Improve UX – become a developer

UX is always a balancing act between amazing experience solutions and budgetary restraints. So how can a Front End Developer help?

User Experience Designers are an interesting bunch. And not in a Steve ‘Interesting’ Davis way. I think you’d struggle to find a field with people that have a greater variety of backgrounds. Back in the very early days, HCI (Human Computer Interaction) qualifications were the most likely thing you needed to get involved. But now you are just as likely to find someone who comes from marketing or creative design.

In my previous post, we looked at the four ‘pillars’ of User Experience. We have moved beyond simply creating wireframes to a more holistic view of the user, the market and the interaction and for this I believe a variety of backgrounds and experiences are essential to cover off all the bases effectively. Pure HCI isn’t going to tell you how to engage with your users at multiple touch points, and it isn’t going to tell you how to optimise your experience strategy to meet the businesses long term objectives.

There is a difficult balancing act in UX between coming up with fantastic and amazing experience solutions, and making it achievable with time and budget constraints. We all want to produce amazing UX, but it also needs to be realistic; and that’s where I believe my previous life as a Front End Developer has helped me.

Stylish sheets

As a Front End Developer I gained a deep understanding of how to construct webpages. I was in the rather unique position of building the pages from my own UX.

This created an eternal internal battle of what I wanted to do and what was achievable within the time. This battle had positive outcomes though. Over time, I learned ways to make my UX equally as effective, but easier to implement. On the flipside, I found new methods and techniques that allowed me to add greater interactivity and time efficiencies to the code I was writing so that more and better things could be achieved in a given time frame.

After time I passed the development responsibilities to others as I became a full time UX. These new Developers began, of course, by resisting UX implementations that appeared difficult or time consuming. For a UX Designer from any other background, this may have been an issue, but with my knowledge and experience I was able to work with the Developers and mentor them to think outside the box and come up with effective solutions that still met the UX brief, which they may not have done otherwise.

I think it’s important to have at least some knowledge of what each member of the project team does so that you can work together effectively to produce a unified solution to a problem. I’m not saying you need to go out there and become a .Net guru by any means, or even learn to code. But gaining an understanding of what can be achieved using that technology is a no-brainer.

Over time, you’ll gain an understanding of how long different things take. This comes to the fore particularly in an AGILE methodology because every team member is involved with saying how far they got in the previous day. You can pick up quite a lot during these quick meetings, and even occasionally understand what the Developers are talking about which can give you great leverage when you get techno-babble thrown at you as a confusion technique.

A lot of the time the resistance is just based on a lack of understanding of the benefit it will offer to the user and the overall experience. I have had Developers tell a few fibs in the past about how long something would take (without knowledge of my background) just because they didn’t see the point of implementing something. For this reason, buy-in from all your team members is essential. It will result in them being more willing to push the boat out for that tricky, but ultimately worthwhile feature or design.

Now, of course I’m not saying all Developers will just try and fob you off to get out of doing the trickier stuff. The majority understand and appreciate UX and are willing to put in hard graft to deliver truly great solutions. But in my opinion a good understanding of other disciplines can foster better communication and results. And the best results often come when the collective whole agrees on a common vision.

*image courtesy