Is it time we rename the titles in the web industry to better reflect modern duties and responsibilities, and to add value to their roles?
The following Venn diagram depicts how I see the world of Web Designers’ and Front-end Web Developers’ skillsets and job responsibilities merging. As well as how the responsibility of UX permeates our world.
Front-end Web Developer
UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that I am missing/alienating backend developers as also capable of being Web Hybrids. They are very much part of the mix. My original angle on the article was the front-end side of the house, but look to amend this oversight. (Thanks Polly P.)
Defining the roles
Through experience in working as a designer, front-end developer, and a hybrid, I see the roles today being less rigid and fixed, and more fluid and overlapping. Below is the 35,000 foot view of their roles. Obviously actual roles and responsibilities fluctuate greatly across the real world.
Web Designers should be focused on the overall aesthetic and artwork, but also have an understanding of the capabilities and limitations (C&L) of development–not just the C&L of development as a process, but the C&L of the development team for any given project. There’s nothing worse than designing something and not knowing if it can be coded, but to have already sold the client or art director on it. Any understanding of the C&L of development comes from web-designers having done some coding themselves, or at least having presented the project to development during the wireframing & design prior to presenting it to the client.
Basic skillset: Photoshop, UX (namely designing for the subsets UI and IxD), color theory, typography, at least entry-level HTML & CSS, capabilities and limitations of web image file types (.gif, .jpg, .png) and more.
Front-end Web Developer
Let’s pause for a moment and read this description from DiplomaGuide.com
Front-end web developers design the actual page interface that users see when they visit a website. … In addition to using web programming and scripting languages, they also use graphic design tools to make site banners, backgrounds and other page elements. (emphasis mine) – source, Nov 2012
Is DiplomaGuide.com forward thinking, or just confusing the matter for new grads and hiring personel? (And yes, I don’t see DiplomaGuide.com being the definitive site for all info on Web Development, but you can see how easily these two fields are getting mixed up. Or merging. Or—more accurately—being merged.)
Front-end developers must also have an understanding of how to explain why design might not work and present options to solve problems in design or in code. They too must understand the design process, but don’t necessarily have to be good designers.
Basic skillset: HTML, CSS, jQuery, UX (namely coding for the subsets UI and IxD), UI patterns, static vs dynamic websites, ‘old’ vs ‘modern’ browser C&L, cross-browser & cross-platform testing, capabilities and limitations of web image file types (.gif, .jpg, .png) and more.
I view UX as a discipline in that it is rooted in research, methods and instructions. Much the same way Physics or English is rooted. UX is based on the user’s interactions and response, and while UX is made up of UI, IA, IxD and other elements, the instructions given to Design and Development outline goal-oriented interactions and responses, and general real estate assignments. They often do not get into the minutiae of colors (branding), design elements (rounded corners and such), and pageload times which are the responsibility of Design and Development. This, of course, is assuming the UX team is not the same people as the Design and Development team(s), or a one-person project.
UX is the hypothetical blueprint any project is built toward, and then around, and then revisited, iterated upon, over and over again until whatever was originally intended is achieved (or given up on.) The initial UX blueprint should be web industry-specific in that it follows good UX practices and standards. It should be project-specific in that it is driving results for the project’s goals. And it should be audience-specific in that it is based on research and analytics. But, virtually in all cases, it is a set of instructions and guidelines for Design and Development to work out in a physical and dynamic space.
This does not limit the UX team to only handing out wireframes and instructions. They too must understand basic principles of design and development, the C&L of each, as well as trends in the industry (good and bad), and third-party connectivity (APIs.)
Basic skillset: UI patterns, UX testing (including A/B), accessibility, responsive web design, human behaviors, default human interface elements for various browsers and devices (as well as what is considered ‘custom.’)
Where are we going?
Lately, I have seen numerous UX job positions (and titles) floating around the job boards. The job descriptions are all over the place in terms of scope and skillsets, telling me that this area is not quite done settling out. The titles range from VP of UX, to UX Designer, UX Developer, UX Architect, to UI Designer and more. Many read like a Web Designer position, and almost all are for web products. The problem I have with this is that technically every designed product in the world has gone through some user experience modeling-planning-designing-testing (unfortunately not many go through the last one). When you say “UX Designer”, that job description is virtually limitless. I am proposing we in the web ecosystem call it “Web UX Designer”, “Mobile UX Designer”, or “Game/App UX Designer”. For those that fill the role of creating UX instructions I propose they be called “Web UX Architect”, “Mobile UX Architect”, or “Game/App UX Architect” (for when they are not actually designing the interface, but instead wireframing it.)
Why is this important? More emphasis is being placed on winning customers’ over through the experience, so businesses are hiring more UX savvy people and putting more products through focus groups and UX testing. Some agencies and businesses also need to show the world that they consider UX to be important, and have been adding UX job titles to their staff. With better titles like “Web UX Designer”, “Mobile UX Architect”, “Web UI Developer”, we not only help the industry understand the roles of individuals better, but also enforce better job descriptions and better market rates for those positions.
I’m also not afraid to propose “Web Hybrid Designer” and “Web Hybrid Developer” to denote roles where the position has responsibilities of Design with some front-end development, as well as Development with some UX/UI Design, respectively. You may take a minute and freak the hell out, but you know ‘Designer’ and ‘Developer’ doesn’t fit those of us doing both, and only suppresses the pay for the “Web Hybrid Designer”.
For those working in the hybrid roles of Design and Development, you may know all too well that the industry will typically only pay based on the lesser of the two: Design. It is no secret that Developers’ salaries are higher than Designers, but for companies to hire you for both skillsets and only pay for the Design side is deeply gouging the industry as a whole. No one is proposing the market rate be double, but instead help hybrids understand that the pay is commensurate with the roles and responsibilities of the job. If development is included, the rate should reflect that. An easy way to do this is pay the higher of the skillsets, or at least do the math: let’s say Design is 40% of the job and Development is 60%, the rate should = (market rate for Design x .4) + (market rate for Development x .6). Obviously the percentages can fluctuate, but you should estimate upfront the base percentage expected over the course of the coming year.
This blog post started as a response to a question on a group on LinkedIn. My answer got favorable responses, but I felt that there were a lot of Designers and Developers out there that feel pushed into the other group, underpaid for doing both, or uneasy that they are now working in a gray area that doesn’t have a real job title they feel reflects the work they’re expected to do.
Feel free to discuss below how you feel about the industry’s move to merging the two fields (or are the Designers and Developers doing it?), your experiences, and where you feel the industry is headed. Or rant. Or disagree with me.