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As a frontend developer, its hard to avoid the necessity of knowing how backend systems work. Heck, you'll probably even be required to gasp write backend code on occasion. This is because frontend and backend developers often work hand in hand, and collaboration is fundamental to getting work done. So then why do we have such a strong separation between frontend development and the other parts of UX, such as design and research? Researchers, developers and designers often work together, but we rarely expect a developer to know anything about design or research. This is where full-stack UX comes in.
A full-stack UX developer isn't someone that can completely replace a designer or researcher, just as a backend developer can't completely replace a frontend developer. Sure, they could both do the work, but a backend developer might throw all your styles into a single
site.css file and call it a day. The purpose of full-stack UX is being able to follow along with the work a designer/researcher does, while helping to sell the importance of UX. A full-stack UX developer is also able to occasionally help out with prototyping or usability studies if a designer or researcher is not available.
Have you ever worked on a feature and had the feeling that it wasn't something that the end users would actually want? Or maybe it was a feature you saw value in, but you felt the approach missed the mark. A full-stack UX developer is someone that has the tools and mindset to raise these concerns and propose a method to validate a feature or implementation approach.
For example, it's easy for product owners to get caught up in the wants of customers, especially for newer products. This results in an endless backlog where every item is "priority". Using the power of UX, you could raise the question "what do our customers really want, and where can we focus our efforts to make the biggest impact?".
Once you've raised the question of priority, your next step would be to recommend bringing on a researcher to answer the question. If a dedicated researcher is unavailable, you could fully flex your full-stack UX abilities by conducting research yourself. A good starting point would be talking to customers, observing how they use the product and identifying where the product falls short. You could then develop a prototype to solve the issues you observed, and validate your solution through usability studies.
Instead of investing a large amount of development resources on a feature that customers might want, you've invested a small amount of time upfront so you can better steer the direction of the product. This results in less rework and time wasted developing vaporware. As an added bonus, it also show your customers that you value their feedback!
As a full-stack UX developer, you'll also be able to better integrate with your UX colleagues. Imagine if a frontend developer didn't understand the basics of databases, it might be difficult to collaborate with a backend developer in creating APIs and data models. The same holds true for a frontend developer and a designer or researcher. By breaking down the lingo barrier, it's easier to communicate the results of a usability study, or the decisions that went into an onboarding flow.
If you're lucky enough to be on a team with designers and researchers, collaborate with them! Sit in on usability studies or ask to "pair design" new features. Surround yourself with UX by browsing Dribbble and following UX accounts on Twitter. Invest some time in learning the tools of the trade like Figma, Sketch and Balsamiq. Try prototyping your own versions of your favorite websites!
Design and research are not something you'll master overnight, but that's not the goal. Be passionate, absorb as much as you can, and keep UX in mind the next time your client asks for a huge feature that the "customers needed yesterday!".