Within the user experience community, there’s been an increasing push toward finding individuals whose skill sets extend beyond those of a typical UX designer. Specifically, businesses are looking for leaders who can carry a project from initial design to front-end development.
These leaders are called full-stack UXers.
But when it comes to filling this in-demand position, there’s not a lot of clarity about what qualifications a full-stack UXer should bring to the table – or how to find them.
What is a full-stack UXer?
Perhaps the best entrypoint into understanding a full-stack UXer is to explain what they are not. Contrary to what the title might suggest – and what certain job postings may unrealistically demand – the role doesn’t call for someone with a deep mastery of every part of the design trajectory. In practice, there are very few UXers who are as skilled in programming languages as they are in pixel-perfect design.
While full-stack UXers don’t need to have in-depth experience with user interface design (UI), interaction design, and front-end development, they do need an understanding and appreciation of these processes and their underlying methodologies. Ultimately, their singular directive is to deliver value to customers, whether internal or external.
This directive to deliver value means that a full-stack UXer must be an individual who’s able to traverse three key layers of product value: usefulness, usability, and desirability. If they don’t have the vision to flesh out each one of these layers in order to create a useful, usable, and desirable product, they likely won’t cut it.
Practically, that means a they must understand the techniques behind each of these layers, which translates to competency beginning in research and analysis and continuing through design, testing, and execution. At a high level, they are someone who can draw out a business problem, understand customer pain points, develop a strategy that aligns business goals with customer needs, and proactively work to deliver that alignment via UI.
Who has the makings of a full-stack UXer?
In the hunt to fill full-stack design roles, the position has acquired a bit of a “unicorn” status. Where are those elusive professionals who can walk the line between architecture, development, and artistry? Despite this, the seemingly overwhelming task of finding competent and successful full-stack UXers isn’t as hard as it sounds.
It starts by rewriting the job description. Right now, many full-stack UX designer job postings miss the mark because they’re overstuffed with wishful prerequisites that deter promising talent. When a full-stack prospect finds a job description demanding years of coding experience coupled with creative and research acumen, they often end up too intimidated to apply. And that’s how companies lose out on individuals who’d otherwise be successful hires.
Instead, the key to recruiting full-stack UX talent is to identify and seek out certain core characteristics and skill sets that set them apart from traditional designers. These include:
- An understanding of the business side: UX designers think in terms of what’s in the user’s best interest. Full-stack UXers must incorporate the business element as well, understanding not only how a product will contribute to things like meeting customer needs, enabling adoption and increasing productivity, but also how it serves the business’ bottom line. Because most designers are creatives by trade, the business-focused needs of the full-stack role may require additional training and study, such as an MBA program.
- Sharp critical thinking skills and an adaptable mindset: More than traditional UXers, those in the full-stack role must bring an out-of-the-box, interdisciplinary, and collaborative mindset to the table. Often, individuals with a liberal arts background – and specifically those with a background in psychology or sociology – are notably skilled at facilitation, requirements gathering, and project management, and therefore represent a key recruiting pool.
- Ability to concept and test designs quickly: Many designers find it challenging to test their designs given the inherent bias involved, but because a full-stack UXer is responsible for carrying a project out through the front end, they must be able to handle concepting and testing. In tandem with testing, full-stack UXers must also be comfortable with rapid adaptability – evaluating their assumptions, learning from hits and misses, and quickly iterating to take a project to the next level. In this way, individuals with a fixed mindset are not well-suited for full-stack design work.
As the demand for full-stack UXers continues to increase, it’s important for companies to consider that filling the role isn’t about identifying skilled designers who are also highly experienced coders. Instead, it’s about finding people who know how to deliver customer value that’s aligned with business goals – and who have the collaborative mindset, people skills, and adaptability to pull everything together. While they are at times a rare breed, people with the potential to be great full-stack UX professionals are certainly not “unicorns;” you simply need to know the right characteristics for which to look.