackalopian ‘designelopers’ of yore.

For me, the UX Unicorn has been the phrase used to refer to a rare combination of coding, design, and UX skills that somehow creates a generalist whom also possesses deep knowledge in each of these fields, a sort of super expert that the rest of us can only look at with sunglasses and despair.

In short, its a myth. It’s up there with “social media expert”, “seo expert”, and “real estate salesman” on the list of job titles that seem to attract the kind of people that aren’t afraid to sell you a jar of snake piss, claim it’s actually a curative tonic devised originally by Solomon, complete with instructions to rub it into your scalp nightly to cure your psoriasis and raise your IQ by 20 points.

So we’re clear: I’m not harping on the field of UX, and legitimate practitioners of that science. I am, in fact, down with the UX, do my best to learn its ways, and have a coworker I hold in high esteem whom is entirely embedded deep in that field of research.

But when it comes to self-declared snooty “unicorns”, there’s been a high noise to signal ratio that is muddying up the airwaves.

Along with Dylan Wilbanks, who is a real life person in the UX field, I had some misgivings about the Unicorn Institute that’s been making the rounds with its Kickstarter Campaign. We took to our mighty podcast, Squirrel and Moose, to discuss the whole “UX Unicorn” mythos in full detail on not only one, but two long episodes.

We had feels. We had opinions.

Opinions I stand by.

…but, we just might have had an incorrect understanding of the Unicorn Institute’s true nature, created in part by a sparsity of details on the Unicorn Institute’s site at the time of our recording, and in part due to a lack of… well… asking those involved directly.

My high school journalism teacher would be mortified. My apologies, Ms. Bickley.

Last week, none other than Jared Spool himself contacted Dylan and I, mentioned that he’d listened to our podcasts about the topic, and asked if he could come onto our next episode to talk about the project.

After I finished dancing around and squeeing like a fanboi at a [insert applicable current Disney teen heartthrob here] concert, I of course said “YES PLEASE”.

What resulted was the longest podcast in Squoose history, where Spool corrected our misunderstandings and offered some deep, detailed information about what the Unicorn Institute, actually called the Center Centre, really is.

Short version: It’s amazing. A trade school for UX professionals that’s built in a fashion entirely different from any other institution of higher learning that I’ve seen.

I’m jealous of those entering the field in the years ahead, to have an institution like this to attend. They didn’t have them in my day.

It clocks in at over an hour, but I think everyone should take the time to listen to Jared’s discussion about the genesis of the Unicorn Institute, and the research and thought that went behind it. I learned a lot talking with him.

Imagine how much more you’d learn actually attending it.

If you like what he says, please consider taking the time to back the institute on Kickstarter. They’ve got five days left, and the hope is that they do well enough with the Kickstarter to offer scholarships for those that couldn’t normally afford an opportunity like this.

I still don’t believe in the UX Unicorn, instead seeing us all as variations of Dylan’s chimeras. But the Unicorn Institute isn’t trying to make those unicorns. They’re making something different.

And I am a big fan of that.

Comic Update: HTML5′s Unicorn Heuristics

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

When the editor of a specification becomes openly hostile about the specification he is writing, and openly disrespectful to the duly appointed chairs of that effort, then it is time to replace that editor. This seems as rational to me as a star soccer (football for the rest of the world) player getting nasty about his team and coach.

Referencing soccer during the World Cup, see? I’m so topical.

There is no soccer occurring in today’s comic, which pokes fun at Ian Hickson, editor-for-life of HTML. It also features Miro Keller, the winner of my AEA: Seattle/Dribbble guest comic contest. There’s a washing machine and unicorn in there too. Thanks Miro, for being so patient about appearing in the comic.

The pink unicorn is an example of an imaginary solution to the issue of empty alt attributes inside image tags, one which is as equally valid as the image analysis heuristics suggested by Mr. Hickson for helping blind people understand images. See Matthew May’s related bug report on this actual situation. I’m sure if the unicorn seems too girly to you, we could use tea leaves and chicken bones.

I’d give Ian points for actually seeming to care about the visually impaired for a change, but an imaginary solution being championed seems like a really poor way to address the challenges they face. I suppose it’s arguably a step-up from claiming that table summary attributes are harmful to sighted users and that authors are incapable of writing descriptions that would be usable.

