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Product design

What is a UX Engineer and Do You Need One? A Comparison to UX Designer

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30 Jul

,

2023

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When you develop a SaaS product, the assistance of UX experts is immeasurable. You simply cannot expect to create a great user experience without them. But the roles and responsibilities of UX professionals may sometimes be confusing. For instance, terms like UX designer and UX engineer are often used interchangeably. But what is a UX engineer and what do they do, exactly? What are similarities and differences between UX designer and engineer? And most importantly, when do you need one?

If you're developing a SaaS product, you have to answer all these questions. As a pragmatic design agency, Eleken has both UX designers and UX engineers, and we sure know the difference between them. So, let us explain what UX engineers and designers are, and who you need to hire for your project!

UX engineer vs UX designer. What’s the difference?

Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room. What's the difference between a UX designer and UX engineer? Both roles are important for the project success, but their approach and skill sets are different. Here’s the difference.

In a nutshell, UX designers focus on creating user-centric products, employing design principles, user research, wireframing, prototyping, and user testing to ensure the final product meets the user's expectations. On the other hand, a UX engineer role is to apply engineering principles to the design of user experiences. This term is often used to emphasize their involvement in the technical implementation of the design.

Now, let's break down the comparison in a bit more detail.

UX designer and UX engineer responsibilities 

In one sentence, designers concentrate more on user experience, while engineers are more concerned with the technical side (duh). Let’s have a closer look.

UX designers remain user-centric

Design teams' main job is creating intuitive products that prioritize the needs and desires of the users. They strive to make the product visually appealing, easy to use, and enjoyable to interact with. By conducting user research and understanding user behaviors, preferences, and pain points, UX designers can craft designs that users find pleasant to operate with.

UX engineers focus on implementation 

A user experience engineer takes care of the technical implementation of the design. They work closely with the development team to ensure that the design can be effectively translated into functional code. UX engineers pay special attention to the project's technical requirements and constraints. They make sure that the design is implemented in a way that maintains the product's functionality and meets performance expectations. This involves considerations such as scalability, responsiveness across different devices, and compatibility with various browsers or platforms.

So, in what skills exactly do these roles translate? 

Designer vs UX engineer skills comparison

In reality, there's often some overlap, and the roles are not as clear-cut. Still, there are basic requirements specific for the two types of experts. 

What UX designers do

  • User research. UX designers are experts in understanding users and translating their needs into intuitive design solutions. They conduct user research to gain valuable insights into user behaviors, preferences, and pain points. This research helps them make informed design decisions that align with user expectations.
  • Wireframing. When it comes to visualizing the design, UX designers create wireframes, which are like blueprints that outline the layout and structure of the product. These wireframes provide a clear framework for the user interface without going into specific visual details. 
Oncon wireframe
OnCon
  • UX prototype. To bring the design to life and ensure its usability, UX designers build an interactive prototype. Prototypes allow users to experience and interact with the design, providing valuable feedback that helps refine the user experience.
  • User testing. UX designers also conduct user testing sessions to observe how real users interact with the design. By watching users navigate through the product and collecting their feedback, designers identify areas of improvement and make iterative changes to enhance usability.

What UX engineers do

  • Coding. UX engineers possess coding skills and technical know-how to implement the design effectively. They are skilled in languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. An engineer builds functional and interactive web interfaces with the help of these languages.
  • Software architecture. In addition to coding, UX engineers must have knowledge of software architecture. They understand how different components of a system interact with each other, considering factors like scalability, performance, and maintainability. This ensures that the design aligns with the technical requirements of the project.
UI/UX/developers meme
  • Technical implementation. Working closely with developers, UX engineers provide guidance and collaborate on the technical implementation of the design. They bridge the gap between design and development, ensuring that the design is accurately translated into functional code.
  • Design system integration. UX engineers also focus on integrating the design into a design system or component library. This promotes consistency and efficiency by enabling the reuse of design elements across different parts of the product, creating a cohesive user experience.

Who designers vs engineers collaborate with  

Finally, with whom each specialist has to work to achieve their goals?

UX designers 

Designers collaborate closely with various stakeholders, including project managers, developers, and business analysts. Their goal is to ensure the product meets the user's needs and aligns with the project's vision. 

UX engineers 

UX engineers primarily collaborate with developers, quality assurance engineers, and technical teams to implement the design effectively.

A typical UX designer/engineer workflow

To give you an even deeper understanding of the designer vs engineers roles and responsibilities, let's take a closer look at their respective workflows. 

UX engineer workflow includes:

  • Gathering requirements. The UX engineer begins by collaborating with UX designers, project managers, and stakeholders to understand the project requirements. They clarify the technical aspects of the design, discuss functionality, integrations, and technical constraints.
  • Technical planning. Based on the project requirements, the UX engineer creates a technical plan. They consider factors such as software architecture, development frameworks, and technologies that will be used to implement the design. They identify potential technical challenges and devise strategies to overcome them.
  • Collaboration with UX designers. The UX engineers collaborate with designers to ensure a smooth transition from design to development. They clarify design specifications, interaction details, and ensure that the design is technically feasible. They provide input on design elements that may impact performance or implementation.
  • Front-end development. The UX engineer starts the front-end development process, using coding languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to turn the design into functional web interfaces. They pay attention to details like layout, responsiveness, and user interactions to create a seamless user experience.
  • Integration and back-end development. Depending on the project requirements, the UX engineer may collaborate with back-end developers to integrate the front-end design with the back-end infrastructure. They ensure smooth data flow, functionality, and seamless interactions between different components of the system.
  • Testing and iteration. The UX engineer performs testing and quality assurance to identify and resolve any technical issues or bugs. They collaborate with the development team to address feedback and iterate on the implementation based on user testing and design refinements.
  • Collaboration with developers. Throughout the development process, the UX engineer collaborates with other developers, such as front-end developers, back-end developers, quality assurance engineers, and system administrators. They communicate technical requirements, address integration challenges, and so on.
  • Documentation and maintenance. The UX engineer creates documentation, such as coding guidelines or component libraries, to ensure consistency and facilitate future development efforts. They may also provide technical support and maintenance, addressing any issues that arise post-launch.

