I was reading an article by Nick Grantham (from WeAreSource) titled What is a UX Unicorn.

In reply to one of the comments Nick says that he sometimes goes back to certain clients and asks them to clarify what their key wants are or what the key responsibilities will be.

He then says: “This can then lead to searching for T-shaped profiles rather than mythical creatures.”

Oh yes, those T-shaped profiles!

T-shaped profiles are as equally mythical as the unicorn. tweet

T-shaped is cute and twee and snappy, but it doesn’t really reflect reality which is much more complicated.

T-shapes suggest binary states: short or long; black or white; present or absent.

Binary interpretations of the real world are one of my pet hates:

Binary states misrepresent what is in reality a whole spectrum and reduces it to two endpoints. tweet

T-shaped suggests a roughly equal experience in a broad range of skills, but with a small number of core skills which are excelled at. To be honest, that does not do justice to an experienced UX professional. In fact in some ways it’s almost a bit insulting – because it’s dismissive of all the detail that makes up the bigger picture of an individual.

You might argue that I take the T-shape too literally. But this is in itself a problem with saying that something is T-shaped. It’s two oh-so-neatly packaged horizontal and vertical  lines meeting at one perfectly balanced midpoint simply demands to be taken literally.

UX professionals will have accumulated a breadth of skills and depth of knowledge in their career that makes them a valuable asset on any team. However, that doesn’t mean that they can come along and actually do the work of the whole team. Budget reasons aside, I cannot think of one scenario in which it would be good idea to bring in one person to do the job of many.

An experienced UX professional will have a wider deeper spectrum of knowledge that makes them flexible, adaptable, insightful and good at communicating with people in all the connecting roles. But, none of the skills can be measured in a way that makes them fit the cross-stroke or the down-stroke of this so-called T.

Skills are not like measuring cups that you fill as your career progresses. You don’t get 20% in user research or 80% in information Architecture or 50% in interaction design. For one thing, the learning never stops – the cup never gets full. And for another, the overlaps are too fuzzy – there is no easy decision that says whether an experience belongs only in one cup or another.

Skills are not metrics. tweet

All of which goes to show that the T-shape is an a impossible fit, and an inappropriate vehicle for comparison. The T is not a one-size-fits all. My T would not be the same as anyone else’s T. My T today will not be the same as my T tomorrow.

But I know people like analogies, so what can we give them instead of the T?

If you feel you must liken the skills of a UX professional to something tangible, probably the nearest you can get is to imagine an old comb that has some missing teeth, some broken teeth of different lengths, and some whole teeth. Accept that no two combs will be completely alike .

I’m pretty confident that no-one will want to be (or use) a T-shaped comb.