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UX Developer: Whose Legos Are They Anyways?

Blog Career development

Have you seen one of those job ads on Linkedin that go something like: “looking for a UX developer…”, “designers who can code, respond…”, or an ad about looking for a product designer with extensive knowledge in HTML5, JS, React etc?

If you did, it probably raised a few questions.

For example, those who have that skill set might have gotten excited. Others (designers without tech acumen)  might perceived it as a combination of skills that no one should attempt to match.

The latter responses to such posts highlight some of the typical themes:

“This whole space of professions around UI/UX is ridiculously muddy, and the people within it are the ones to blame.”

“So a UX Engineer is a UX Front-end Developer then? The terms are used in varying ways so it can be confusing as to what each role within UX does and is responsible for.”

“Basically, UI/UX developer is a bullshit. It is the same as UI/UX designers.”

“The big problem is that, since this specialisation is on the rise as a fork of “front-end developer,” the terminology is not set. Some companies are using UI/UX developer. This is the catch-all term I’ve seen a lot of companies rely on.“

“Is it just a developer who knows of UX or?”

“A lot of recruiters trying to hire designers with knowledge on JS Frameworks and PHP which is absurd”… But is it really?

So why is there so much push back towards role hybridization?

During the last decade I transitioned from a graphic designer, to a web designer, to an app developer, to GUI-only designer, to a product (UX/UI) designer, to an experience designer/manager…

Given my progression across full gamut of roles I tried to understand and emphasise with the commenters.  To get a full picture I also caught up with a few colleagues on the same subject to get a better look.

Both sample input, almost in unison can crunched into just 3 themes:

  • ‘they might not be able to do it as well spreading so thin…’
  • ‘they might make decisions that real UX designer should make…’
  • lastly and funnily: ‘they might take our jobs away…’

As with any other professional subject there’s is a good amount of gatekeeping. And in my experience nothing works best to overcome it than a good set of facts. And there are a few facts:

Abundance of professional opportunities and the necessity for top talent. By some estimates there is just under a hundred of UX programmes worldwide, compared to several thousands of engineering.  Needless to say, graduating talent then skews the ratios for the tech roles. And as a result, companies are struggling to fulfill the high demands of both those roles, especially the design. This is going to become even more obvious as the human-centred solutions define success.

Due to the agile ways of working companies need to move fast and specialists have no choice but to wear multiple hats. In the past I had a few project cases which had extremely limited budget. There was no time to sketch, prototype and test the solution. And let’s face it – testing is the most important part here. One of the designers was fluent in JS and so we decided to design and prototype directly in code. We also tested the prototype, made changes and delivered everything on time. If not for the person who was able to wear many hats we would have to either drop the project altogether, or ask for an extension.

Working with a developer who knows about UX (process, methods, why we do what we do) sounds like a dream come true. Recently at the NNG UX conference in London I met several scrum masters, project managers, developers and business analysts. All whom were there to learn about UX and how to better work with design specialists. Let’s face it, just like any other stream, we can be hard to work with. Yet if other specialists know why we make certain choices it makes life easier for everyone. Period.

You could come up with a handful of others.

Just imagine what the work you do today will look like in the future. Consider the automation, trends and generally cheaper and ever advancing labor from abroad. Most importantly, open and digital learning services that boosted the skill-set of millions.

Existing roles and skill sets will merge and evolve to match the needs of the industry, not the other way round. It’s entirely reasonable to expect developers to learn more about human psychology and computer interaction principles. You could even argue that this person will deliver much more value and have a stronger seat at the table.

Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic, sums this principle up as:

“Every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success”.

He also states that being good at more than one skill (even at moderate level) will make you stand out from the crowd. For example, a developer who understands commercial principles or can coach and motivate others, or can practice UX will be a future leader for digital transformation. Only a handful of people could pull this off back in the day. Today, it’s anyone with an access to the Internet.

But what about designers? The system works the same way: learn other skills. Learn to code, learn commercial principles (business acumen), learn to coach, manage and motivate other people, learn to manage your own time etc… the list is endless. And so are the opportunities for growth.

So why limit yourselves to aging role titles?


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