Dear Hiring Manager: UX Designers do not need to code

Dear Hiring Manager: UX Designers do not need to code

Summary:

Hiring managers want the best possible employees working on their team. It seems like the more skills a person has, the better candidate they are. But even though hiring managers want every skill under the sun, Amber Stechyshyn shares why, when it comes to UX designers, more isn’t always better.

Dear Hiring Managers,

I get it. I really do. You want the best possible employees on your team, and it seems like the more skills that they have, the better candidate they are. You’re not the first to think this way – there’s plenty of controversy in the UX industry, and other industries too. 

When I worked in special events, I found that many jobs expected me to not only be an excellent event designer and manager, but also a fantastic salesperson. The problem was, if I was out driving around, trying to drum up sales, I wasn’t working on my clients’ events.

The same can be said for user experience design and development. The focus should be on researching and testing and planning out the best user experience for the users, not coding and debugging. UX designers should be able to focus on continuing to learn their craft, rather than aspiring to do everything. 

They are two different jobs

The best metaphor I’ve come across in my digital travels is that of the architect and the construction worker. The architect designs and plans out the blueprints for a building. A construction worker then takes those plans and builds the building according to the plans. You won’t find anyone expecting an architect to pick up a tool belt and build a building, but that is exactly some people expect from UX Designers in the digital space.

Probably not a UX designer.

UX Designers research and plan out the apps and websites, and create digital blueprints in the form of sitemaps and wireframes. Developers build the app or site, using the digital blueprints provided by the designers as their guide.

While there needs to be some understanding of coding principles and technical frameworks, a UX Designer doesn’t need to be able to code to understand how it works. They accomplish entirely different tasks.

Takeaway: Hiring Managers should limit the number of skills listed on job postings to those that are only related to UX.

Divided focus means less quality work

Admittedly, there are rare Unicorns – people who have skills in both development and UX. Perhaps they started their career as a developer then decided to pick up some UX skills to make their resume stand out, or maybe someone told the UX designer that they needed to be able to write code so they took a crash course online in JavaScript or Ruby.

The key point is that they started in one then dabbled in the other – the majority of their skill set is focused on one field rather than both.

A good designer is constantly looking for better ways to design, and a coder is always looking for better, more efficient code. To take focus away from their own field and work makes it likely the quality could be diminished, and that’s never the goal of a product. According to this article from the Harvard Business review, “Quality improves when more of the work that goes into a final product is done by people who are good at it.”

Takeaway: Competent UX designers may feel like they are a bad fit for the job if they don’t have every UX and coding skill under the sun, so you may end up scaring off good candidates if you list coding as a required skill.

From ideation to creation: UX is the buffer

In the past, clients used to go to a web designer with their business idea and then the web designer would build it for them. If they were lucky, the client would have a good idea of their customers and the web designer would have decent design skills and it would be a successful website.  

Websites, however, are a dime a dozen and there are more bad websites than good. Nowadays, the focus is on creating good content and a good user experience so products stand out from their competitors, and people become repeat users.

That is why User Experience Design was created – clients can now speak with a UX designer who will help them research their customer base, figure out what their goals are, and create designs to bring to the developers, building only when the content and designs have been approved at every level. It’s a longer process, but it results in better products and fewer rebuilds.

Takeaway: Good research skills are essential to UX design and should be the focus of the job requirements. Job postings should also focus on research skills.

Wearing different hats is fine, but make sure they’re similar

Finding the right candidate for a position can be difficult, especially in smaller companies that need people who can multi-task and possibly work in other departments. This can be done right if one pays attention to the skill sets of each candidate. UX might not fit into the development or tech departments, but marketing, research, product design, and even project management would gladly welcome the skills and perspective of a UX Designer.

Takeaway: On job postings, list UX as your ‘must have’ skills, and then list similar skills as ‘nice to have’. Be open to those applicants who have a background that is not UX – they are more likely to have extra skills in another department.

Concluding thoughts

The field of UX design is surprisingly large considering its relative youth as an area of expertise. It can be difficult to wade through all the possible candidates and their varied skills and backgrounds.

Your job will be much easier, however, if you separate the user experience experts from the developers. Just remember the following points:

  • User experience design and web development are two different fields of study that just happen to work together. 
  • A dedicated UX designer and a dedicated developer will provide better quality work than someone who is both a UX designer AND a developer. 
  • User experience design is focused on the users and how to reach them successfully, which creates a necessary buffer between the product idea and the product creation. This results in more effective products from the get-go and less need for rebuilds later. 
  • If you’re combining roles in the company, combine UX designers with similar roles and departments, such as research, marketing, and product design.

Why do you think hiring managers expect UX designers to have such an extensive skill set? Let us know in the forums!

Written by
Amber Stechyshyn
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12 comments
  • UX design and UX development are not separate concerns and they inform each other. As a hiring manager, I don’t hire UX designers who won’t code. And, I don’t know any UX managers in small sized to medium-large sized businesses who hire UXers who aren’t, at the very least, willing to do both. Some folks are stronger in design and some are stronger in development, but everyone on my team is interested and excited about having the opportunity to do both.

