Illustration by Simona Toader
These days, there are a growing number of companies looking for UX engineers, and although this role is becoming increasingly popular among many companies, it’s not as familiar as the term “UX designer”. The “designer” role is arguably used most often when talking about the person responsible for improving the overall experience of a product, whereas a UX engineer is a front-end engineer who focuses on the technical aspects of the entire design system. There are many more programs and courses that train and upskill individuals in UX design in response to the demand for UX designers, but this doesn’t minimize the importance of UX engineers, as well, which we’ll explore in this article.
UX engineering defined
The term UX, or user experience, was coined by Don Norman, a pioneer in the field of UX design. He defines UX as the experience that includes “all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”
With that said, a UX engineer plays an integral part in the end-user’s interaction with a digital product. Without interactivity, a user cannot complete a task. This ranges from clicking a button with a mouse or swiping using a finger. The UX engineer is responsible for making sure that the user is able to do both.
Not only that, but they also must anticipate the appropriate interactivity. This means determining if a user should double-tap, or tap and hold, to activate a feature within an application. To make that decision, a UX engineer must be able to communicate with the UX design team. Engineers use their knowledge to identify how a user currently behaves when interacting with specific design elements, which informs UX designers as they conduct usability testing to evaluate the success of an interaction once it’s developed.
A UX engineer’s focus on technical elements of a user’s experience is part of what separates them from other types of software engineers. Decisions about what to build and how it’s built are rooted in user research. This data either comes directly from the UX engineer’s conversations with users or by analyzing how those users engage with a prototype. The UX engineer’s job is to reduce any potential friction through the final production stages of the digital product.
5 skills required to become a UX engineer
What skills do you need to be successful as a UX engineer? Some of the skills are similar to those of a UX designer, but the differences lie mostly in the tools and the technical skills required.
2: Version control
The UX process is iterative, and changes will always occur when building a digital product. Git and Team Foundation Server (TFS) are platforms that help you manage those changes, so it’s helpful to understand how to use them and other similar platforms. Another bonus soft skill here: being flexible! If you’re not ready for the constant changes, you might struggle as a UX engineer.
3: Testing and debugging
Testing is important for a UX engineering role because it helps catch and fix issues before a product ships. UX designers are also responsible for testing their prototypes. However, the goal of a UX engineer is different; they are concerned, first and foremost, with how well the product functions technically. Testing a product lets a UX engineer know if adjustments need to be made to the code or if a new code needs to be written.
Testing also allows for a level of interactivity with the user that may have been overlooked during development. A UX engineer is responsible for producing prototypes that require coding and cannot be created using design software. This level of front-end development is valuable and informative to the final development.
When prototyping, one of the tools that is unique to a UX engineer is Chrome’s Developer Tools (Dev Tools). It’s a simple yet impactful tool designed to help developers edit their code and view the changes before making final adjustments. It’s a form of prototyping that doesn’t involve the user but can result in much better user experiences.
4: UI design principles
Although it’s not the biggest skill requirement for a UX engineer, having an understanding of user interface (UI) design principles is highly valued. This doesn’t mean a UX engineer is responsible for creating wireframes; it means that they are equipped with the vocabulary and understanding of UI design principles, allowing them to do their job more efficiently. It also helps them communicate better with UX designers, which is a big part of their job.
For example, a common UI design principle is the sizing and spacing of buttons on digital interfaces. Buttons are usually spaced between 12 to 48 pixels, and the touch target or the actual size of the button should be a minimum of 48dp x 48dp, with 8dp between the different touchpoints. Knowing these standard dimensions helps a UX engineer build a more successful product. The goal of employing UI principles is to ensure that users can quickly get familiar with your product, helping them engage more intuitively and thereby reducing the number of errors in the final product, something that is paramount for the UX engineer.
If you ask anyone in UX what their “superpower” is, many may say empathy. At its core, the field of UX is about understanding your target user and then designing according to what will truly benefit their life. Empathy in particular is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Why is this so important? UX engineers draw from their empathetic observations to communicate with UX designers as advocates for both the user and the engineering team and its capabilities. This soft skill is vital and oftentimes overlooked. Working effectively with others is the roadmap to success; not having empathy can cause friction in communication and ultimately negatively impact the end user’s experience. Empathy helps you put yourself in another team member’s shoes, which improves collaboration.
Roles and responsibilities
UX engineers are not only advocates for the UX process in the engineering realm, but they are also champions of properly coded digital products. They are the bridge between the designers and software engineers. Ultimately, a UX engineer is a front-end engineer who facilitates effective design collaboration between the design and engineering teams.
Much like a UX designer, their job is to turn a complex problem into a more intuitive solution. They should understand the full scope of a project and know what the user needs to complete a task. They should be familiar with the language of basic UX guidelines, as well as the technical requirements to build a digital product.
A UX engineer is also an integral part of the designer-developer handoff. The UX engineer can help at this point in the process by communicating on behalf of both teams. Additional responsibilities of a UX engineer include:
- User research
- Concept design
- Advanced visual design (mock-ups)
- Usability tests
- User journey analysis
How to become a UX engineer
To become a UX engineer, like any profession, you’ll need to practice and work hard at it. More specifically though, you will need to learn the skills mentioned above, build a portfolio that demonstrates your ability to do the work required, and speak with others in the field.
Learn the skills
There are many ways to learn the skills of a UX engineer. One of them includes going through a bootcamp like General Assembly (GA). Although GA doesn’t offer a course specifically for UX engineers, it does offer classes in UX design and software engineering.
The option to learn independently is another route. This requires a high level of discipline and structure to complete. Learning how to code, test/debug, and manage version control are just some of the things you’ll need to know. Learning how to work with teams within this field is just as important. This includes learning how to communicate your ideas, thoughts, or concerns with others.
Build a portfolio
After learning the skills required, the next step to becoming a UX engineer is building your portfolio. Your portfolio should demonstrate all of the skills you’ve acquired and your specific area of interest within the field. If your goal is to have a position at Etsy and work on their website, which needs to effectively function on a variety of surfaces and devices, then your portfolio should showcase the ability to create responsive websites.
Get to know people
Finally, start meeting people in the industry. Knowing how to do the work (learning) and showing that you can do the work (your portfolio) mean very little if no one knows about you. Many would call that networking, but it’s also about being curious. Both things require stepping outside of your comfort zone. You can try introducing yourself to others online via virtual meetups, workshops, or even LinkedIn. This is another reason why learning within a bootcamp setting is so valuable since meeting others is built into the experience.
Are you ready to become a UX engineer?
The next step is determining if this is the right choice for your career goals. Digital experiences are more important than ever these days, especially when it comes to how a company represents itself online via their website or app design. As a UX engineer, there are endless opportunities to improve online experiences and find an amazing career.