Yes, he says authors are incapable of writing useful table summaries that are non-harmful to sighted users. But, thankfully, the unicorns… I mean the image analysis heuristics will be safe and far more effective.

Competence regarding accessibility challenges isn’t something Ian needs, however. Arguably, what he really needs is the ability to accept advice on such a topic from people in the know… which ties into the issue I started this whole parade with:

I used to behave the way Ian Hickson does when it comes to dealing with responsibility, power, and making use of those when dealing with other people.

Then I turned ten.

Is that statement too caustic and pointed to belong in a standards debate? My apologies. I was just following Ian’s lead. He accuses Sam Ruby of weak leadership as the HTML chair “you just do what the more vocal members of this group want regardless of the technical arguments,” proceeds to insult either the entire workgroup or Sam again (I’m unsure of the exact recipient of “you” here) “from a technical point of view, your decisions are all arbitrary.” and “The WHATWG draft continues to exist because it’s the only way to have a specification that actually makes sense in the face of the ridiculous decisions you keep making.” and contrasts the two versions of the spec in a fashion that is more than slightly disrespectful to the W3C’s version “Easier to just add the reference in just the W3C version and keep the WHATWG version sane.”

Folks, this is all in a single email.

I’m a web developer who makes a comic poking fun at our industry in my spare time.  Ian Hickson is the sole editor of the HTML5 spec, for both the WHATWG and the W3C. As discussed ad nauseum, he is (as characterized by even those not critical of him) the Leviathan, a sort of dictator/tyrant.

If Ian Hickson wants to snap at me, so be it. I’m poking fun at him with a stick as often as I can. But if as editor he cannot speak respectfully to the chairs of the HTML WG even when they’re attempting to be civil to him, then something is wrong. If he’s openly disrespectful to the very specification that he is responsible for authoring, then we’ve got an even bigger problem.

The fiction that the HTML5 spec isn’t split is just that, a fiction. The people empowered to run this process for us have a responsibility that outweighs the responsibilities of your average web monkey. Some would say this is how specifications were always written. Perhaps so. But this specification is far more public, and far more exposed to the “authors” that need to buy into using HTML5. I know for a fact from personal conversations that many of these authors aren’t buying in explicitly because of behavior like Ian’s creating the real confusion as to which specification matters (W3C vs WHAT WG) and whether the specification will survive this rancorous process.

If the editor of HTML5 can’t even be bothered to be civil about what he’s writing without a knock-down brawl every time there’s something added or subtracted that goes against his opinion, then he needs to stop being the editor. Period.

Do I file a bug for that?

Comic Update: The HTML5 Super Friends

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

Today’s comic, which features a massive ensemble cast of Jeffrey Zeldman, Dan Cederholm, Jeremy Keith, Eric Meyer, Ethan Marcotte, Tantek Çelik, Nicole Sullivan and Wendy Chisholm (guest starring Chris Wilson astride a unicorn), is something like gloss and candy. It’s not tackling a serious issue. Rather, it’s tackling a humorous name created by a group of great people who are themselves tackling a serious issue.

As this photo conclusively proves, the people above (minus Chris Wilson and the unicorn) gathered in the recent past to discuss something very vital. Contrary to popular rumor, it was not the secret location of the Holy Grail or harnessing the power of cold fusion. Nay, they were instead talking about HTML5. More importantly, they were talking about HTML5 as “authors”. For pretty much anyone who reads this blog and doesn’t work for a browser manufacturer, that means you, or your son (if your my parents. Hi mom! Hi dad!)

Like the Hardy Boys, these people were industriously searching for clues, especially clues along the line of “what the hell is HTML5 anyway, and how does it apply to a web designer?” After spelunking the depths of the spec, they surfaced with two things: Firstly, they declared that it was good. Secondly, (and for my purposes, more importantly) they chose  an identity to bind them: The HTML5  Super Friends.

Today’s comic is comedic salute to their bravery and choice of identity. They’ve already done us a great deal of good by recommending alterations to the footer element (which was already a source of annoyance to yours truly) which has now come to pass.

Keep up the noble work, dear heroes.

(And in case you wanted to know, Chris Wilson’s appearance was due to his tweet here regarding the presence of the unicorn on the HTML5 Super Friends page.)

Dan Cederholm, Jeremy Keith, Eric Meyer, Ethan Marcotte, Tantek Çelik, Nicole Sullivan, Wendy Chisholm