    • Thanks for sharing, Kyle, and good to hear what you’re seeing as a hiring manager in Boston. I still think that, fundamentally and primarily, a UX designer should be involved in translating business strategy via user research and design vision, but the observation you share seems to continue the long-running confusion of UX with user interface tactical execution. Amber isn’t saying interaction designers and front-end developers shouldn’t both run usability tests and be able to code HTML/CSS, she’s saying that if you’re exclusively hiring these roles then you’re missing out on a lot of user-centred talent when it has the most to offer, especially to small and medium sized businesses.

    • Unfortunately this is still the case in many companies and there are many misconceptions about what an UX Designer should actually do. While I can code, I’m not willing to take a front-end developer role disguised under ‘UX Designer’ job title simply because this is not what I want to focus on. If my focus was on development, then I’d apply for a developer role instead. UX on its own (even before we reach the Design stage) is already a large area, it’s not realistic enough to expect a single person to do UX Research, Design AND Development, and master all areas. When you hire an ‘UXer who has to code’ (there’s a difference between ‘can’ and ‘do’) you are in fact hiring a front end developer for your business.

    • Kyle, I’m very curious: which languages do you expect your coders to know? HTML / CSS? How about frameworks—Ember, React, or Angular? And do you prefer Swift or Objective C when designing iOS apps? I’m guessing you do Android in your shop, so the designers must also be versed in Java? Are you designing Windows apps? So, C#?

      ” I don’t know any UX managers in small sized to medium-large sized businesses who hire UXers who aren’t, at the very least, willing to do both.” Well, now you know one. Frankly, I like to hire people who are at the top of their game in their area of expertise, not generalists who are “okay” at many things.

      • Kyle is funny.

        Michael, I answered in your same fashion on another post. —verbatim. A front-end web dev makes 60-80k. Good luck getting a good UX designer for less than 140k. Hiring managers and recruiters are the least informed on this topic. Smart UX is all about research, service design and understanding user needs and how that equates to smart preferable experiences and futures. There are tons of frameworks and code stacks, as you said. Why stop at CSS and HTML? Why not get your UX designers to take out the trash and pick up your dry cleaning as well. Front-end dev is the production help and a stage of a web design project. Period. User experience spans muli-channels, devices, platforms and doesn’t just equate to product UI either. Sometimes I work on journeys and supply chains that actually change the business model. Sometimes I gather so much valuable data from primary and secondary that those user requirements turn into new, profitable models for the business side and expose weak offerings that are innefectual. That’s what experience means. Not code on a webpage.

        I guess in these warped, delusional mindsets Frank Lloyd Wright should have spent more time on being a sheetrocker or a carpenter. Maybe a race-car driver should spend more time working on transmissions.

        Michael, Ana, Luke all get it and have this right. After this article and some of these comments I think we should post some diagrams of human brain function and heatmaps of activity showing parts that are used for UX vs. Coding with straight linear logic. I do 30 different jobs and produce as many types of artifacts being a UX designer. Coding isn’t one of them. Good CTOs and Product managers know this and support this. Understanding how and why code works isn’t the same as writing it.

  • As a UX Manager, I hire UXers who produce extremely impressive work and can logically explain design theory, and how it applies to business development. Not once do I ever mention coding.

    Every UXer who can code (that I have come across) does not understand and can not passingly explain design theory and how it relates to business development.
    I find them to be ok at both fields but not great in one or the other.

    I’ve been designing for 23 years and not once has anyone ever asked me to code in any way, shape, fashion, or form.

    I do however, believe that it is very helpful for digital designers in general to have an understanding of coding technologies and their impact on interaction design.

  • Hi Amber,

    The Architect – Builder metaphor that you mentioned was the basis for John Zachman to create a whole concept which is now known as Enterprise Architecture.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zachman_Framework

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zachman_Framework#/media/File:Simplification_Zachman_Enterprise_Framework.jpg

    Books, articles and consultancies have evolved from this simple but profound idea simply because Architecture & Construction has been around for thousands of years (ask the Egyptians, Aztecs, Romans, Persians…)

  • I am one of those unicorns. I design and code. I’ve worked for small companies where I’ve had to wear many hats. And worked at an enterprise level with a UX team where I was more specialized. I’m glad to have been a generalist…I understand how it all works. But I’d rather specialize and focus on excellence in one field and why I’m currently looking to move into a clear UX role.

  • I think it’s not 100% necessary, but a big plus. Because people who knows how to code understand better standarts and how things are working.

    It always good to involve developer into design process. Because after development some things may function different in real world environment than designer planned.

    And then it comes back to design step. Design errors often doubles work and breakes deadlines.

  • With this attitude a UX designer who can code is better off getting a job purely a front end developer. Better salary, less stress and frankly more respect due to the ‘scary black magic’ esteem most code illiterate people have.

  • I often hear the argument that UXers who also code can understand or help deliver a cleaner, better set of code, as if the “code” is the penultimate goal.

    We should remember the old saying “Customers don’t want a drill, they want a hole”. Customers don’t care about the code. They care about getting a product that meets customer and business goals, and THAT is what an expert, focused UXer can deliver.

    I think that many managers who hire a UX designer then expect them to spend time coding are simply pretending to do UXD. However, if you honestly don’t have enough UX work for a dedicated UXer, and you need to hire someone to fill multiple roles, why limit the secondary role to coding? Why not marketing, or technical writing, or graphic design for print?

    Better yet, let that UXer help you evangelize to customers about the benefits of user-centered design, and soon you will have so much business that you need to hire ANOTHER dedicated UX designer!