The Distinct Discipline of Front End Design

Brad Frost very succinctly distills the importance of the distinction of front end design:

A frontend designer (who may also go by UI developer, client-side developer, UI engineer, design engineer, frontend architect, designer/developer, prototyper, unicorn, or Bo Jackson) lives in a sort of purgatory between worlds:

  • They understand UX principles and best practices, but may not spend their time conducting research, creating flows, and planning scenarios
  • They have a keen eye for aesthetics, but may not spend their time pouring over font pairings, comparing color palettes, or creating illustrations and icons.
  • They can write JavaScript, but may not spend their time writing application-level code, wiring up middleware, or debugging.
  • They understand the importance of backend development, but may not spend their time writing backend logic, spinning up servers, load testing, etc.

Of course this varies from person to person. Sometimes one person handles frontend design in addition to their other roles. They may primary be a developer (making them a “full-stack developer” as the kids say) or they may be a designer (making them a “full-stack designer” I guess?). Sometimes – especially as organizations get larger – frontend design is handled by people who often find themselves awkwardly siloed in one department or another.

This dichotomy is especially challenging in an organization that expects application developers with little to no front end design experience to handle the heavy lifting of developing robust and secure applications along with delivering a pleasant and manageable user interaction experience. It’s a tough job that only the most uniquely qualified individual or team can handle. Organizations who wish to succeed in delivering great applications should seriously consider the importance of the right skill mix when building their development teams.