UX <-> Frontend Collaboration — A Fireside chat

Mihai Bâlea
9 min readJul 9, 2020


The interview

Q — Oana Blaga (Awesome Moderator)
C —
Codrin Iftimie (Tech Lead)
M —
Mihai Balea (UX Lead)

Q: Could you explain in maximum 5 phrases how does the UX-FE collaboration works?

M: There are some essential things to follow in making this collaboration solid. One is that both disciplines should be aligned with the business objectives right from the start in order to have a common direction. Another is to have constant syncs during the process and also include FE in brainstorming workshops/meetings when conceptualizing solutions.

C: As important as understanding the business part of the product is to not limit the creativity of a designer. The suggestions that FE gives in terms of user experience or visual design should be treated as constructive feedback and not imposing to UX what to do. The final decision in terms of user experience should be the responsibility of the designer. Also from time to time you can leave the designer alone and see how hard it is without you :)

M: Yes, it’s true, designers can be tetchier because they are more creative and sensitive ;). But in the end, it’s all about empathy shown one to another.

Q: What is the biggest challenge for a UX designer when working with FE?

M: My first thought is that the biggest challenge is to deliver everything that FE needs in time.

C: When implementing the logic of a flow, going into details like “This could work 10px more to the left, or this button can be 2px higher”. Mihai doesn’t do that though :)

Q: How does the UX, FE relationship affects the rest of the team?

M: That is if we care… :). I think that the most affected by a bad relationship would be the stakeholders, who will not care or understand about what happens in the team, they just expect results and on-time delivery.

C: I agree with Mihai on this.

Q: The greatest quality of a FE should be…

M: Like Codrin said, not limiting a designer’s creativity would be a great quality. And by creativity, I’m not referring to adding unicorns instead of icons or stuff like that but just offering a bit of a playground where a designer can explore.

Q: The greatest quality of a designer should be…

C: Hmm…

M: Are there too many?

Public: Be careful what you say, it may affect the relationship :)

C: A quality that I appreciate is the way designers challenge a requirement and dig to understand the impact it has on the users. Even if it is a simple database error the designer has the right to ask how does the user can reach in that particular situation.

Q: What was one of the most challenging situations in collaboration with a designer?

C: At some point, I had to re-write a product using a different library and the design team decided that there are no changes to be made on the design part. I then intervened and said that if I still have to re-write the product it would be nice to have some design enhancement as well. I managed to convince the design team to make at least some small tweaks that improved the overall experience.

Q: That was quite light. No fighting?…:) Mihai, what about you? What was the most challenging situation in collaboration with an FE developer?

M: Everything was perfect ?!. I need to be careful of what I’m saying because I see more FE developers than designers in the audience :) I remember on my old job where we were working on re-writing and re-designing a huge platform that had Java, Angular, React parts in it, an FE developer from a different team started using Bootstrap without notifying anyone. Of course, the biggest impact was for the rest of the FE teams, but it also affected our design team interfering with our Design System. Fortunately, in the end, he gave up on his initiative and things were back on track.

Q: Have you ever find yourselves in a situation of having a person between through which you communicate?

C: I was waiting for this question :). Yes, one time I had a fight with the design team and stop talking directly to them. The person that had the unfortunate luck to intervene and be a bridge between us was a business analyst, which made sense because a BA’s part of the job is to assure that FE and UX align with business requirements. But in the end, the most beneficial thing is that there is a direct collaboration between UX and FE, otherwise, the things that will end up implemented may not have the same impact.

M: I grew up among frontend devs. I don’t remember having such experiences, I think that a UX designer should be empathic not only to users but in their personal and professional lives as well. By being open to other perspectives you can act proactively and avoid different unpleasant situations.

Q: Mihai, what do you do when dealing with a “difficult” FE developer that let's say it does not have a very well developed aesthetic sense and does not understand why you assigned him a UI defect?

M: After I calm down… There were situations in which I had to intervene in CSS styling stuff when FE devs said that they can’t do certain things and had to prove them wrong by using the inspect element functionality. The fact that I studied earlier in my career some programming really helped me grow faster as a UX designer and also help others.

Q: So should a UX designer know how to code?

C: Maybe not in-depth, but as much as to know what are the technological limits and what can and cannot be implemented.

Q: But how you handle a junior designer?

C: That is where the senior rang comes in handy in order to intimidate :) Joke apart, we need to keep a professional posture and explain what are the technological limits, and then go and drink your coffee :)

Q: Hopefully you didn’t scare any of the junior designers :) But should FE know some UX?