UX designer workflow

There are various design tools and methodologies UX designers can follow: human-centered design or design thinking (spoiler alert: you can actually combine them!!), design thinking vs design sprint, and agile. At Eleken, we most often follow the design thinking methodology, but tend to use it more as a guideline rather than a strict set of rules. 

Design thinking scheme

With this framework, a UX designer's workflow will roughly be as follows:

  • Empathize. The UX designer conducts user research, interviews, and observations to gain a deep understanding of the target users, their goals, motivations, and pain points. This step helps the designer develop empathy for the users and uncover valuable insights.
Process Street research
  • Define. Building on the research findings, the UX designer defines the problem or opportunity. They analyze the data collected during the Empathize phase and transform it into user personas, user journeys, and problem statements. This step helps the designer gain a clear understanding of what needs to be solved or improved.

For example, he's a customer journey map we created for Process Place redesign after we realized the messy and repetitive workflow was their main pain point. Visualizing it in such a way helps to streamline the user journey and ensure it's smooth and frictionless. 

Process Place redesign
  • Ideate. In this phase, the UX designer generates a wide range of ideas to address the defined problem. They facilitate brainstorming sessions, create sketches, or use other ideation techniques to encourage creative thinking. The emphasis is on quantity and variety, allowing for diverse solutions to be explored.
SCAMPER scheme
  • Prototype. Based on the selected ideas from the ideation phase, the UX designer creates low-fidelity or high-fidelity prototypes. These prototypes serve as tangible representations of the design concepts. They can be interactive wireframes, mockups, or even functional prototypes, depending on the project's needs. 
  • Test. The UX designer conducts user testing sessions to gather feedback on the prototypes. Users are invited to interact with the designs and provide insights on their usability, effectiveness, and satisfaction. This feedback helps the designer refine and iterate on the design to enhance the user experience.

Here's an example of screens we offered for A/B testing when designing Prift. We had two possible designs for a dashboard page that is supposed to help users make important financial decisions, so of course we wanted to hear from them. Users preferred the second option, and we went with it. 

Prift A/B testing
  • Iterate. Using the insights gained from user testing, the UX designer gradually improves the design. They make necessary adjustments, enhancements, and refinements based on user feedback and the project goals. This iterative process ensures that the design evolves and continually meets the user's needs.
  • Implement. The UX designer collaborates with engineering teams, developers, and other stakeholders to ensure the successful implementation of the design. They work closely with the development team, providing design specifications, assets, and guidance to bring the design to life. The designer maintains a clear line of communication to address any design-related questions or issues that arise during the implementation phase.

It might happen that some designs are simply not viable, or require more time than the client has. When we were working with Astraea, for example, we created a design that solved all the client's problems. But it would've taken a long time to implement and the client needed faster results to demonstrate the product to stakeholders. So, we focused on the little details we could improve immediately achieved great results nevertheless. 

Astraea screenshot
  • Evaluate. After the design is implemented and released, the UX designer evaluates its performance. They collect user feedback, analyze user metrics, and assess the design's impact on key performance indicators. This evaluation helps validate design decisions, identify areas for improvement, and informs future iterations or updates.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlv298EEDu4 

Now that we have a clear understanding of the difference between the two types of UX experts, let's move on to the most important issue.

So, what UX specialist do you need to hire?

With a combination of their skills, UX and engineering collaboration results in a pleasant experience and well-working product overall. That's all good in theory. But then reality strikes.

When you're working with a smaller organization or have a project with limited budgets, hiring both a dedicated UX designer and a UX engineer might not always be doable. But you don’t have to look for a UI/UX design engineer or any other unicorns. In most cases, it will be more than enough to bring in a UX designer with a little pinch of technical knowledge. These professionals are a valuable addition to any development team as they possess a combination of design and engineering skills. They can work closely with developers, ensuring that the designs are implemented correctly.

One of the great things about having a UX designer with a technical background is that they can provide insights during the design phase that take into account feasibility and technical constraints. Their technical know-how allows them to make informed decisions early on, ensuring that the designs are practical and align with what can be realistically implemented. This proactive approach saves time and effort by avoiding major design modifications later in the development process.

Design vs implementation meme

Additionally, a UX designer with technical skills can contribute to optimizing the user experience from a technical standpoint. They can make informed choices about performance, responsiveness, and compatibility, ensuring that the final product not only meets user expectations but also meets the necessary technical requirements.

So, even with limited resources, considering a UX designer with technical knowledge can make a significant difference. If you feel that's your case, for more step-by-step guidance check out our article on how to hire UX designers.

At Eleken, our UX designers have vast experience of creating stellar user-focused products and collaborating with developers to make sure their vision can actually be implemented. So, if you're looking for UI and UX design services that can satisfy all your SaaS design needs, don't hesitate to contact us!

Stan Murash

Writer at Eleken