Hiring A Front-End Developer Vs. A UX Designer

Luke Fitzpatrick

The winning strategy for any business today is to have an online presence (website) with a seamless user interface and user experience. As such, front-end development is a crucial aspect in attracting customers and maintaining them.

While it takes a village to build a website, the two types of professionals required for building the client-side are front-end developers and UX designers.

  • But what exactly are the roles of the two?
  • When do you need a front-end developer instead of a UX designer?

What is front-end development?

The front end or client-side of a website includes all the outer elements that users interact with. And you could think of the sitemap, page layout, navigation menus, graphics, links, sliders, and all you see when you open a web page.

Front-end development deals with all these features, so it is a multilayered approach to creating what users see and interact with when using a website. The task usually requires three markup and programming languages as the basics to create an optimized and immersive user experience. These are HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Four main aspects are associated with front-end development, these being:

  • Front-end design.
  • User interface design.
  • Traditional front-end engineering.
  • User experience design.

Front-end design vs. traditional front-end engineering

Front-end design involves creating the look and feel of the website, while traditional front-end engineering takes care of the functionality required to make the client-side work as designed. The former is more artistic as it deals with aesthetics, user interface & experience design, and a little bit of coding.

On the other hand, engineering is more technical as it handles the languages, frameworks, and tools. Also, it deals with code optimization to make the website run more efficiently.

User interface vs. user experience design

Some people use user interface and user experience design interchangeably, but they are different. With UI design, the goal is to anticipate what users might need from the website, then place these elements there.

However, with UX design, focus shifts to the user journey across the website. It might involve user research and multiple user testing to see how easy it is to solve their problem.

Who to hire?

Considering all four, front-end designers (FEDs) are more holistic as they offer the best of both worlds. If you have limited resources for your project, it makes more sense to hire a front-end designer.

Otherwise, you should set up a team consisting of engineers and UX designers headed by a FED. Since they are competent in design, development, and marketplace dynamics, FEDs will drive the website development project to meet all the user requirements.

What problems does a UX designer solve?

As stated earlier, UX designers deal with the user journey across the website. They solve crucial problems that would keep users from being frustrated when using your platform.

1. Number of clicks

One of the issues in the UX realm is the number of clicks. There is an unofficial 3-click rule, which states users must complete their tasks after three clicks. It assumes that if the problem requires four or more clicks to solve, the users will get frustrated and leave your platform.

However, this arbitrary rule of thumb is not practical because reducing clicks can lead to usability problems. A more practical approach is the 1-click rule. Now, this does not mean that usability improves if tasks get completed after a single interaction. Instead, it means that each click should take the user closer to achieving their objective.

Consider a scenario where you are reading a news item, and you have to click “next page” to read the other part of the story. If you get an ad instead of part 2, it can become annoying since you are not at the required destination. In this case, it is better to place ads within the content instead of showing up when you click buttons to get to other parts of the website.

2. Pages in workflows

Another challenge to solve is the pages in workflows. The goal is to make each page be at the right place so that you flow smoothly through the website. It should be as if the website knows what you are thinking. Designers can map the pages using flow charts or wireframes.

3. Driving customer adoption

Even if UX designers do their job perfectly, it is uncommon to get it right for the first time. Some tweaks are usually needed, and these result from collecting user feedback. It is the work of the UX designers to drive the launch, monitor the progress, and collect feedback. They will then work with the engineers/developers to implement changes.

4. UX designers vs. UX engineers

UX is an umbrella title that has different expertise within it. As you can already tell, UX engineers are the technical guys. In most cases, UX designers have very little understanding of code.

After designing, they hand over the work to the engineers for implementation. It is like having an architect and a civil engineer. However, the handover takes place iteratively. There are back and forth engagements between the two, which require some collaboration tools.

The team can use Google Docs to both read and edit the documentation for fine-tuning. Whiteboard tools like Miro make it easy to design the page flows. After this, wireframing ensues using tools like Sketch or Adobe XD. Once everything is clear, the engineer can proceed to build the front end of the site.

What doesn't a UX designer solve?

If the UX designers are not competent enough for the entire front-end development process, there are some problems they cannot solve. Their skills will only focus on design, which is not good enough.

In this case, you need holistic front-end developers. Like front-end designers, the developers must have a better understanding of the market landscape and its dynamics. Such a person should have the ability to look at the project from a higher perspective, optimize it for easy user adoption, and adapt it to differentiate from other players to gain a competitive advantage.

What are the benefits of wireframing?

