Evolution of UX

Good UX isn’t a design thing, it’s development. Why more online businesses are looking for UX engineers instead of designers and coders?

“User experience (UX) refers to a person’s emotions and attitudes about using a particular product, system or service”
User Experience, Wikipedia

Engineers created the web. Years later it became a profession for web designers, then more specifically: graphical designers, later UI designers and finally UX designers. Job titles were getting more precise and specialists’ focus more narrow together with the increasing complexity of web development. That was the time of drawing invisible borders between responsibilities of people involved in product development. And UX was often considered as a part of design stage of typical development process.

Nowadays companies have started to realize that UX optimization can’t be limited by one of development stages. It’s a continuous process just like continuous delivery and requires different team members’ expertise. It’s not solely in the hands of designers anymore, it is the responsibility of researchers, analysts and engineers — UX engineers.

UX or not UX?

What does the UX abbreviation stand for? It points to user input which is the base for further design and development. User in this paradigm is not the end point of your effort, not a consumer, users are active participants, their behavior can affect decisions and initiate changes. Lack of user data means lack of knowledge, which is often reflected in a lack of quality. So research (gathering and processing user data) is required for claiming UX as an addition to a job title.

User oriented design and development start from user research

“Research? Huh! I know what I’m doing!”. As A/B tests often show you may have a lot of experience or a good eye, but your opinion will not represent users decisions. Most importantly you won’t be able to guess when you’re wrong, what is wrong and how badly it is wrong. Thus if your processes are based on personal choices and preferences it’s better to avoid calling them UX. If you still need an abbreviation I’d recommend to think about “PX” (Personal Experience).

UX research and data analysis are often done by designers, however UX implementation requires technical skills. Experience is much wider than well thought user journeys and simplicity of the interface; it includes accessibility, reliability, performance, consistency, content (add here localization and typography), etc. Thus UX specialists must have data to see the bigger picture together with control over the product to handle all this.

For example location of your servers and their uptime may affect experience more than menu icon or sign up form logic. So taking care of UX is actually in the nature of DevOps job even they are not entitled to do this and few companies invest time in their education about the product.

“User experience design is the process of enhancing user satisfaction with a product by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction with the product”
User Experience, Wikipedia

New responsibilities

Google is looking for UX engineers (so do Apple, Bynder, Netflix and many others). They write: “as a UX Engineer, you’ll weave together strong design aesthetics with technical know-how”. So either you’re a designer who writes code or a developer who thinks outside of an IDE. This makes perfect sense as design for web can’t be static, you can’t save the experience as a PSD file. On the other hand HTML, CSS and JavaScript are tools to achieve the goal, but not the goal themselves.

Of course not everybody feels comfortable to cross these functional borders. Some developers can’t take UX seriously, others are discouraged by colleagues or job requirements. And it’s equally difficult to find a designer who uses code editor instead of Photoshop. “What kind of design is this?” — you may ask. This is web design: dynamic and responsive, unlike an image.

“The future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways”
Robert Greene

Using the browser as a rendering tool has so many advantages:

  • result is always browser-compatible;
  • no losses during transformation images to code;
  • no conflicts about missing states and wrong interpretation;
  • easier to keep results consistent and reusable;
  • easier to test results with dynamic content;
  • reduces development time.

This is also the point where “pixel perfect” requirements become obsolete.

“why designers should code” — one of the most popular search requests in Google

Comparing to coding drawing on a paper could be faster if you only need some visuals for a brainstorm session, but trying to make sketches look like the final product will consume a lot of resources and you’ll be stuck with nonscalable static image. Sometimes it can be smarter to create functional HTML & CSS layout and take a screenshot when flat image is needed.

Being free from style sheets, developers are paying extra attention on interaction performance, consistency of content and experience. Technical knowledge is needed to take care of many uncertainties: different browsers, platforms, input types, people with different skills, abilities and preferences. At the end of the day how many designers would care about screen readers?

“So good UX isn’t a design thing, it’s all development”
Chris Hall, Founder and CEO of Bynder

UX in Bynder

Bynder is recognized as a market leader in many aspects and user experience is one of them. We care about product quality on each stage of the development flow. We work in squads and new feature realization starts with brainstorming. If a feature requires new components to be created our design team provides UI kit: HTML, SCSS (with variables and mixins), fonts, images and icons. They also create custom themes for clients. This is mostly possible because designers take full control of classes and styles.

Developers are using styles from UI kit as a dependency, HTML code is transformed to React components. Bynder frontend team follows two guidelines: ES6+ styleguide and accessibility/usability checklist, as good code isn’t good by itself, it has to be efficient, accessible and maintainable.

“I need my designers to understand HOW design works technically, from every perspective, and they need to be able to prove it because around half of our development team is consistently working on the UX. We spend countless hours on continuous improvement without even adding any new features”
Chris Hall, Founder and CEO of Bynder

Application architecture and API are also built with a focus on UX. Server-side rendering, handling async server events to bring users instant updates with minimal network usage, retries in case of errors, using local storage — these are some of the techniques in Bynder arsenal to make interfaces transparent and thought-out.

We believe this approach makes our product easy to use. We keep learning and improving our processes. Continuous optimization and UX as a priority also affects our workflow (not the other way around). And probably this mindset helps us to stay sharp, competitive and successful.

References