Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

Should developers learn UX?

Doug Ross
Doug Ross
Feb 25, 2019 · 3 min read

A fullstack developer for Mined Minds, Heather Shockney came to coding through a bootcamp after a long career as a writer. Perhaps this is why she approaches developing from different angles than many other programmers do, and a key reason why she is a strong proponent for incorporating UX into the vocabulary and practices of a developer.

“I have always been interested in design and doing front end development is my favorite part of being a developer,” says Heather. “We have a small team and my boss offered for me to take a UX course and bring back the skills to the team.”

Speaking at a number of conferences, including FullStackNYC, on the benefits of incorporating UX principles into a development team, Heather has seen the benefits of educating her own team on the way they code.

“I have found I think about everything I do differently. Before, it was all about how it looked or functioned. Now I think about how the user is going to see it and things like: is it intuitive for them to find their way around, will they be able to complete a goal without digging into documentation, why am I changing something a user already knows how to do? It’s been great because I see my fellow team members doing the same thing. Even something as simple as a spreadsheet being created — they are thinking about how to make it better for the user experience.”

With some companies either too small or too slow to adopt UX into their hiring processes, there are opportunities for developers to incorporate UX practices into their work. And the most important practices to learn?

“I think sketching is my number one pick,” says Heather. “It is such an important UX tool. You are able to design screens very quickly and allow the client or users to see them in a short time. This allows for changes to be made so much sooner than waiting for them to be coded out.”

Second to this, comes developing the mindset of a UX professional.

“Stop looking at the project from a developer’s point of view and look at it from a user’s. As a developer we know how the product should work — we code it to work that way. We usually don’t think whether a user will know how to use it. We just assume they will. As you are completing your project, stop along the way and get feedback from people who aren’t so involved with the development process. See if what you have done makes sense to them as if they were the user. If they are telling you that things don’t make sense nor feel intuitive, reconsider the way you are doing it.”

A little bit of push back

There have been some cases made against trying to push different modes of thinking on those who work best thinking the way they do.

Davide Casali, a designer at Automattic, says that a push to promote designers to learn programming is potentially damaging.

“It’s because since it tries to create hybrid professionals, it forces young designers to learn coding, when they should study, for example, cognitive psychology and social psychology,” says Davide. “It slows down designers in becoming excellent in what they are paid for. Because it creates the expectations that “designers should code, so I don’t need a frontend developer” (harming also frontend developer specialization).”

But Davide does hit on a balance that can be found in this discussion of UX design and development and that is helping both disciplines understand whatthe other does, rather than the how.

Understanding what the principles and practices are of UX design can help developers, at the very least, grapple with and achieve a balance of function over form.

For Heather, the benefits of learning the tools and some of the key ideas behind UX design are as clear as day.

“I think having developers learn UX tools is very important. Anyone working on the project should always be thinking about the user. They are the ones that will make or break a product. Everyone’s end goal is usually the same, putting out a successful product that users will use. UX skills help to ensure that is the case.”

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