As user experience and related fields mature, so does the terminology, tools, processes, and roles involved in the process. But trends change over time. The number and types of roles expand or specialize, and then contract, favoring generalists with unicorn status. Different businesses and industries use different names for the same roles. It can be confusing for everyone involved, from HR departments and (potential) employees to leaders trying to build a great team with the right mix of skills and a limited headcount. Once you’ve got the team built out, you then have to make sure that everyone knows what their responsibilities are as well as who to collaborate with and when to do so. One role that is often misunderstood is the UX Engineer (UXE). So what exactly is a UXE? What do these professionals do, and why does your team need one?
Overview of the UX Design and Development Team
According to the Interaction Design Foundation, there are six essential roles within a user experience team. These roles are tailored a bit to the Design Thinking process but translate well into any methodology a team may use.
UI Designer – aka interaction designer. UX and UI are sometimes used interchangeably, and while they have similar skills, there are differences. These team members own the overall design of a product or feature. UI designers can be more focused on individual screens and functionality, even overlapping with visual design such as color or layout.
Product Designer – aka UX Designer. As with a UI Designer, the skills are similar, and the focus is on designing a user interface that people like using and can easily learn. THe product or UX designer looks at the bigger picture, considering the strategy of the product and it’s future road map or vision.
Visual Designer – aka graphic designer. This role is specialized to visuals and graphics. These professionals work closely with the UX or UI designers to achieve interactions while creating attractive, usable graphical themes and assets.
UX Researcher – aka usability tester. While designers handle their own research and user testing from time to time, this role is focused on conducting all types of research and testing to advocate for the users, and ensure that the designs are geared toward the best user experience possible.
Content Strategist – aka UX writer or information architect. These roles can also be highly specialized. The content strategist uses user research and UX principles to determine what content is needed and when to deploy it throughout a design. UX writers create the content while tailoring it to the audience and context of the product.
UX Engineer – aka UX unicorn. The UXE takes the designs and develops the code for the front end elements. They are skilled in both design and development, and can help design and development teams communicate to achieve the best UI possible.
From those basic categories the roles can still be combined, or further refined, depending on the size and needs of the team. A designer who is particularly skilled with both interaction and visual aspects may fill both roles. A product designer who enjoys CSS and building widgets could handle the UXE roles as well. Whatever the names of the roles, each team needs a unique mix of skills based on the products and channels they work in. The number of team members can be scaled based on the budget and skill set of the individual members, as well as the overall workload.
What is a UX Engineer Specifically
Google defines a UX Engineer as someone who can, “weave together strong design aesthetics with technical know-how.”
“UX unicorns [UX Engineers] are a rare and special breed of people who can not only contribute to all phases of the design process; they can also take charge of frontend development.” - Teo Yu Siang and the Interaction Design Foundation.
Core skills of a UXE include:
Human Computer Interaction
User Centered Design
There is no one “right” path to becoming a UXE. UXEs may come from an HCI or User Experience background, then learn that they enjoy actually building the interfaces and take steps to learn programming. Or they may come from a computer science background, and find that they enjoy figuring out what makes a particular widget or toggle work well for their users. A UXE does need a good mix of education and experience to be knowledgeable about UX concepts and design. He or she needs to be able to participate in user research, ideation, and iterative development, as well as having the ability to build the components needed for a design system, and actual end product.
What Does the UX Engineer Actually Do?
The specific responsibilities of a User Experience Engineer may look a little different depending on the design and development methodologies and process in place. Essentially though, they are involved in the entire process.
User Experience Engineers are not the same as User Experience Designers. Adding a User Experience Engineer to your team could be a great way to help your design team bring their vision to life, particularly if the front end development team is not closely connected to them organizationally, or functionally. User Experience Engineers understand user needs and know how to build components that serve their needs, while knowing how to talk to developers and testers to ensure the tech works seamlessly.