UX Developer is a misleading and potentially damaging job title | January 27, 2012

I was really disappointed to see a recent post from somebody I admire and respect defend the validity of the new UX Developer job title that has been cropping up of late. As well as being misleading, the title, UX Developer has implications that are damaging to the field of User Experience and will hasten the current devaluation of the term.

Despite what many newcomers to the industry may think, User Experience Design is a well-defined specialism as distinct from visual or interface design. The practice of user experience design is a specific field of study with its own books, conferences, membership organisations and college courses. User experience designers therefore have a distinct set of skills and practices that form the core of their profession.

That being said, user experience designers don’t own these practices any more than developers own the ability to code up wireframes. So it’s right that designers and developers look to understand more about user experience as it is for UX designers to want to understand more about the technology that drives their products or the designs that bring them to life. This is one of the aspects of being a professional; the desire to develop your core skills while understanding where your domain overlaps with others.

When I look at new job titles my first question is to ask what new or specific activities form the core of that discipline and make it distinct from other fields. Is this indeed a brand new field of practice or simply a catchy name for a set of composite skills? So when I first heard the term UX Developer I was intrigued. What new skills or techniques are these practitioners using that are specific to the technological side of the equation, and is there anything here I can use?

With eager anticipation I grilled every self styled UX Developer I met to find out what new skills or techniques they had developed. However the more people I asked the more disillusioned I became. Rather than being a new discipline, it became clear that UX Developers were simply developers interested in UX. So developers who wanted to get involved with the initial research, attend (or even set up) usability tests, build HTML/CSS prototypes, consider user needs when coding up pages and put pressure on designers and managers when these needs fail to be address.

I’ve been working with people like this for years. They’re called “good developers.”
There seems as little need for the title UX Developer as there is for the term UX Product Manager, UX Programmer or UX Database Engineer. Similarly, if you’re happy for Developers that do some UX activities to invent a new title, what should a UX person who does a bit of front end or back end development call himself or herself? How about front end UX designer, or creative UX technologist? That has a nice ring about it and isn’t confusing at all.

The sad truth is that UX has stopped referring to the quality attribute of a product or a set of specific skills and activities, and has become a value judgement. For some reason people think that the term UX means “better”, “more valuable” or “more important”. So by adding UX to your business or job title it somehow sets you apart as a better designer, a better developer or a better agency. That, or at least one that can charge more money. This is obviously nonsense and disrespectful to all the talented designers and developers out there. So when I see people adding the term UX to an otherwise perfectly descriptive job title, it makes me view them with a healthy dose of scepticism.

[Andy Budd spent 5 years as a designer and front end developer before transitioning to a dedicated UX designer; a role that he has had for over 8 years. During this transition period he would never have dreamed of calling himself a UX Developer. He hopes other developers feel the same way.]

Posted at January 27, 2012 10:58 AM

Comments

Corey Dutson said on January 27, 2012 11:35 AM

While I agree with the overall idea of the article, I do have a small point of contention.

Saying that Developers that pay attention to user needs are’good developers’ is a bit misleading. I know some excellent developers that work way in the back-end of what they do. They never get anywhere near client needs, and so they very rarely raise issues that would pertain directly to the user experience. That doesn’t make them bad developers, that just makes them developers that don’t go near client experience.

I do feel like there is room for a UX developer, but not in the typical sense. In small teams, a front-end developer may also end up doing the wireframes and walking through the experience. If they’ve actually been trained to do so, and not simply doing it ‘cause it needs to be done’ I can see how they would consider themselves worthy of both titles.

I am a front-end developer and I fight decisions when I feel they’ll take away from the UX of a project, but I’m also in a company where I can defer to the expertise of those whos job it is to do so. I wouldn’t consider myself a UX developer because I’ve not been trained for UX properly, and I can’t back up what i say with empirical evidence like a proper UX would. If I had actually done both jobs for a couple years and were properly trained to do both, then I could consider using the title. I just feel it needs to be earned, and not tacked on

Rai Eastham said on January 27, 2012 11:43 AM

I’m also in agreement with Corey - I feel there is a need for a UX Developer role, as it’s the developers “at the coal face” in larger organisations with longer timescales (we’re talking the 3 year projects here) that are standing up for the UX beliefs and strategy when the UX Designer is long gone onto another project.
I see your point Andy, but I don’t think it should be shot down as a legitimate role. The same as front-end can be “technical” or “graphical”. We’re in the same pot, but we don’t all do the same thing. Front-end developers can’t be good at everything which is sort of what I’m reading into your “good developer” comment. However they can also be “good front-end developers with a specialism in Accessibility, Advanced CSS or Javascript” - why can’t a UX Developer be similar?

