Is Frontend Development in the UX Toolkit?


Road to Nowhere

It’s an interesting point is the ability to code in CSS, HTML and JavaScript a skill that is relevant to the User Experience practitioner.  Or should that be left to the developers and designers.

Why ask?  Well I’m at a crossroads.

You see the nature of the local industry here is such that there just isn’t a constant stream of User Experience work at commercially viable rates.  So a I have been supplementing my UX work with a little front end design and development from time to time.

Not a bad thing really I enjoy the work. Especially when I get designed into a corner and have to try and make it all work with css/html, the challenge can be very rewarding.

Times a Changing

However recently I have noticed things are starting to change locally.  I also seem to be making a few changes around here of late, maybe I’ll just getting bored, or it’s a mid life crisis (nah, too old for that beastie).

Maybe it’s time to drop the frontend development work and finally do what I have been trying to do for the last 4-5 years, focus on UX and IA type work and nothing else. Afterall UX isn’t about the implementation, it’s about the planning and initial design only.

Mind you on the other side of the coin.   Frontend development and design skills are very handy with prototyping in html and the like.   It’s just something as you don’t have to sub contract out.   You can just do it yourself.   Even better for doing the odd hack or patch between user testing sessions on a prototype.

Also, I’m told, that people with both UX skills and frontend development are rare these days.  Now I don’t really have any idea on this one. To me they don’t seem to be that rare.   Maybe it’s just different in the US or something.

Would be nice to retain the skills, seeing as I have come so far with them, and invested a lot of time and money developing them.  But again its another skill set to keep upto date, another pile of reading to do.   Hard choice.

Guess I’m being a little conservative here, but when you have a family it’s not just you that is going to suffer if you make the wrong choice.

It’s UX or Nothing

No matter what I decide, I’m no longer taking on any more new clients for  front end development work.  It’s all going to be UX and IA and the like. Lets see how this all goes. Brave move in a way, as I’ll be turning away paying work I can very easily do.

So if you are have work in the User Experience, Information Architecture, Usability or  Accessibility areas, then we need to chat.

Still I ask you, do you think it is time to drop the front end skills and move on, or are they at least a handy prototyping skill?  What do you think?

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  1. I’ve never really had front-end dev skills. I started with Human Factors, and simply apply the concepts to the design of any type of system: whether it’s a website, air traffic control tower, or fast-food joint.

    The closest you’ll get me to front-end dev are tools like Axure or OmniGraffle. I only use the minimum effort required to communicate to my respective audiences how the system will work. Most of the time, I don’t need more than pen & paper – or to formalise it – a few wireframes in a storyboard.

    For you, though Gary, since you’re comfortable getting messy in code, perhaps HTML/CSS is a useful tool to convey your message?

    Oh, and contrary to what you say in your post, I’ve noticed (via job ads that fly past me) that in the US and UK you’re not very employable at the agency UX level unless you can prototype in HTML/CSS/jQuery. Paradoxically, these demonstrable skills seem to be more important than a basic understanding of human cognition & behaviour (you’ll rarely see certification in any flavour of psych or Human Factors as a requirement these days) for people employed as “User Experience Designers”.

  2. @Tuna – the UX jobs I’ve seen around this side of Australia tend to be solely focused on UX, rather than front end development. I haven’t had to touch CSS/HTML stuff in years, although I still like to keep up with what’s happening in that space.

    @Ash – Do you think that some of the issues around the lack of certification is the small availability of psych/human factors course? I did human factors through remote learning…but the remote course was shut down quite a few years ago.

  3. @Ruth I know. It was a travesty that the Master of Human Factors was shut down, but that’s not the underlying problem.

    There are still many courses here in anthropology, social & cognitive psychology, etc. In other countries, where Human Factors certification is prevalent, you still find that very few people calling themselves web UX specialists have any of these quals – coming predominantly from graphic design or coding backgrounds. HF, anthropology, and psych ppl in technology usually work in mission critical jobs.

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