Dear Hiring Manager: UX Designers do not need to code

Dear Hiring Managers,

I get it. I really do. You want the best possible employees on your team, and it seems like the more skills that they have, the better candidate they are. You’re not the first to think this way – there’s plenty of controversy in the UX industry, and other industries too. 

When I worked in special events, I found that many jobs expected me to not only be an excellent event designer and manager, but also a fantastic salesperson. The problem was, if I was out driving around, trying to drum up sales, I wasn’t working on my clients’ events.

The same can be said for user experience design and development. The focus should be on researching and testing and planning out the best user experience for the users, not coding and debugging. UX designers should be able to focus on continuing to learn their craft, rather than aspiring to do everything. 

They are two different jobs

The best metaphor I’ve come across in my digital travels is that of the architect and the construction worker. The architect designs and plans out the blueprints for a building. A construction worker then takes those plans and builds the building according to the plans. You won’t find anyone expecting an architect to pick up a tool belt and build a building, but that is exactly some people expect from UX Designers in the digital space.

UX designer web developer
Probably not a UX designer.

UX Designers research and plan out the apps and websites, and create digital blueprints in the form of sitemaps and wireframes. Developers build the app or site, using the digital blueprints provided by the designers as their guide.

While there needs to be some understanding of coding principles and technical frameworks, a UX Designer doesn’t need to be able to code to understand how it works. They accomplish entirely different tasks.

Takeaway: Hiring Managers should limit the number of skills listed on job postings to those that are only related to UX.

Divided focus means less quality work

Admittedly, there are rare Unicorns – people who have skills in both development and UX. Perhaps they started their career as a developer then decided to pick up some UX skills to make their resume stand out, or maybe someone told the UX designer that they needed to be able to write code so they took a crash course online in JavaScript or Ruby.

The key point is that they started in one then dabbled in the other – the majority of their skill set is focused on one field rather than both.

A good designer is constantly looking for better ways to design, and a coder is always looking for better, more efficient code. To take focus away from their own field and work makes it likely the quality could be diminished, and that’s never the goal of a product. According to this article from the Harvard Business review, “Quality improves when more of the work that goes into a final product is done by people who are good at it.”

Takeaway: Competent UX designers may feel like they are a bad fit for the job if they don’t have every UX and coding skill under the sun, so you may end up scaring off good candidates if you list coding as a required skill.

From ideation to creation: UX is the buffer

In the past, clients used to go to a web designer with their business idea and then the web designer would build it for them. If they were lucky, the client would have a good idea of their customers and the web designer would have decent design skills and it would be a successful website.  

Websites, however, are a dime a dozen and there are more bad websites than good. Nowadays, the focus is on creating good content and a good user experience so products stand out from their competitors, and people become repeat users.

That is why User Experience Design was created – clients can now speak with a UX designer who will help them research their customer base, figure out what their goals are, and create designs to bring to the developers, building only when the content and designs have been approved at every level. It’s a longer process, but it results in better products and fewer rebuilds.

Takeaway: Good research skills are essential to UX design and should be the focus of the job requirements. Job postings should also focus on research skills.

Wearing different hats is fine, but make sure they’re similar

Finding the right candidate for a position can be difficult, especially in smaller companies that need people who can multi-task and possibly work in other departments. This can be done right if one pays attention to the skill sets of each candidate. UX might not fit into the development or tech departments, but marketing, research, product design, and even project management would gladly welcome the skills and perspective of a UX Designer.

Takeaway: On job postings, list UX as your ‘must have’ skills, and then list similar skills as ‘nice to have’. Be open to those applicants who have a background that is not UX – they are more likely to have extra skills in another department.

Concluding thoughts

The field of UX design is surprisingly large considering its relative youth as an area of expertise. It can be difficult to wade through all the possible candidates and their varied skills and backgrounds.

Your job will be much easier, however, if you separate the user experience experts from the developers. Just remember the following points:

  • User experience design and web development are two different fields of study that just happen to work together. 
  • A dedicated UX designer and a dedicated developer will provide better quality work than someone who is both a UX designer AND a developer. 
  • User experience design is focused on the users and how to reach them successfully, which creates a necessary buffer between the product idea and the product creation. This results in more effective products from the get-go and less need for rebuilds later. 
  • If you’re combining roles in the company, combine UX designers with similar roles and departments, such as research, marketing, and product design.