Why you should want to be a user experience developer

Paul Boag

If you want to secure your future as a developer, become one of the new generation of user experience developers.

How come we only have user experience designers? It is not like they have the monopoly on influencing the user experience. Take developers for example. Performance, security and many other decisions they make everyday impact the users experience.

If you are a developer it is time to start trumpeting your commitment to user experience. It is time to become a user experience developer. The reason? Because user experience is becoming crucial to business success and management knows it.

Why become a user experience developer

Traditional marketing is failing. People are blind to advertising and have resorted to installing ad blockers. But they do listen to friends and family. Heck they listen to complete strangers before they listen to marketers.

Companies have to keep their customers happy. If they offer them a great experience they tell the world. But they will be just as quick to share bad experiences.

That means user experience is becoming a key differentiator in almost all sectors. Whatever your role, if you can show that you bring benefit to the user experience, management will value you more.

What developers can bring to user experience

In many organisations developers have as big an impact on user experience as any designer. Designers often produce Photoshop Comps. But these ‘mockups’ of a user interface are only a fraction of what it takes to create a good user experience. It falls to the developer to turn these images into a working, breathing and usable experience.

Think for a moment of all the decisions that often fall to a developer.

  • How is validation going to work on this form?
  • What wording will appear on the error messages?
  • How do we make the page load faster?
  • What trade-off will we make between security and the usability of passwords?
  • How is this page going to work on a mobile device?
  • How are we going to deal with obscure edge cases?

The list could go on. The truth is that developers are a crucial part of the user experience. But like so much that the developer does, nobody notices it unless it goes wrong.

Where developers can damage the user experience

We have all suffered at the hands of a developer who doesn’t see user experience as their job. Country dropdown menus are one of my personal favourites. Developers who copy a long list of countries without stopping and asking whether all those countries need to be there. I swear to you that I have used country dropdown menus that included Antarctica. I challenge you to find a company online who ships there!

The Blizzard 404 page was featured by Creative Bloqs as an example of a great error page. But in truth it just blames the user and provides no help.
The Blizzard 404 page was featured by Creative Bloqs as an example of a great error page. But in truth it just blames the user and provides no help.

Then of course there are errors. If I see one more 404 error page with the words “this is not the page you are looking for” I will scream. Of course designers are just as culpable as developers on this one.

So it goes on. Constraints on data entry that frustrate users. Passwords that are too complex to ever remember. Form fields that the developer should have hidden until relevant to the user.

CAPTCHA is a great example of where we suffer at the hands of developers

You could argue these are things the designer should pick up on. It would be a fair argument. But the truth is designers often walk away once they have handed over a Photoshop file. They are either too busy or too distracted to follow the design through. That is when it falls to the developer.

Where to begin your journey as a user experience developer

Creating a great user experience should be everybody’s responsibility. Unfortunately the idea that UX is a designers role is so deep that there is little written for developers. Frustratingly, if a developer wants to understand user experience they have to wade through information written for designers.

I am hoping to do something about that. I am in the middle of putting together a training course for developers. One that introduces them to the basics of user experience and the role they can play. Something that can empower developers to adopt the user experience mandate.

But in the meantime I recommend doing three things.

Work with your designer

First, make sure you are sitting next to your designer. Work with them as closely as you can. Don’t be afraid to ask to see their work in progress and raise with them the various decisions you often end up making alone.

By doing so you will learn more about the user experience. But you will also educate the designer about some of the broader issues of user experience that they often overlook.

Become a champion of usability testing

Second, make sure you get to sit in on usability test sessions. In fact make sure you are recommending areas that you would like covered in these sessions. Consider any decision you make that impacts the user as a hypothesis. A hypothesis that will need testing.

If that is something that is not happening in your organisation, make it happen. It doesn’t even need to happen face to face. Just use a service like usertesting.com.

Refer to yourself as a user experience developer

Finally adopt the title of user experience developer. Even if it is not official, start calling yourself one. Everybody says that job titles don’t matter but I disagree. If you call yourself a user experience developer then two things will happen. First, you will work harder to live up to the title by putting user needs first. Second, people will start consulting you about user experience issues. That way you will stop being an outsider in creating better user experiences. You will change people’s perception of your role.