Everyone that has visited a high-tech job board in the past few years must have stumbled upon the term “full stack developer” here and there. The definition of the term signifies the difference between a full-stack developer and his “regular” colleague: a developer that has knowledge in all of the development cycle layers, well enough to provide solutions for each.

This means the full stack developer knows just enough about infrastructure, development, certain design aspects, UI and even business processes to be successful. They’re a person that would know how to extract assets from a Photoshop file, or do an elevator pitch without mumbling.

Similarly, the field of user experience design has been around just long enough for certain individuals to stick out, ones that are able to provide overall solutions to a variety of areas that are linked to the user experience. They can provide solutions such as being able to design, handle copywriting, figure out code and so on.

So, who is the full stack UXer exactly? And more importantly, are you asking yourself if you’re one?

(At the end of every section, you’d find a letter, so if you find yourselves able to relate to the actions or the vibe, the letter is yours. Once you’ve done reading, you’ll have a pretty good sense of whether or not you’re one of the “full stack UXers”).

The Need For a Full Stack UXer

The formal position of the UX designers is being bumped up to include more areas of expertise, and will continue to do so. We used to just describe and consult with sketches and prototypes, but now we are required to do some hands-on work with the product to gauge its success.

The user experience of technological solutions does not end with using the product itself. The exposure to the product begins with an online presence (say, a webpage) and the content that the potential user is exposed to, and ends long after the application is downloaded or the product is purchased.

Up until recently (I can even say up until the last year), the UXer had a very solid job description. Designing the user experience required the UXer to submit guidelines and sketches that depict how an app or product should work, and what functions will it have.

Nowadays (based on my personal experience and conversations with colleagues) it’s not always enough. Many UXers find themselves doing things that are not traditionally defined as “designing the user experience,” doing research and wireframes only.

Instead, they offer a wide array of assistance in related fields. Those who are successful at it, you could name “Full Stack UXers.” Just as a good developer is required to know a bit more than just coding, it’s pretty much the same in UX. You can see it mostly in startups, where work begins from scratch: from the characterization and prototyping, through the UI design, up to nearly product management (so you might find yourself working alongside a copywriter or a sound engineer, a photographer and developers - essentially, offering full stack experience design).

Designing the Interface (For Real)

Obviously, a good UX designer will have a professional background or some experience in user interface design. There’s a vital need to know what the design is “capable” of achieving, what the limitations are and how to perfectly represent the application/website/system. A design perspective makes a difference, and opens the door for products that have the appearance to compliment the experience in the best way possible.

Therefore, we can see a lot of cases in which the interface design (UI) is intertwined with the experience design (UX), so even business owners can’t always distinguish the two. UX and UI sound alike, but they are entirely different. It’s easy to confuse them, as they are often linked, and have grown in popularity around the same time.

For yourselves, UXers and designers, I’d suggest emphasizing what you’re best at. I know a lot about the perpetual search for the next talent in full stack development, but you should be aware of where your skills are lacking, and instead keep the project’s success as the top priority. It’s tempting to claim you know both UX and UI, but in case you don’t, I truly believe you could achieve more by working alongside someone you can learn from.

Personally, I see both fields as a whole. User experience is comprised of both functionality and visibility (in every project, the significance may vary) but when addressing the two as linked fields, it’s obvious that one relies on the other. A person who can translate the experience into something visual - is a real rarity in the field.

If you design both the experience and the interface, you’re off to a great start, the letters:

UNI.

Gamification

Gamification is a field that’s grown in popularity during the past few years. In a nutshell: it’s an idea according to which you could add game-based elements to a system to enhance the users’ will to return and act. These include elements like rewards, ranking, unlocking new capabilities, more available actions, upgraded experience and so on.

Note: I’d advise you to remember that some systems, apps and products that shouldn’t be gamified. To be able to put your foot down and say that no gamification is needed means you’ll have at least some experience in this area.