M: Well yes… I think that user experience doesn’t resume to just one role. Any decision that is taken starting with the business zone down to the last designed and implemented pixel can have an impact on end-user experience. FE is part of user experience and developers should also consider putting a user’s hat from time to time.

C: FE developers are actually the first users that use a design. Any inconsistencies or flow gaps could be identified in an early stage, before going into implementation.

Q: What advice would you give to two juniors, one UX and one FE, that collaborate in the same team?

C: It’s an opportunity to learn new things together. Keep an open mind and understand both sides of the relationship. Doing research on how users read a page, for example, could help them both.

M: First of all I think that we are all juniors in different aspects of our work. What you could do in these situations is to learn from those with more experience.

Q: What if an FE considers that knows more about UX than the designer?

M: First thing is to make sure that he/she is wrong. Because otherwise you better keep a low profile :) Everyone comes from different backgrounds and with different ideas. UX designers should love working with different perspectives and come with the right arguments that support an idea.

Q: I would add that the arguments should be relevant…

C: More interesting is how a backend developer offers feedback on the design. Probably the final interface would look more like a terminal :)

Q: Codrin, did you ever participate in a UX workshop?

C: Yes, but I would call it more a team building when we were in the States and Mihai facilitated a workshop with the entire team. For me, it was the best team building ever because we had the chance to discuss and understand the big picture, identify a common direction and what is the most important point in the application.

Q: What about the FE developers that do not want to participate in such exercises, which only seek to do their job?

C: Those people should have a label attached: I’m not allowed to comment on any of the UX decisions. :) And even delete their comments from Figma :)

Q: Mihai, what do you do with FE devs that don’t want to participate in your workshop?

M: I remove them from Figma :) Who feels that has an opinion or want to learn more about the product is free to join in. Regarding the workshop facilitated in the States, I admit that I did it first for myself. I was tight enough to realize that I had to exit my comfort zone but the people there were very warm and opened and helped me with it. I wanted to understand better the business idea, to know the people better, how they think and what’s their common vision. What I and the rest of the team realized was how valuable and impactful is the UX on the business and how everyone can contribute to it.

Q: How you obtain a tradeoff regarding UX when the design is very difficult to implement or even impossible?

C: There was a t-shirt saying: “I work in FE so I’m a miracle maker” but I forgot to place the order for it :). There are some situations when you need to negotiate and you may need to explain what are the development barriers. If you raise a problem, it would be ideal to come up with a solution too and propose changes that could work.

M: With experience, you cleary learn to deliver solutions viable for implementation. For me, this is easier because I have a technical background and I had my share of web design.

Q: UX or FE career?

M: UX.

C: UX… oh.. no.. FE :). If you are a creative person you don’t necessarily need to follow a design career path, you can use that creativity in FE as well. I personally wanted to have a design career but for some reason, I ended up in the other bucket but I don’t regret it. It’s true that with the logical thinking involved in coding you may lose some of the creativity. Make a decision and stick to it.

Q: What if you are an FE and you want to switch to UX?

M: My initial plan was to become an FE developer because at that time UX wasn’t such a big thing as today. I worked on several small projects and even did a small app in Angular once, actually, it was a mini-app that actually was a step by step form :)… but anyway, around that point, I decided to stick to UX.

C: That’s probably because you started with Angular :)

Q: What would be the time frame for an FE — UX transition?

M: I think that if you are an FE developer you are already a part of UX. FE developers build the interface that users interact with so the impact on the experience is there whether you think about it or not. So I don’t see a hard transition from FE to UX, I think it’s harder to go the other way around because you need to go through all the “learn how to code” curve.

Q: What if you are a UX designer and you want to switch to FE?

C: Start easy. Start by implementing a static page, then add some animations, add interactions, decide on a framework you wanna learn, besides Angular :)

Q: Can you do FE and UX at the same time? Like a full-stack job.

C: I think is possible, but just like a full-stack developer (FE and BE) you can just reach a certain level, and not excel at anything in particular. But if you really want to do them both, you can just do FE.

M: Agree with Codrin, you can just do UX.

Special thanks to FrontendHub Iasi for the collaboration and Bar B2 Iasi for hosting!

Thanks for reading! 🤘



Mihai Bâlea

Hi, I’m Mihai! A passionate about user experience, strategy, and creativity. #UXSecretsClub