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front-end developer here.

I'm working in a tiny startup: one back-end developer and me as the front-end developer. My boss is calling me UX boy since I've worked there, even if I don't specially consider myself as a UX designer. I admit that I discover this term on Hacker News since a quite short period. I'm feeling concerned by it.

However, as I am supposed to deal with graphics design and front-end code (what I consider as the UI in a traditional way), plus workflow, ergonomics and the User eXperience on another side, I'm asking myself if I don't miss something special. I'm used to work in very small teams and have to do all by myself.

The boss seems to have great expectations in UI/UX, and maybe this term gives him some fantasy about our work. We work in france and as I say, this term is quite new here, and I think people don't always use it in it's right meaning. The stuff is trendy, and it's cool to say that the staff is doing UI/UX even if it's meaningless or even worse, false. And what does it mean doing UI/UX? When you work on an interface you HAVE to take care of the users and their experience. I can't believe a great professional wouldn't.

I come from art and graphic design. Then, I learn programming and start to hack gently. I've always considering that this way was right and believe that every small team front-end developper have to deal with UX, and will not just implement what the UX guy has build for him. I don't believe it works that way in most of the small teams, but I believe it does in larger one.

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It's hard to tell what your specific question is. That said, in general, UX design specifies the UI the UI developers build. Sometimes that's all one person. Sometimes it's a team of people. Sometimes it's entirely different departments. –  DA01 Feb 28 '13 at 0:40

3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

This is not the definite answer, but perhaps you can try to think of the difference between UI/UX and front-end development as the difference between design and implementation. The problem is that UX designers tend to come from either a graphic design or software development background, and so there are naturally overlaps between their role and that of a 'web designer/developer'. I would think that someone who is a UX specialist looks more at the human side of the design process, and would tend to do research and ask questions that will form the basis for coming up with design concepts/ideas, and then also doing user testing and evaluation to validate these ideas post development (or as part of the development cycle).

If you really want to cut through all the jargon and terminology, UX is really just a concept/approach. So if you think more like a user (i.e. from a goal driven perspective) rather than a developer (i.e. from a specification/implementation perspective) then you are on a good path to becoming a UX practitioner. This is what they refer to as the user-centric approach to design and development.

I am happy to answer more specific questions, but the thing about hype is that people will get over it soon enough and face reality.

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I like the idea that 'UX is a concept'. I feel that eventually, the idea of a 'UX position' will disappear, as ideally, everyone involved with the design and production of a solution will be a UX practitioner. ;) –  DA01 Feb 28 '13 at 8:32
    
@DA01 I hope it would be like this. –  smonff Feb 28 '13 at 13:27
    
@Michael: I've seen here that this definition seems to be common. I agree it also seems to be a conceptual approach, just as 'front-end development' was some years ago. Problem for user-centric approach in very small teams is that we don't necessary have enough time dedicated to users. Your answer was exactly what I was searching for, want to know if my intuition about it was right. –  smonff Feb 28 '13 at 19:25
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You could argue whether the same problem occurs for AGILE software development environments. I find that it has very little to do with documenting processes, but more to do with the approach you take with the way different processes in software development is structured. In the same way, it doesn't make sense for just one part of the organization to be involved in UX or AGILE, because changing existing processes has an impact for the rest of the organization as well. –  Michael Lai Mar 1 '13 at 4:39

A metaphor I sometimes use is the difference between an architect and a construction foreman, working to build a building.

The foreman can build a building herself--she's built buildings before, she knows generally what goes where, and she knows how to actually put screws and nails and wood and plaster together to form a structure.

However, the foreman has not studied how buildings ought to be created. An experienced foreman will rely on things like municipal building codes ("design patterns") to guide construction, but the end result may end up hard to use or unattractive. You often see this in discount repair jobs--for example, a bathroom where the door collides with the sink, or a cheaply subdivided house where there are rooms that feel awkward and hard to use. These were solutions that were easy to build, and they may be built very well, but somehow they don't hang together.

Conversely, the architect is trained in understanding spaces, how people will use the building, how they will move through it, how lighting and ceiling height and door placement and room organization all work together to make a pleasant place to live. They may not have the ability to plaster a wall or drive a nail, however, and as a result their more adventurous designs may be challenging to bring to the real world.

As a front-end developer, you're the foreman and construction crew all rolled into one, but you might not be an architect (yet). You may not have the training about how to design the software for the best User Experience. You can draw on examples from the world around you to produce functional apps, but it may not be sufficient to produce usable apps.

The good news is that you can learn UX techniques that will help you to understand user needs, to create designs that meet those needs, and to test those designs with real live users to verify.

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IMO, this is a very honest answer –  smonff May 22 '13 at 15:45
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Great metaphor. I'm a front end developer and UX person mixed in to one, and sometimes I start confusing the two. It was great to read this. –  Mark Bubel May 22 '13 at 20:06

User Experience is something that many people claim to do but few do it well, the reason there is so much work out there for people who only do user experience (and are not visual designers and/or front end coders). Usually the larger the project the higher the need to have a dedicated user experience person / team.

It's much like constructing a building. If you're doing a shed then one person can do everything but as the building gets larger you need dedicate people.

There is a very good reason why on many projects the people who engineer the final result are not the people who design the solutions and set functionality. This because often the best user experience solution is technically complicated and it is human nature to try and find simpler solutions if you are responsible for building the solution. This is why it can be an advantage (against the advise of others) to not be a coder and a UX person. They are different mindsets and will conflict against each other.

This is also true for UX design and visual design. Although good visual designers will also have some good interaction design skills deciding what needs to be communicated to the users can lead to complex visual design problems and some visual designers may choose to add/remove items for visual reasons and not for usability/user experience reasons. In some ways the visual design mindset can be similar to the engineering mindset as it is much closer to the final implementation than the user experience design.

UX is a broad skill set that involves things like user research, information architecture, content strategy, task analysis and bunch of other things. Interface design is part of UX and I have worked on several project where I never got down to screen level designs but worked on research or defining the overall concept and functionality of a system, for example defining how ratings and reviews will work for a large UK retailer.

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The 'should designers know code?' debate is an old one, so I'll try not to say too much, but, in general, the more one understands the medium they are working in, the better off they'll be. But I agree that the 'scope' of UX will vary greatly based on context of the project, team, company, etc. –  DA01 Feb 28 '13 at 8:29
    
Some resources on the 'should designers know code' debate ? –  smonff Feb 28 '13 at 9:11
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An understanding of the medium is useful, that I don't disagree with. I occasionally take on side projects where I code. I do strongly disagree with the 'more' part of what you say. An engineering mindset leads to thinking about which technical solutions are 'easier' and if you start to think about which jQuery element you use then that will alter the end user experience. On the other hand being aware of possibilities also enables the UX. It's a balancing act and in my experience if a UX person goes too much into code it alters the way they solve the problem - it's just human nature. –  Stewart Dean Feb 28 '13 at 9:17
    
Sebf - do you mean visual designers or UX designers? It is possible for a visual designer to design in css. I don't know of a definitive set of articles but there are many blog posts like this: quotient.net/blog/2012/7/31/… –  Stewart Dean Feb 28 '13 at 9:23
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@Sebf: Here are some links to articles about your question. IMO, it's helpful if an UX designer has an general overview about coding. But this isn't his part. ux.stackexchange.com/questions/9119/… and helloerik.com/ux-is-not-ui –  sysscore Feb 28 '13 at 10:38

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