Andy Budd said on January 27, 2012 12:23 PM

True. The word “good” is not used exclusively. So there is no implication that other forms of developers aren’t equally “good”. People can be good for a variety of reasons :)

George Adamson said on January 27, 2012 12:37 PM

Very well put Andy. I agree, devs should be considering usability as a matter of course. (It is a shame the term “UX” is being diluted and hijacked by the web/software industry, as if no one had considered User Experience before the web came along!)
That said, I have been guilty of using the description “UX Developer” a couple of times myself: On occasions where a quick explanation was needed, and where the terms UX and Developer both meant something to the audience, it was an efficient way to differentiate from pure programming.

Graham Beale said on January 27, 2012 4:29 PM

I agree Andy. I never liked the umbrella term ‘user experience’ - its completely open to misuse; mainly by recruiters who can slap the label on to anything to increase the value of their candidate without any need for appropriate qualifications. Everyone in a project team has a contribution towards a user experience, but in recent years only designers were able to influence the rest of the business. I prefer the term Product designer which forgoes the whole UX thing and is a little more aligned in terms of experience, skills and qualifications.

@jrosell said on January 27, 2012 4:48 PM

In software development you can find System Architects, Analysts and Programmers, so they are ‘Developers’.
Do you think UX Design is a good term? UX research, interaction design and visual design…
Some of these system architects and analysts do ux research, functional design and interaction design.
So I think we have visual design and programing skills not maching “UX role” pattern.
What do you think?

Bryan Zmijewski said on January 27, 2012 5:30 PM

“UX Designer” They’re called “good designers.”

Nathan McGinness said on January 27, 2012 10:53 PM

You make some excellent points but I can’t agree that “User Experience Design is a well-defined specialism”.

The field of user experience is still establishing:
* understanding and industry definitions around the relevant skill-sets & techniques
* training (and professional) pathways and certifications

This is exactly what allows people to prepend UX to any job-title or position.

peter said on January 27, 2012 11:50 PM

I diagree with Corey,

User experience doesn’t have to stop with clients. User experience has to do with anyone that comes in to contact with that piece of software.

So I agree with Andy in that a “good” developer also should be conscientious of the next person coming in to contact with your coding.

Russell Uresti said on January 28, 2012 5:36 AM

Looking around, it does seem the job description is a bit lame. However, you always run into this problem when you have people who are hybrids, or people who have multiple responsibilities. If your job is to create the visual aesthetic of a site and also do the front-end and back-end coding of the site, what’s your job title? Web Designer? Web Developer? UI Creationist? It can be difficult to wrap up everything you do in a simple job title.

I don’t think it’s quite fair to say it’s just “developers interested in UX” because that makes it sound like they aren’t as qualified to do UX, as, say, a UX Designer—like they’re lacking in knowledge or skills. “UX Developer” seems to have come from the fact that companies want a person who can do research, figure out requirements, map information, design interactions, and then also build out their concept in production-quality code.

Michael Shmilov said on January 28, 2012 6:58 AM

I’m don’t think a developer should call himself a UX developer just because he is paying attention, and considering the UX while developing.

Why not mention the relation he has to the field, as well as to Web Analytics, Marketing, or Content, as part of his job description?

Since UX is currently a very trendy field, does not mean we all should be titled UX .

Regarding being misleading and potentially damaging to the field of UX - Not sure about it. I think it is damaging this developer’s title only.

Graham Beale said on January 29, 2012 12:29 AM

I disagree with the comment above which suggests that ‘UX designers are good designers’. UX is such a broad term that it really does not reference any aspect of quality other than a focus on a given audience via user centred design.
I believe that everyone in a project team should have an interest in user experience - after all, good user experience is what we sell as a service…but as designers we can’t do it alone. We need support all around us.
I think Alan Cooper who sums up the role of a developer very well:
“Good developers are focused on solving challenging technical problems, following good engineering practices, and meeting deadlines.”
Hiring developers as UX experts in your company is probably just a good example of how companies are attempting to get around budgetary contraints. Sure, they may find developers who are great at UX; but can they code cross-browser-compatible defect free websites at the same time as creating personas, user flows, wireframes and running user testing sessions?

Mike said on January 30, 2012 2:27 AM

“For some reason people think that the term UX means “better”, “more valuable” or “more important”. So by adding UX to your business or job title it somehow sets you apart as a better designer, a better developer or a better agency.”

I thought UX stood for Ultra-eXperienced. Or Ultra-eXcellent and could be prepended to any job title like pepper to cooked vegetables. Is this not the case?

Jess said on January 30, 2012 2:04 PM

A User Experience Designer is just someone who designs the experience that the user will have, holistically. It doesn’t necessarily just refer to one product and it doesn’t necessarily have to mean designing a web-based product.

So, if a ‘UX developer’ is someone who builds that user experience, surely the job title is just too vague to give any job-seeking developers a clue as to what they might be required to code? All it tells them is that they will have to ‘develop’ something that will have some users. Doesn’t really narrow it down, does it? If I was a developer, I think I’d find the job ad’s headline more useful if it gave me some information on the type of product I’d be asked to work on, or the languages needed.