Sep 21, 2020

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What is a UX Engineer (UXE) & Why Does Your Product Development Team Need One?
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As our digital world expands, the field of UX has evolved to fit an ever-growing number of needs. The industry now includes specialties such as UX designer, UX architect, and UX researcher. Companies that want to create better user-driven products now enlist a host of these specialists on their teams to ensure that every aspect of development is fine-tuned to perfection.

Torii Studio CEO and founder, Cristóbal Chao, was one of the first tech professionals to hold the title of UX engineer. He’s spent the past decade helping clients like Wego, Trello, and Google improve the user experience of their web and mobile applications. In that time, he’s collaborated in creating award-winning designs that have earned rave reviews from companies and users alike.

As part of their Beer and UX series, Neuron hosted Cristóbal to chat about his journey as a UX engineer. He went into detail about the job of a UX engineer, how this unique role contributes to the creation of better user-centered products, and some best practices to keep in mind when building a great user experience.

What is a UX engineer?

UX engineers (UXEs) are front-end developers with a comprehensive understanding of UX and design principles. Their role was born out of the need to bridge the gap that has traditionally existed between designers and developers. The primary function of a UX engineer is to translate design concepts into the language of developers.

UX engineers work between interaction designers and front-end engineers.
UX engineers work between interaction designers and front-end engineers.

What sets UX engineers apart from other front-end engineers is their special focus on the technical elements of a user’s experience. They integrate insights from UX and user research to make decisions on a product’s interactivity such as which types of gestures are the best for activating or accessing features.

By acting as a bridge between the design and development teams, UX engineers ensure a consistent and cohesive end-to-end experience and that users can interact effectively with products.

Left: Disconnection between design and development teams leads to final products that are disconnected from the original plan. Right: when both sides communicate, the end-to-end experience comes out as planned.
Left: Disconnection between design and development teams leads to final products that are disconnected from the original plan. Right: when both sides communicate, the end-to-end experience comes out as planned.

What does a UX engineer do in a product development team?

1. Prototype

UX engineers build prototypes using the same engineering framework as the final product. Building prototypes close to the end product generates better user feedback during testing and mitigates the risk of elements changing during the development process. This helps UXEs catch and fix bugs early in the product development process, test out the feasibility of a design from an engineering standpoint, and streamline the development process.

2. Test

Testing with prototypes allows UX engineers to better understand the right balance between how a product feels and how it works. The data obtained from these tests is used to inform design decisions and help refine the final product’s features, usability, and overall experience.

The goal of testing is to iterate and gauge how far the product is from what users want. Observing how users interact with prototypes is the quickest way to identify whether a product is solving a problem and identify areas of improvement. Each iteration becomes an opportunity for refining the product and closing in on a balance between ease of use, functionality, and design.

As prototype fidelity increases, the risk of failure decreases.
As prototype fidelity increases, the risk of failure decreases.
3. Empathize

The job of a UX engineer is not only to get more users; it’s also to figure out how to keep them by building trust into products. Positive product experiences result from a combination of good design, consistency, ease of use, value, and desirability.

UX engineers use the results and observations from prototyping and testing to empathize with users and ensure that a product’s value proposition is on par with their needs. They advocate for users both from a design and development standpoint to ensure trust is built into every part of the final product.

4. Collaborate

Successful UX results from effective collaboration between UXEs, design teams, and developers. All sides check and inform each other’s perspectives to work towards a solution that is both useful and usable. The role of a UX engineer in that team is to bridge the gap between what is possible and not possible with an experimentation mindset, technical know-how, and design sensibility.

Versatility is important: it’s not uncommon for UXEs to wear many hats, especially in startup settings. Their roles will vary depending on the company or product development project they are working in. Sometimes they will be doing more front-end work. In others, they may be working closer to the design team.

Why your product development team needs a UX engineer

UX engineers are an asset for any product development team seeking to improve communication between their design and development sides, ensure consistency and cohesiveness, and create better user-driven products. They contribute a unique user-first perspective for solving both design and engineering problems.

Although it’s still taking shape, UX engineering a field with countless opportunities for individuals wanting to pursue a career that allows them to combine their technical knowledge with their design skills.

Want to help your product development team build better digital products? Contact Torii Studio and we’ll help you make it happen.

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