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