8 Contributions a UX Engineer Can Make To Your Team
Learn the many roles a UX engineer plays on a team and the skills they need to have so you know what to expect when working with them.
The job title “UX Engineer” can make people do a double-take. Are they creative or technical? Do they join the design team or should they be on the software engineering team? Are technical people even capable of being visually creative? The answers are: both, depends, and yes!
To clear up the confusion and explain the UX engineer role more thoroughly, let’s talk about where a UX engineer fits into the software development process, what they do everyday, how they work with both UX design and software engineering, and the skills required to perform those duties.
What Is UX Engineering?
As a discipline, UX engineering bridges the gap between UX designers and software engineers. Sometimes called front-end developers, UX engineers are the magic makers, bringing UX designs to life. While responsibilities can vary slightly from company to company, there is a defined spectrum of tasks that fall within the UX engineer’s realm.
If UX designers and software engineers are the bread, UX engineers are the peanut butter. This central position requires user experience engineers to excel at soft skills like working cross-functionally, collaborating, and communicating, in addition to the hard coding skills necessary to bring amazing designs to life. Here are eight areas where UX engineers stand out.
1. Interpret Design Jargon for Developers
A UX engineer can explain certain aspects of UX design, creating user empathy and understanding within the development team. Some examples of those UX resources are:
- Personas — a fictional user that represents characteristics you find in your users
- Customer journey map — a diagram that represents the steps and emotions of the user to perform a task
- Usability report — the output of usability testing
2. Assess the Feasibility of UX Designs
A UX engineer uses their experience to guide the UX team on technical challenges or easy wins based on the proposed designs. They can also share any technical dependencies or risks, and propose design adjustments that would lead to a faster or safer path through development.
Almost anything is possible, but is it worth it? By collaborating with UX designers and software engineers, UX engineers provide product managers with a technical reality check, allowing them to balance the “wow” factor of the user interface with development costs and deployment deadlines.
3. Create Libraries of Reusable UI Components
Surprises are great fun — just not in user experience. One of the keys to great UX design is consistency. Creating component libraries gives the development team reusable pieces of code to ensure that every time a user encounters a dropdown or a date picker, it looks and functions just like every other dropdown or date picker in the product.
4. Build Prototypes To Validate User Experience Decisions
Prototyping is a fast and relatively inexpensive method of usability testing that provides the UX team an opportunity to prove design decisions before investing in the full build. UX engineers can build prototypes in a fraction of the time it would take to build a fully functioning product or new feature.
5. Collaborate With UX Designers and Engineering Teams
Because they understand both design and engineering, a UX engineer can share technical information with the UX team, giving both UX and UI designers a technical point of view to consider. UX engineers also share design decision details with technical teams, helping coders architect the best solutions.
6. Perform UX Engineering Development Work
It takes a lot of work to turn a visual design comp into working software. An experienced UX engineer will deliver a pixel-perfect user interface and then work with the rest of the engineering team to deliver a complete solution.
7. Represent the Interests of Developers To the Design Team
Designers and developers need to communicate regularly to ensure both teams are tracking toward the same goal. But in between scheduled meetings, the software developers can rest assured the UX engineer is bringing technical questions, concerns, and ideas to the design team.
8. Represent the Interests of Designers To the Software Engineering Team
The UX engineer is the design team proxy in developer meetings — sharing insights, rationale, and next steps from the UX designer’s perspective.
As you can see, UX engineering responsibilities fall in the middle of creative and technical teams. A UX engineer must have familiarity with core design principles and common design processes. Most UX engineers don’t have expert design skills, but they do have an eye for UI design along with an expert front-end development skill set.
Which Team Should Your UX Engineer Be on: UX or Engineering?
If your UX engineer spends more time building prototypes and component libraries, the position will best fit within the UX team. However, if you require more front-end or full stack development work from your UX engineer, include them on the software development team.
The UX Engineer’s Toolbox
As noted above, a basic understanding of the user experience process and UX artifacts is important. While a UX engineer isn’t expected to create wireframes or make high fidelity design comps, they need to understand the full spectrum of UX deliverables, why they are important to the design process, and when they are used.
On the technical side, a UX engineer needs expert-level skills in:
These are the coding languages that turn one-dimensional designs into interactive software products that run in a web browser. Mouseover behavior, slideouts, and dynamic content are the work of a UX engineer in action. The UX engineer is also responsible for ensuring the code is written in compliance with ADA accessibility laws.
An in-depth knowledge of a CSS framework such as Bootstrap or Foundation is as important as coding language skills. A CSS framework is a tool a UX engineer uses to build out responsive designs that look equally beautiful in desktop, tablet, or mobile browsers.
As UX engineers become more popular in mobile, desktop, and embedded system development, expect the required skills to include more languages to support platforms other than web browsers.
Because UX engineers write deployable code, they must have experience using:
- Debugging tools
- Code repositories
- Building and branching tools like Git, Beanstalk, or Octopus
- Version control systems like Team Foundation Server
These tools allow the UX engineer to merge code from their computer into the full product source and then push it out to a server where it can be accessed by end-users via a web browser.
As mentioned earlier, UX engineers are sometimes called front-end engineers, especially in job postings. However, a UX engineer is not an expert in some front-end development tasks, such as implementing analytics tools, coding for SEO, or integrating with middle-tier components. This work is done by front-end or full stack engineers.
Hiring a UX Engineer
By now, you should have a solid understanding of what a UX engineer does and how they fit into your team.
To become a UX engineer, candidates need:
- Knowledge of UX design processes, tools, and artifacts
- Soft skills to work effectively between the two worlds
Because this role is highly skilled — and complex in that it requires soft skills not necessary for traditional software engineers — finding the right person for the job is challenging. Use a skilled recruiter or reputable agency to navigate the hiring process and ensure you get the skills you need.
When To Add a UX Engineer To the Team
The specialized skill set of a UX engineer may be the perfect fit for you, while other teams might be better off using their budget to fill other needs. So, how do you know if a UX engineer is right for you?
Large teams that are more siloed because of their size, or the size of the company, might benefit from a UX engineer. The person in this role ensures cross-functional communication occurs at the right time and through the appropriate channels.
However, startups and small companies aren’t usually well-suited to highly specialized roles. A strong front-end developer, with a good knowledge of UX artifacts and processes, can tackle the responsibilities of a UX engineer.
Also consider the relationship between the UX and development teams. Close communication and collaboration are common in smaller companies, alleviating the need for the UX engineer to bridge the gap.
We have highly skilled UX engineers and experienced front-end developers at December Labs, adept at UX and development collaboration. With our proven track record, we’re able to take on your whole project, or integrate with your in-house team. Check out our services and connect with us to discuss how we can help your team accomplish its goals.