UX for developers

21 Aug 2012 - 1:27pm
4 years ago
11 replies
3852 reads

In a couple weeks, I'll be giving a presentation on UX to developers at my company who work on internal tools. Most of us work in a fairly unstructured environment with no designers or even project managers. I want to convince them that UX is important and give a few concrete tips for things they can begin incorporating into their workflows. If this goes well, hopefully I'll be able to get many of them to attend more in-depth workshops in the future.

Do you guys know of any good resources I can use for inspiration? I'm specifically intrested in things aimed at convincing developers of the importance of good design/UX practices. I'm currently looking at Tog on Interface and Joel Spoolsky's User Interface Design for Programmers.



22 Aug 2012 - 9:24am

I recommend you look at Alan Cooper's book About Face. In it he describes the descrepancy between the user's model and the implementation model. i find that understanding this dichotomy is a great first step toward getting implementers to think like users and therefor design for the user and not the implementer.

Also keep in mind that it may be very difficult for developers to effectively live in both worlds at once. Development resources are much more bound by constraints, while designers are more prone to think beyond constraints. Good UX designers are able to find a balance between the two.

29 Aug 2012 - 12:40pm

In my experiences with designing for the user it has always benefited me greatly by just getting out there with them and finding out what they need and how they use what has been offered them. Watch the user and learn how to design and develop.


22 Aug 2012 - 10:01am

At this point in time, I'd hope that most devs at least recognize the need for good UX. There are plenty of resources floating around that make the case for UX, if it's not already self-evident to people. You can just search: http://www.bing.com/search?setmkt=en-US&q=roi+of+ux

Also, I've given UX talks at many dev events over the last several years, and they're always packed. Devs seem to understand that it is important.  So it's more important for us, IMO, to help them get there, rather than spend a lot of time making the case.

In my recent blog post, I make that assumption and just focus on some basic guidelines for my "UX for Devs Manifesto": 


You're absolutely free to use it, derive it, etc. A simple attribution (link) would be nice if you do/find it helpful. I'd just love for more folks to help devs gain some basic UX chops, because there just aren't enough of us, and if nothing else, it helps them understand what we do just that much more.

Good luck!


24 Aug 2012 - 3:33am
William Hudson

Sorry I'm a bit late to the thread. I only seem to get random emails from the IxDA discussion list.

Familiarity (and belief!) in UX can vary dramatically between developers. While you would hope and expect that experienced web developers would understand the need for and principles of usability and user experience this can tend towards zero with more traditional software development houses or internal departments.

The lack of appreciation of UX is something I addressed in my study and short paper to the CHI conference a few years ago - Reduced Empathizing Skills Increase Challenges for User-Centred Design. Some technologists find it very difficult to understand why other people don't get on with technology. This is also a topic I covered in my recent article for the Agile Record. Although it is titled User Requirements in the 21st Century it is really about doing user experience in Agile environments. (Both available at www.syntagm.co.uk/design/articles). You might also enjoy my 'perfect user' cartoon.

Just one final point: our series of 16 Guerrilla UCD webinars are all about getting whole teams on board with usability, UX and UCD. The overview webinar is free and the slides can be downloaded at http://www.syntagm.co.uk/guerrillaucd/gucdoverview.shtml. Feel free to use this material in your presentation.


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William (Hudson)
User Experience Strategist, Syntagm Ltd
Courses Co-Chair, CHI 2013 (Paris)
Conference Committee, UCD 2012 (London)
Syntagm is a limited company registered in England and Wales (1985).
Registered number: 1895345. Registered office: 10 Oxford Road, Abingdon OX14 2DS.
Guerrilla UCD – Usability & User Experience Webinars
www.syntagm.co.uk/guerrillaucd  | @GuerrillaUCD
UCD 2012 Conference – London: 9th & 10th November 2012
22 Aug 2012 - 11:22am


Good for you! The enterprise is often overlooked these days with everyone talking about start-ups and lean/agile teams (dev and UX) as if the whole world is operating that way. When I look at most enterprises, the scenario is often as you described.

I'm working on developing a series of "Tribal Mashups". I live in Silicon Valley, so there are lots of meetup groups where the different "tribes" meet regularly and cover topics of interest. This September 11th, we are inviting the members of a large UX Meetup to come to a large Agile Leadership Network meetup to:

Promote understanding between change makers creating software products. Recognize and address stereotypes. Eventually, find ways of working better together to create products that inspire and empower, using tools and building relationships so that they mesh, not clash with each other’s goals and agendas.

Here's the link to the event: http://www.meetup.com/Silicon-Valley-Agile-Leadership-Network/events/55107082/

Aside from the panel talking about their world for a few minutes and answering some key questions; the group is going to break out and create personas. The idea is to start considering each other as customers and to look at the products and services we deliver to each other during the course of creating awesome products and services for "end users". We can take wisdom from the Start-up community to begin to grasp our work in this way, even if we belong to a much larger and more established organization. This session would begin the process for understanding the motivations and characteristis of these "customers" and give everyone some lean UX techniques to foster this understanding. And, people get to know each other face-to-face and build empathy.

We plan on some more mashup meetups with other hands-on opportunities to share tips and techniques for working in an agile and human-centred way. I believe that people need to meet and get involved in activities rather than just sitting and listening to presentations. One of the goals of the meetup will be people identifying something that they are going to do differently at their work as a result of the session. Hopefully, this will help to foster a more collaborative approach where we can work together as partners rather than disparate groups.

