UI/UX in Frontend Engineering

©2011, Martin Rinehart

UI/UX and Shop Size

In a large shop, designing the user interface (UI) and, more broadly, the user experience (UX), is a specialty. The frontend engineer is responsible for traslating the UI specification (from wireframes, PhotoShop PSDs and other documents) into working frontend code.

In a smaller shop, the frontend engineer is also responsible for designing the UI and the user experience. Where does the UI fit within the UX? The UI is the visible portion of the software. The UX includes the UI, the hardware on which it runs and the data behind it. (Would Facebook provide a compelling UX if it had only three members?)

One Company Rides UX

The UX depends on the hardware, software and data. Though he had no formal training, the greatest UX designer of the last century was Apple's Steve Jobs. He visited Xerox' Palo Alto Research Center and saw bit-mapped fonts on workstations with mice, connected by a local area network. Having seen the future, Jobs' team designed the Mac, one of the great successes in personal computers and then the iPod, iPhone and iPad. Today, Apple is the world's most valuable company, as measured by the stock market.

As a cautionary note, Jobs also insisted, in spite of the objections of his team, that the Mac mouse have just one button. Even a great UX designer can make a mistake.

UX in History

The UX concept grew from the older "usability" concept. How much training did the user require to make the software do his or her bidding? (Ideally, none. It should be obvious.) When utilitarian programs were joined by games, social networking and more it became important to extend "usability" (a still necessary but no longer sufficient condition) to UX. It is key that the user actually enjoy using the web site or web app.

UI/UX in Situ

The UI/UX designer can design the UI completely, but will seldom, if ever, have much say in the design of hardware or the supply of data. The UX designer has to carefully consider the hardware and data, then design the UI to provide the best UX. It's an art, not a science.


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