One of the main tasks of UX designers when optimizing the workflow and connecting the information architecture is wireframing. Granted, front-end developers are also good at wireframing, but this is a UX designer’s forte. Wireframing has the following benefits:

1. Clarifies structure visualization

By turning the abstract ideas into low-fidelity 2D mockups, wireframes define the structure before going into development. All parties involved in the implementation process will have an easy time doing their part because the design will be easy to understand and communicate visually.

2. Simplifies the design process

The design process is usually iterative, and wireframes simplify feedback collection from the client or users at an early stage. Not only does this simplify the design process, but it also makes product adoption easy. The process simulates the functionality of the website for refinement before development.

3. Refines navigation

Wireframes allow the developers and maybe a few users to test run the website in the design stage. The purpose is to see how difficult it is to locate and get to target pages, how many clicks you need, how clear the UI elements are, etc.

4. Saves time and effort

Test runs and refinements in the design stage save a lot of time and effort in the entire development process. The development team will have a clear picture of the project, so there will be minimal changes after completing the task.

5. Pushes user experience to the front

The whole point of UX design is to push usability to the front, and wireframes are at the center of this process. They help design page layouts at their core, which is vital to refining features & elements and how to place them for ease of use.

6. Makes content development more effective

Wireframes offer an overview of the page structure, enabling content creators to organize their work in the most optimal way. It gives an idea of the content length for each page and how to split the blocks to improve readability.

What about prototyping or rapid prototyping?

Prototyping is the next stage after wireframing. It represents the product using high fidelity mockups, and it could be either paper sketches, digital drawings, or sample web pages. These make it cheap, quick, and easy to test the user journey across the product.

On the other hand, rapid prototyping involves creating multiple iterations of the prototype in a short period. During this time, designers use feedback to create an improved version on each iteration.

Since wireframing is more in the early stages of software developments (design), it makes more sense to hire a UX designer at such a point. You do not need a developer at this time.

How to manage product innovation?

Innovation management is key to the survival of businesses. It refers to the handling of all activities required to introduce a new product. The process has four aspects:

  • Capabilities.
  • Structures.
  • Culture.
  • Strategy.

A company with the right pro-innovation culture will use its capabilities or acquire them. Capabilities are usually the abilities, skills, and unique insights of employees. Therefore, obtaining them means hiring skilled and creative people.

The company should then implement efficient structures and processes to harness its capabilities, which will enhance innovation to improve competitiveness. After this, the organization should implement a long-term strategy to drive innovation, then optimize it for low-cost, high-scale production.

The best way to create an innovative product is to invest more in design because this is the creative part. With this sorted, implementation or development will be easy. As an innovation manager, you should ask yourself if you have the right designers for the job, if they are enough, and if their skills are good enough.

Who are you hiring?

Whether you are looking for a front-end developer, engineer, or designer, it is important to know that their skills might overlap. However, you should hire based on which stage your product is currently in during the development process.

For instance, if you have an idea you want to bring to fruition, it is best to hire a UX designer. Such a person is a designer at heart but wears the hat of a developer/engineer. Designers are more creative and combined with their ability to translate user requirements/changes into a prototype, they are the ideal candidates for the job.

However, if you already have complete designs and high-fidelity mockups, it makes more sense to hire a technical person. He/she should have deep knowledge about programming languages and code optimization, plus a little bit of design because there might be a few changes later on.

What to look for on a resume?

For designers, you need to look for the basic front-end design languages, such as JavaScript and CSS. However, these are prerequisites for engineers and developers. In addition to these frameworks, they must have deep knowledge of at least one web development language, such as python, PHP, C# (.NET), and ruby on rails.

Even though some are server-side languages, you need someone skilled enough to connect the client-side to the back end to complete the project. Their skills should overlap with those of server-side developers. As a designer, you can create both a traditional resume or go for a video resume where you outline all your skills along with a digital portfolio of your work.

Summing up

The roles of front-end developers and UX designers overlap at some point, but each plays a crucial and unique role in web development. Designers take on the beginning creative stages, where they develop wireframes and prototypes. Developers come in at the later stages of the project to apply their technical knowledge in coding and software optimization.

If you are a talent manager, you need to create structures where these two form a team to develop innovative solutions that will give you an edge in the current competitive business environment. And if you’re ever worried about the designers that you hire, you can have them sign an NDA agreement to protect both your company and its work.

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Academic Speaker | Freelance Journalist | I have contributed to a variety of publications such as Forbes, Tech In Asia, and The Next Web. I cover a variety of topics ranging from fintech, big data, AI, blockchain, to lifestyle and breaking news stories.

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