The Emerging Role of the Front-end Designer/Developer

We created our new Front-end Web Designer/Developer Bootcamp in response to a hiring trend that we’ve seen among our partner companies and a career track we’ve observed among our graduates. This is the emergence of a “hybrid” UI/UX designer/front-end developer role on teams in both agency/consulting organizations as well as in tech/internet product development shops. We announced our new bootcamp a few weeks ago and we are taking applications now for the first offering starting in January.

One well known practitioner that has been talking and writing about this trend for several years is Brad Frost. Frost uses the term “Frontend Design” to refer to these hybrids who both handle UI/UX design as well as implement the design in front-end code. Last Friday, he posted a new entry on his blog titled “Full Stack Developers.” In it Frost speaks to the trend and the reasons for the trend.

The money quote (at least for me, but read the whole thing) in his post is this:

Frontend design is a critical part of the design and development process. Creating UIs that are responsive, performant, accessible, compatible, flexible, extensible, and resilient is tough work. That’s why it’s a good idea to treat frontend as a first-class citizen in your organization and dedicate some people that can really own frontend code. Frontend designers can straddle the line between design and development, serving as mortar that can hold the team together.

This most recent post made me recall his earlier post from early 2016 titled “Frontend Design.” In it, Frost defines the nature and responsibilities of the frontend designer as opposed to the pure designer and the classic back-end or full-stack software engineer:

Somewhere between design – a world of personas, pixels, and polish – and engineering – a world of logic, loops, and linux – lies frontend design. Frontend design involves creating the HTML, CSS, and presentational JavaScript code that makes up a user interface.

A frontend designer (who may also go by UI developer, client-side developer, UI engineer, design engineer, frontend architect, designer/developer, prototyper, unicorn, or Bo Jackson) lives in a sort of purgatory between worlds:

  • They understand UX principles and best practices, but may not spend their time conducting research, creating flows, and planning scenarios
  • They have a keen eye for aesthetics, but may not spend their time pouring over font pairings, comparing color palettes, or creating illustrations and icons.
  • They can write JavaScript, but may not spend their time writing application-level code, wiring up middleware, or debugging.
  • They understand the importance of backend development, but may not spend their time writing backend logic, spinning up servers, load testing, etc.

If you’d like to dig deeper into this issue, and why this new role is emerging, Frost is one of the people you should be checking out. In addition to Frontend Design, Frost created the Atomic Design methodology and is an important voice in the UI/UX design and front-end development communities. If you don’t know him and his work, you should. You can find his blog at bradfrost.com/blog.

More Recent Posts: