UX Engineer, is that really a thing?

I am a UX Engineer. I create prototypes at various levels of visual and functional fidelity, in order to learn from Users and identify solutions. I am often a bridge between design and implementation.

It can be a challenging to find a position in my line of work. For some months now I have been incrementally tweaking the description on my LinkedIn profile, attempting to better describe my strengths and what I can offer.

I sit rather awkwardly between Design and Engineering, you might call me a Design Engineer, a UX Engineer, or even a Prototyper. I’m most comfortable with the title UX Engineer, because it indicates a focus on user outcome.

Whatever we call it, I’m pleased to report that the number of enquires I receive is on the rise.

Where did the UX Engineer role come from?

How we define Front-end Development today is a popular topic of discussion, well articulated in The Great Divide by Chris Coyier. It seems the role can encompass any number of skills aside from the traditional HTML, CSS and vanilla Javascript. Some vacancies on job boards list must haves such as Java development, SQL, PHP, Ruby, YAML and more.

T shaped people

I started as a Front-end Developer, and understanding that technology moves fast I have accommodated the evolving definition over the years by learning Javascript engineering, Back-end technologies, Dev Ops tooling and various other things.

I became what I would affectionately define as a T-shaped person, with a skillset that consists of a broad range of general technical knowledge and a greater depth of knowledge in the domain of interface development.

Becoming a PI shaped person

There was something else that deeply motivated me – Empathy, and it’s driven me more and more towards working with users. So I have become decidedly PI shaped – choosing to focus not only the technology I love, but also the impact it has on people.

People and Pixels

For about half of my 14 years in digital now I have worked as an Engineer in UX, Design and Research teams – prototyping interfaces for discovery, stakeholder meetings and user testing sessions.

I thrive on finding out what is challenging people, and contributing with my technical experience towards solutions that enable them to achieve their goals and have wonderful experiences.

I can no longer build interfaces without asking questions like:

  • Which user need is driving this?
  • Are we implementing this technically, so that it is truly addressing a user need?
  • I wonder if X technology is now well supported enough to use here?

Diverse perspectives

The benefit of having a UX Engineer in your design process is not only that you can spot technical pitfalls ahead of time, it’s also that we can offer insight to technical potential – and this is not to say that others in the the team could not offer this insight. It’s really about having the most diverse conversation and involving multiple disciplines early on in the discovery process.

Prototyping

When you are building a prototype for discovery or user testing, it’s important to use the right tool for the job. Some questions can be answered with a paper prototype, many can be answered by prototypes built with tools like Figma, and some things are best answered with real code. Which level of visual and functional fidelity you apply will depend on the question and how much resource you have.

The good news is, having a UX Engineer in your design team will allow you to rapidly prototype interfaces that reproduce all the quirks and nuances of the target medium when you need it.. Without having to disrupt an Engineering team.

Conclusion

I get asked to explain my title quite often, and I hope I’ve encouraged more people than I’ve discouraged with this short post!

Companies such as Google, Spotify and Tesco have understood the value of employing UX Engineers in their design teams for years and they are reaping the benefits.


UX Engineering certainly is a thing, and it’s a thing that I will continue to champion.