Clarifying the 5+ roles of a “Front-End Web Developer”
Anyone who has looked for a job in this area understands there is widespread confusion about who does what when it comes to designing user experiences (UX) and building user interfaces (UI) in a web browser.
For example, the variety of titles seen in job postings is crazy:
- Senior UX Designer
- Front-end UX Developer
- Web Front-End Application Designer
- UI/UX Engineer
- Web UI Developer
- Front-end UX Ninja
- Junior Web Designer
- Front-End UX Architect
- Web / UI Designer
- Senior Front-End Engineer
- Front-end Unicorn
Looking at them in summary, it's usually some formulation of:
This is nuts, people. Who are we looking for, exactly? This may partially explain why there are so many terrible web experiences out there.
It's especially frustrating for someone with skills in visual- and/or experience design who is considering what exactly to learn to land a job in the world of the web.
(1) Creative Director
Someone needs to tie in the branding and business objectives of the company into the high-level visual and experience design of the product. This person needs to be a dreamer and influential visionary. If this role is lost at any point in the process, it can lead to team burnout and/or disillusionment with the project.
(2) UX Designer
While the high-level creative direction is being set, a member of the team needs to talk to a zillion potential users and get radically specific about the product objectives, content, views, feel, and flow. While it's best to start prototyping in a web browser ASAP, at this stage getting a decent set of wireframes in place is smart. The UX Designer of the project needs to know what can and cannot be done in a web browser from a technical perspective, and be disciplined about listening carefully to users, staying at this level of product development as long as possible while leaving the bulk of visual work to the UI Designer.
(3) UI Designer
Here is where the mood boards, color boards, and style tiles get rolled out and iterated with the team to figure out what exactly the UIs will look like. The best visual designers don't necessarily (in fact, rarely) make the best UX designers, so it's important to hire someone who can really nail the UIs. This is harder than you think, so set realistic budgets and timelines… (I'm looking at you, hiring manager).
(4) UI Developer
Every company/team thinks about these roles slightly differently, so I'm sure this can be divided in other ways, but the key takeaway is that building great web applications these days requires at least these 5 roles on the “front-end” alone.
[Author's note: I originally wrote this article in December 2014 and had it posted on my personal site here. I've recently migrated and redirected the few articles I had there over to Startup Rocket, including this one. Subscribe to my newsletter and I'll let you know when I get new articles up. Thanks!]