Comments for Accidental designer

First of all, you made the frontpage of Hacker News -- was odd seeing you there Phae :D

This is something I struggled with for a while in my professional life, until I decided to explicitly specialise as a front-end developer. So I've done that for a while, but now I find that in my job (a small Agile team with 3 back-end devs, myself on front-end, and a ux/designer guy) I'm needing to generalise a little. So I often find myself learning a bit of Python here, and having an opinion with regard to ux/design decision there.

One advantage to being a front-end developer doing ux/design work is that you've got a working knowledge of the feasibility of doing things with the technology available, which helps...

With regards to personal projects though, as is the nature of them, I'll happily be the designer, will happily read up on UX and apply my working knowledge, and I'll even do some back-end work.

I've been struggling with a similar dilemma. Not coming from either a visual design or particularly heavy programming background, but finding myself somehow in the mix.

Of course, ultimately it depends on the person - there's designers and developers who do 'the other side' down, and there's others who acknowledge the stuff they can't do, and the importance of the other skills. I'd like to think I'm in the latter camp, but it can be tough in environments where you're expected to be one or the other.

More thoughts here: http://www.r4isstatic.com/247 (on how I think the 'web' bit is often forgotten - designing webs is a skill, too)

by Paul at
Your current design director is renowned for his self-awareness.
by John at
Great post Francis. I feel the same way about being a front-end turned ExpressionEngine developer who also does the wireframing (and a lot else besides). Does this mean I can call myself an information architect? Am I a user experience designer? I've always thought that was what other people did but when I attended UX London this year one thing I learned was that we all have the same concerns.

Leisa Reichelt wrote about the "UX developer" earlier this year on her blog (What is a UX Developer and are they really a thing?). My reaction, like you're saying too, is really that all front-end developers should have the users in mind, but as there is more competition for work, perhaps using this title is a way to set yourself apart and attract the kind of employers/contracts/projects where your input will be valued.

I just call myself web developer. It's not very precise which for me is the point since what I do doesn't fit neatly into one category.

The other reason why I prefer a somewhat vague title is that concreteness invites forming stronger opinion about my role than merited and can avoid a chat of what I actually do.

In practice, if I need to be short, I explain my work as everything except visual design.

by Marko at
Good post. It's unfair of me, but I do sometimes feel that getting visual designers to do user interface design is sort of like asking kids to paint a nice mural on the new ship you're going to launch and then OH BY THE WAY let's get them to build the engine as well. :)

I'm a programmer, obviously. In a previous job I had the title 'software designer', which I liked. (Some people might read 'software design' as referring only to the internal architecture, but in that job, that wasn't the case.) I think developers are in a good position with regard to design. Developers (or in large projects, senior developers) are experienced in turning requirements into something that doesn't just work, but works well, and interface design fits a lot better as a part of that than it fits with visual design. Visual design does have problem-solving (how do you fit that text in, how do you lead the eye in the right sequence) but it's all a lot fluffier than the sequences of precise steps that are involved in user interface development


  1. It depends on the individual. Just as I feel visual designers often don't really have a great aptitude for UI design (although this is in my experience getting better, probably as they start to care about it more), the same can be true of developers. Some developers will naturally (if left alone) do something that's OK from a UI design perspective, some will naturally do something that's horrible.

  2. There is a bit of a problem in the turkeys/Christmas category if the same person is doing the software and UI design, as there could be a tendency to adopt the easier-to-develop option. You actually need a balance: easier-to-develop is important because there is always more work to do than time available, so it means you can get more done, but you also need a 'good enough' user interface (where 'good enough' depends on whether it's only going to be used by employees who will get familiar with it even if it's not as obvious as it could be, or the general public, etc). For this reason it can be useful to have visual designers do, or be highly involved in, UI design in order that the developer can argue with them and come up with a compromise explicitly (rather than the developer just deciding one arbitrarily).