Intersted in UX?  Think More Broadly.

I spend a fair amount of time chatting with software programmers about UX and some want to make the switch towards the leading edge of development.

There are many ways people come to UX. Design is the natural pathway for many, but others become part of digital experience development through coding and it’s worth considering other pathways to drive value creation.

I fully support anyone who wants to be user-centric. But I think it’s worth a brief discussion on some of the professions surrounding and supporting and leading design, because there are many ways to be involved in the creation of value for customers.

UX, FE Developer or Product Development?

In the process of creating digital experiences, UX is one of several key roles I believe are key to getting things to customers.

Moving into UX

UX is super fun. No question about it. It’s a catch-all profession that encompasses everything for early research into people and motivations, through journey mapping and process flows, into detailed development of how things work, and ultimately how they look and behave for real people. Like any complex and diverse profession, to be good at it requires learning and even training. The cost of entry is basic skills and knowledge of tools and process and expectations. Without any background, it’ll be hard to break in since there are lots of people who do UX.

But, there are opportunities at entry level and a little basic training can go a long way to getting a foot in the door. Ideally you need to study UX and get a degree or certificate. You can do the Google online UX certificate as a starting point. There are lots of good UX books like the one linked below and you can do some personal projects to start generating a portfolio. Yeah that’s right, you will need a portfolio that shows your thinking and problem solving process when you apply for jobs.

Front-End Development

One area that is a great opportunity is becoming a Front-End developer. FE people build the UX and UI that is deployed for customers and it’s an area of constant change and evolution.

In the course of my career in digital product development, few things have been as important to the quality of experiences as the abilities of the software Front-End developers. I know that developing software is a complex team effort, but a good FE team or good FE developer embedded in SW scrum teams is absolutely key to making good UX and UI. I think good FE people are probably the most essential developers on any team.

As a burgeoning developers you can learn to code FE from scratch, build using React, Angular and other component library tools, or even use a platform like Airtable (basically codeless FE). If you can do all 3, well, BOOM! Another facet that extends your value is learning about Design Systems like Google Material Design and how to build these systems into code and deploy quickly. Modern platforms are all about speed of getting things to customers and measuring success, and then iterating to improve and adjust the value. If you can do FE, you will be directly involved in UX and in smaller companies you might even handle the UX and UI directly as the organization moves from startup through funding and growth.

Product Design and Product Management

Often within the structure of companies it is Product Owners and Product Managers that are responsible for defining exactly what ends up in the development process backlogs. Backlogs are the things that get prioritized, designed, built and deployed. Effective PMs need to learn about customers, figure out needs, come up with ideas for new features and value, decide how to measure success and then quarterback the process with Stakeholders, UX, Design, Software, Testing and DevOps to get things done. It’s a role that provides a lot of company value and drives growth.

These days, a lot of VALUE is created by product managers or product designers. You COULD start in UX, SW or anything and shift into PM. Or you could learn about PM and set a path for that over time.

I think UX is great and it’s a fun design role in any company. But that said, if you didn’t train in Design, there are a LOT of people you have to compete against for thise jobs. If your background is already in software, you may have greater advantage leveraging your propensity to code, since most UX people don’t do that. And that same code knowledge potentially makes you a formidable Product Manager, if you start out inside Agile teams and intimately learn the process.

Good hunting.

This article was updated on April 23, 2024

Mike McGuire

Design leader and manager - Strategic thinker driving vision and roadmap development delivering value to customers and the business.  Interested in product-led business, superlinear growth, data driven insights and  disruptive innovation.