If gamification is actually needed, it must be in the product’s DNA, inseparably incorporated, in a such a way that it’s the main motivator to choose your product over the competitor. I don’t see it as a “patch” on top of a system - it should be a part of the essence and the motivation, and will not be concluded with “you’ve got a point,” or it won’t work in real life.

It’s obvious that gamification affects and is affected by the experience, so the full stack UXer is a person that could think in gamified terms at the very least. An idea that could work for company A, might result in users’ scorn for company B. I believe that this field is too important to overlook, and strongly suggest to ask the UXer about gamification, granted they’ve done it before.

Gamified the organization’s product, from start to end? The letter: C.

Accompanying The Development

I approach this carefully, as I expect that some readers will raise their eyebrows now. “A designer is not required to code” is a statement I tend to agree with (every member of the organization should be aware of their position, reached with the help of hard work and capability). But having basic know-how, or at least being aware of the potential will make everyone’s life so much easier.

For example, instead of trying to describe motion with “first like this,” “then like that,” you could say that the element’s animation should be slideInDown with an easing effect called easeInOutElastic. A common language, as basic as it might be, will produce a better product, made of common grounds.

If you’re used to addressing developers in their native tongue - add O to your reserve.

Setting The Tone

A relatively new subject is the setting of the product’s tone. The full stack UXer will need to be able to convey the premise of the app forward. Granted, that the definition of experience is partially about delivering the message - the full stack will probably end up accompanying branding processes such as copywriting, online and app store representation.

Certain UXers will not only know how to aid designers and developers, but also content writers, copywriters and product managers. In larger companies, I wouldn’t suggest giving up the need for professionals in key positions, but I’d advise that at the very least to be assisted by your UX designer when coming up with wording for a product. Ask them to check the tone for consistency, with no confusing gaps that can convey a non-professional feel.

Ever had a say about the product’s tone? The letter R is yours…

Playing With Others

Sometimes in a project’s life-span, there’s a need to hire someone external and work with various talents outside the company. Here too, I believe that the full stack UXer should have the ability to reflect the vision to other people working on the same project (for example: sound/photography/PR, etc.).

In order for an experience designer to define themselves as “full stack,” they should possess the skill to learn the basics of an unfamiliar field in a short amount of time so they can communicate better in a professional matter. They might find themselves conveying ideas to a wider scope of people, that tend to different aspects of the product, with the purpose of having the goals achieved in the least time and the best way possible. So the design would nail it, the illustrator will meet the expectations, the campaign manager will do their job the best way they can - and all elements transmit the same vision ideally, while withholding the same standard of experience.

Ever had the chance to work with external professionals while being the company’s UX designer? The letter: N.

The Way of Becoming a Rare UXer

The way I see it, the rare UX designer--the unicorn--is the one that knows and doesn’t hesitate to reach out and think in various directions.

It’s obvious that “thinking outside the box” is one of our corniest cliches - so let me rephrase: try to do something you haven’t done yet, but don’t try to invent something new every time. In other words, you shouldn’t invest tremendous effort into creating something so new that the user will be required to investigate, but certainly don’t forget to do something new that you haven’t tried yet. Usually, you’ll discover something innovative. In any case, you’re a bit smarter than before.

So, if your UX designer is the acting designer (meaning, UI), they can provide consultation in gamifying the product, can convey the feel with the company’s website, make it a priority to use the correct tone for the entire process, and won’t be afraid to address the developers in their own tongue - congratulations! Your organization has a unicorn! They can create a solid and tight experience and deliver the brand to its optimal state.

I’m aware that not everything here is easy to accomplish, but I know that the full stack UXers are able to identify themselves between the lines.

If we look at the current state of things, the UX designers of the organization are still key characters in the work over a new product. There’s always the need for research, and having a product manager to mediate between the various figures is important - and between us, not every organization needs/wants a full-stack UXer. But, if you are UXers and find yourselves doing many of the things I’ve mentioned - you probably belong to this rare breed.

I’d be glad to read your personal suggestions that made you better UXers.

For those of you that kept track of the letters - if you’ve managed to spell out “unicorn”, you can definitely say that you’re full stack UXers! A rare breed.

