Why You Shouldn’t Hire A Designer/Developer Hybrid

   Agile Software Development
Why You Shouldn't Hire a Designer/Developer Hybrid

Career sites are littered with “UX/UI Developer” or “User Experience Designer/Developer” positions, which include a mish-mash of UX, visual design, and development responsibilities, often written as a confusing set of job duties and qualifications that don’t mesh very well together.

As a user experience professional, I’ve learned to avoid these positions like the plague. As a hiring company, you should avoid posting them. Here’s why.

It doesn’t make sense to applicants

Of course it’s true that positions overlap and that good designers (and developers) should have a wide range of skills. But, when you post a position for a UX/UI Developer, you’re asking for a magical solution to your problems — someone who can literally do it all from figuring out user needs to delivering final live code. Do these people exist? In theory, sure. Some people can think like a UX designer, have strong visual design skills, and can also code. The industry has adopted the term “unicorn” for these people (cringe). But, guess what? By hiring this role, you’re going to spread this person too thin to do anything really great.

Here’s a UX/Developer hybrid job description ripped fresh off a popular job site from a nice-looking technology company in San Jose:

“The Front-End Designer / Developer will work with domain experts, product owners, software engineering, project management, and other teams across the company to define, design, and specify user behaviors for new locationing products. The preferred candidate will have extensive experience with a variety of interaction styles and product types, including mobile user interfaces. She or he will also have considerable expertise in all aspects of user-centered design including user research, concept development, use-case development, mockups and wireframes, visual UI design, design reviews, and usability testing.”

OK, so they want someone to define and design interfaces… great! And they want user centered design experience, user research, wireframes, mockups, usability testing… hey, this sounds like a great design job!

Qualifications

  • Bachelor Degree in Computer Science
  • 5+ years experience in development role
  • Mobile app development (Windows 10, Android and iOS)
  • Web and mobile optimized web development and responsive web design
  • HTML 5, CSS, Javascript, jQuery, AngularJS, ReactJS, ExtJS and Flask

Well, let’s see… computer science degree, 5 years of development experience, AngularJS… wait, is this a design job or a development job? How does 5 years of experience with jQuery help you to empathize with users? These qualifications don’t include a single thing that a designer would need to know how to do. If you read between the lines, this position is actually for a talented developer who can somehow also handle all the many aspects of research and design needed to make a great product. Ouch!

“Hey, I’m calling about the UX position we have available here. You’re a user experience designer, right? So, first question – how are your JavaScript and jQuery skills?”

Hybrid positions get created for the wrong reasons

Here are some of the reasons these do-it-all positions get made:

Poor strategy – Many times recruiters, managers, or HR staff simply don’t know what is needed in order to design and develop a great product, or communication is misunderstood when communicating those needs to HR or a recruiter. Position titles are often based on what the market standard seems to be, so recruiters reach for the title that seems to cover everything rather than leave potential responsibilities out.

Lack of design thinking – Sometimes what a company is really looking for is just a developer who is able to make things quickly that aren’t terrible looking. That’s fine, but it shows a lack of interest in putting real resources into a good user-centered design process. Sometimes UX and visual design are just considered “icing” rather than a core part of the product development process.

Low budget – Sometimes a company just “can’t” hire a separate designer and developer, much less a team of three. This is common on extremely small startup teams – and it’s understandable.

Putting “UX” in a job title is appealing right now – Unfortunately, some companies just want to be able to say they consider UX when doing their work because it is fashionable right now and they want to please their clients, board, or whoever. So, into the job description it goes.

Too much responsibility and too little collaboration

There are several problems you run into when you have a single person doing UX, visual design, and development work:

Resources – a person still only has 40 hours a week (or 50, or 35, or whatever – choose your number) and you’ve just given them three or four complicated jobs to spread their work between. This leads to either cutting out key steps to meet a deadline (“we’ll just skip usability testing so we can get on to development for this feature”) or, of course, delays. There is no working in parallel where one feature is being designed while another is being programmed, because the same person has to do both. Now add two or three projects happening at once. Your awesome UX/UI/Developer unicorn has now become the world’s biggest bottleneck.

Fatigue – It’s a lot to juggle the entire experience of a product from interactions, to visuals, to code. At any kind of reasonable pace, burn out will happen and corners will get cut. On top of that, continuing professional development is way more difficult when someone is trying to be an expert in three fields instead of one.

Bias – Possibly worst of all, a person in charge of three jobs is going to resist major changes and new ideas at least a little bit more if they know it will cause them to personally have to re-work everything from the ground up. If someone has already done a bunch of code or will need to write code, it’s awfully tempting to just make something easier to program and then justify how it’s “fine” for user experience.

They also have the only eyes on the work, so they don’t benefit from the valuable critique of other team members.

The point? A team of a few people with complementary skills can accomplish a lot more than a single person. In a given time frame, they can build a better product because they have the energy and resources to test, innovate and re-imagine ideas.

You can’t afford to short change user experience

Creating positions that blend so much responsibility into one role almost always means that either user experience will suffer or the work will take much longer. Experience can’t be underestimated when it comes to building or re-thinking an important product.

User experience design, done right, is not just putting together a series of screens. A good UX process helps to build the right product through user research, validation, testing, prototyping, data analysis, and much more. It means diving head first into a user’s world and understanding the entire experience, inside and outside the product.

What could be more important than building the right thing? Don’t put your project at risk by burning out one person who is trying to accomplish everything needed to create a great product. Be committed to an awesome experience from the outset by building the right team.


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