I’ve recently found myself trying to explain the difference between the skills I bring to a project as a UX Designer and why I’m not able to cover the role of a dedicated UI Developer.
There is, of course, a necessary overlap between the skills-sets in these roles, which is a good thing. And some individuals have a broader coverage of skills than others. However, people outside of these roles don’t always appreciate the specialist skills and focus that is required to work within them.
This as simply as I can describe the different skills required for each role:
- User Experience (UX) Designer = Research + Design
- UI Developer = Design + HTML/CSS/JS
- Application Developer = Back-End coding + HTML/CSS/JS etc.
UX Designers combine their research and design skills together to understand the user needs and produce concepts/solutions/designs that people want to use. This requires a focus on human behaviours, psychology and understanding why people do what they do. It’s all the soft squishy, creative stuff on the right-side of the brain. Most UXers can tell you what it should do and why it should do it, but can’t actually build something that works.
Application Developers (which is a very broad and hopefully inclusive term for your average technical skill set) build the underlying functionality which makes the product work. It’s all about code, logic and the left-side of the brain. Often heard from Developers is “I can make it work, but it won’t look pretty“. Meaning that they can craft HTML that will technically work, but it may not create a very good impression for anyone who is influenced by the look of it (which means your average end user).
UI Developers fill the middle ground by combining both design sensibilities and technical skills together. They are skilled at making something both look good and function in a browser/device at the same time. They have the production skills to be able to produce visual designs in Photoshop and then turn them into HTML code that deals with the wonders of browser compatibilities. This requires the in-depth understanding of how browser rendering engines behave to be able to implement a design for the web that renders correctly and get all those pesky pixels to line up perfectly.
Of course, this is very much a generalisation. It is possible to find people who work effortlessly across all these different skills-sets. I need to make the caveat that every person has different strengths and weaknesses. My point here is about the commonalities that define UX Designers, rather than each individual’s unique differences.
There is an age-old discussion out there on should designers know how to code? which often ends up concluding that ideally, yes they should. However, the kind of people who can effortlessly switch between focusing on code and user needs are a rarity. The mindset required for each is generally quite distinctly different. Most people just aren’t wired up to do both.