So, like I said, good for you! Connect with me on LinkedIn if you would like to stay in touch and I can share with you how it goes on the 11th.


23 Aug 2012 - 10:33am
Andy Adler

I remember finding "Designing from Both Sides of the Screen" by Isaacs and Welendowski a useful book.

24 Aug 2012 - 5:02am
Francis Rowland

You've already had great replies and suggestions for reading. I suppose an obvious addition would be Steve Krug's "Dont' Make Me Think". I'm sure you know it already, but it is written in a very accessible way, and (critically, I think) not necessarily for a UX-savvy reader. 

I was just going to share the fact that this issue is close to my heart! I work with a lot of developers and scientists, and increasing their design literacy is something I'm very keen to do, as well understanding how they work, and what their constraints are, etc. 

In my experience, developers in particular just want to know how they can get maximum return for minimum effort in terms of how they can influence user experience design of the products they work on. Their first love is code, and although most developers full recognise that people use the end product, their focus is functionality and getting things to work.

So whenever I talk with or present to my colleagues, I try to pitch things in terms that they will "get". I'm either aiming to empower them to be directly involved in influence the UX, or I am demystifying what I do, so that I can just get on with it.

There's a lot you can do around that, I reckon, and it is usually received very well. (Don't be phased by the yawning and glassy eyes of the hardcore few!)

In addition, I organise <a href="http://ebiinterfaces.wordpress.com">talks and events</a> where I work, to spread ideas and concepts about design. Most of the time, these are given by external speakers (really good ones!), as well as occasionally myself or one or other of my two UX colleagues. Using external speakers (experts), I've found, is a great way to emphasise certain points or issues, and can help when people are maybe fed up of hearing me repeating mantras!

The audience is, again, all developers and scientists. They are most definitely interested, and the validation comes when I hear people in different project teams using terms and phrases that I know they have picked up from these events or wider reading. 

The key thing is context, though - here's what you need to know; here's what you can do today...

I'm rambling on!

Good luck with your presentation - I think that whatever we can do to improve communication between developers and designers, and to understand more of one another's work, is a great effort to make.

// Francis




4 Sep 2012 - 2:57pm
Thanks for the information:)
24 Aug 2012 - 11:28pm

Before transitioning to my UX role, I was a developer for over 10 years and can attest to the technological blindness that many developers can get and that nearly all DO get during crunch time.  You have some really good responses thus far; however, here are things that I've experience from talking at developer conferences and also in educating different departments in general about UX.

1. Remember that UX is about Data and facts.  Developers are very analytical individuals that love numbers.  One of the tricks I use if I know I'm walking into a tough room is open up with a conversation and asking them questions about some of their best/worst experiences with what they have developed or of the tools they use.  Developers love talking about their witty hacks and work arounds for tools they are forced to use.  Treat this Q&A opening like you would a user interview in a way.  If they complain about a tool, ask them about what they develop and ask if anyone has ever herad directly from one of the people who use the product to know that they did a good job with the product.  How do they close the loop to confirm that they made the right product?  This is where most of the light bulbs turn on and where I can smoothly transition into UX.

2. Remind them how uncommon common sense can be.  Find an image of a product with a usability issue (something not labeled, really bad color choices, bad wording, etc.).  You want something that is an obvious "what were they thinking?" response.  This will make them feel a bit empowered with the knowledge that they noticed the issue and will keep them engaged when you talk about how a UX review can be immensely helpful.  As another mentioned, this is a good transition to plug Don't Make Me Think.  Sure it's all common sense but even common sense needs to be reiterated from time to time.

3. Point out the plague of forms.  Luke Wrublewski wrote a fantastic book on <a href="https://rosenfeldmedia.com/books/webforms/">Web Form Design</a>.  I'm assuming the internal tools that the developer write are at the very least computer based.  This book is a treasure trove of information that developers will love.  A lot of the items mentioned in this book are pondered by developers at some point in their careers.  For example, should labels be on top of the field, to the left of the field or located in a different position?  This book covers that and taking a nugget out of there can provide them with an easy take away.  Of course you want to point out that such recommendations on that book are tested thoroughly.

4. Lastly, enlist their help in UX.  Going back to point 1, UX is about data.  Find out what type of questions they've wondered about their applications.  Find out if there's any standards and what capabilities of auditing and information logging are available for the application or that can be added.  Getting their questions and knowing what data can be collected can allow you 1) find a way to setup a feedback loop within your company for such tools and 2) start building a benchmark on how the application is used to validate concerns and answer questions as they come up.  

These items can give you some big gains if you cater your talk to how UX applies to their sphere.  Even if people who truly get UX are in the room, they will almost always come away with some idea or thought on how UX can help them at some point in their career.

Finally - you mentioned Spoolsky's book(s)... I'd recommend against it.  Over the years, I have come to rely on Luke's book and a handful others when it comes to design due to the data and studies cited in it.  I "hear" more opinion from Spoolsky's books and interviews that he has done on multiple podcasts.  Lastly, many developers are hesitant to use his advice since his company creates Fogbugz.com which is a bug tracking service ("why take software advice from a guy who makes money from bug tracking software?" is the running gag).

Hope this helps and good luck on your presentation.

27 Aug 2012 - 10:31am
Fred Beecher

Great post, James! I've found points 1 & 4 particularly effective in my own collaborations with developers. New practitioners… Save this post! Following James' advice will help you become a much more effective designer.


29 Aug 2012 - 3:19am

Quite basic but I found "Dont Make Me Think" by Steve Krug a great place to start in the beginning.

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