Empathic. Collaborative. Constructive. Fast. These are just some of the words that today’s hiring managers use to describe the new New Hire. As our mediums change, so do our expectations for user experience designers. As screens shrink, our expectations for new New Hires grow.

There is an increasing need for UX professionals; however, universities and colleges are not producing the types of graduates that industry can easily hire. The paradox is that there’s a gap in what’s currently taught in higher education and the practical needs of industry.

We can create the next generation of UX professionals, also known as Unicorns, by connecting industry, education, and community. The journey to “somewhere over the rainbow” starts here and starts now—the future of our discipline depends on it.


Leslie Jensen-Inman

Dr. Leslie Jensen-Inman


Leslie has been designing since the ‘90’s. Her diverse professional background ranges from working as the graphic designer on a major motion picture to serving as a university professor.

While a professor, Leslie earned her Doctorate in Learning and Leadership. Through project-based initiatives that applied design as a catalyst for sustainable change, her work—both in and out of the classroom—focused on creating meaningful relationships between education, industry, and community. Her experience, as a professional designer, professor, and doctoral candidate, gave Leslie a unique perspective to understand that most design students were not graduating with the skills they needed to thrive within industry. She recognized that this skill gap led to hiring companies being unable to hire the talent they needed.

Leslie realized that companies needed to hire a specific kind of designer but they could not find the right talent. This lead Leslie to work on design education initiatives such as the development of a holistic curriculum for designers through the The Web Standards Project Education Task Force, the Open Web Education Alliance, and the WE (Web Education) Rock Summit/Tour.

After years of service to the University, Leslie understood the constraints of a traditional higher education setting and realized that the constraints were not affording educators the opportunity to adequately prepare their students for a career beyond graduation. This realization inspired her to search for a better way to structure a learning environment to support the needs of students and hiring companies.

Jared Spool

Jared Spool


Jared has worked in the field of user experience since the late ‘70s, before terms like “usability” and “user experience” became common parlance.

In 1988, he started User Interface Engineering (UIE) to provide product and service development companies with the expertise and skills necessary to deliver great designs to their customers and employees.

UIE is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year! Due to UIE’s continued success and ongoing research, Jared has become a heavily-sought industry leader. UIE’s insightful publications and top-quality educational conferences regularly connect industry experts with their clients.

While working with UIE’s clients, many of which are large, blue chip companies, Jared recognized a change as these companies began to understand the correlation between good design and their company’s profit margin. This realization forced companies to increase the size and scope of their design departments. However, when hiring managers began searching for the UX talent the company needed to support a design centered approach to business, they quickly ran into the limitations of the current workforce. 

Jared realized there was increasing demand for a new source of UX design talent. An educational source whose focus is on preparing graduates for professional work environments. With this realization came a sense of responsibility to determine the best ways to bridge the gap between industry and education. 


The Origins of the Unicorn Institute

One night, Jared was sharing his concern for the future of industry and education with a small group of UX folks. A mutual friend heard Jared’s concerns and asked, “You’ve talked with Leslie, right?” This friend let Jared know that Leslie felt stuck within traditional academia. He shared that Leslie had ideas for creating a new type of learning environment where students would graduate ready to enter the professional world.

A week later—without knowing this conversation had taken place—Leslie announced her resignation from the University. Within four minutes of her announcement, Jared messaged her, “We need to talk.”

And this is how the Unicorn Institute began.

We started talking and we haven’t stopped. Our conversations center around the growing gap between the skills hiring companies need from recent graduates and the skills those graduates bring to the table.

We know UX design career pathways and education need a transformation. So we’ve set out on a research adventure to determine what skills UX designers need and what type of learning environment is best suited to practice and to apply those skills. Our goal: Find out everything we can to create the next generation of UX design unicorns.