Article No. 1 057 | July 18, 2013
Article No. 872 | September 24, 2012

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Unfortunately gamification only works when you're users have the right incentives to keep going.In games getting a character to a new level for new gear is a constant motivator because having that gear and higher levels pays off for players.Simple cutesy animations and interactions ARE NOT REWARDS that motivate the user. Basically gamifying involves giving something to the player they actually find valueble.

Hey, thanks for the feedback! :)

In general, I agree, but I must say that incentive in apps may come in various forms. 
Making the user feel good about their progress, for example, is the cornerstone of gamification, even if that good feeling isn't accompanied by a 'reward'. 
 
I can be driven by encouragement to be best ranking amongst my teammates, or find pleasure in feeling accomplished for solving a difficult task, if that is presented in a gameful manner. 

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Probably the most preposterous notion I've ever heard of. Many UXers can do a lot of general tasks, some can develop, or are developers who are can UX. Not all UXers can do everything. They're not unicorns.

I think that the whole point is how rare such people are, if I'm getting the point of the article. 

In any case, UXers should be amazing at UX, and then know something extra, IMHO. 

I don't think everyone needs to be or should be a full stack UXer. It is a baluable skill but a FSUXer also means they are not amazing at any given area. (just not possible) Good UX teams probably only need one, accompanied by other designers with specific skill sets. 

I agree with you that not every company need a full stack Uxer (it is quite daunting to master every skill within the product development and design cycle), however, I must disagree with your statement that "a FSUXer also means they are not amazing at any given area." I fall in the lines of Full Stack because I generally enjoy learning about multiple areas that contributes to a successful product both on a business and user perspective.

I have 3 years of experience in Digitial Marketing and studied Business Administration (Marketing) and Product Design during undergrad. Currently, I am pursuing a masters degree in Cognitive Psychology. I am specialized specifically in UX Research and Interaction Design; at the same time, I also taught myself how to code and am able to develop functional and useful software products - though it's not my primary focus. Along with a business background, I would always combine multiple disciplines in identifying and prioritizing the right problems based on risk factors and devise solutions based on quantitative and qualitative research (user needs, mental models, goals, frustrations).

I agree with you that some may end up possessing numerous buckets of water being half empty; which is why it is important for a designer to choose a specialized field where they are MVPs in that area before developing skills beyond their specialty. I think the industry should encourage designers to constantly venture out to other areas for we are natural learners who innately adapt quite well to changes. In order to achieve product innovation, there must be an equal blend between creative arts and science.

Ultimately, you can be a "unicorn" in team of 5 or 100. Along with extra knowledge and experience in varying areas, you are able to fully empathize and design better solutions specifically for people - whether it's users or stakeholders withina  business. The ability to communicate effectively with your colleagues because you know how to code or you did a lot of visual UI design on the side, makes their jobs a lot easier especially when you did your homework prior to actual sprinting. I think that is the key to innovation and people are misinterpreting what "unicorn" really entails. They are specialists in one or two areas but also possess an extensive knowledge and experience in various others, nonetheless. It's not a god blessing gift . . . it's just an interest to learn more and innovate more.

As a developer, I've been working alonside this amazing UX planner, and articles like these help me appreciate them for what they really are.

It's not "only" design or "only" testing. The "full stack", as they refer to him here, is involved in many aspects of the product - and up until this point, I wasn't sure how should I call what he does :) 

Cheers!

Nice article, here's a similar one with the detail of each of those skills: 

The Ten Skills you need to be a UX Unicorn.. 

https://medium.com/@uxmuch/ten-skills-you-need-to-be-a-ux-unicorn-f7ec555981b0?source=linkShare-8d00084a8e30-1468001245

Love the parallel between Full Stack Developer and Full Stack UXer, it's true that something were missing for UXers! At Drimlike, we might have a couple of unicorns :) and most of our recent gamification projects have been created combining all the skills from our UXer and development team. But both worlds are merging more and more...