There is a common misconception about UI developers and Front-End developers that they are basically doing the same job. I have heard it many times, and not just from the common folk, but also from people working in the IT industry. To settle the matter once and for all, I’ve decided to draw the line between these two equally important and interesting, but very different professions.

Let us begin with the definition of the User Interface. In the digital industry, User Interface means every detail that the user may control or interact with (screen, keyboard, mouse, additional controllers etc.) across various devices – desktops, laptops, tablets, and mobiles.

Interface development, be it apps, websites, games or even simulators (in fact, especially the simulators), is a complex process that bears elements of design, engineering, and psychology.

The major goal of the interface developer is to create the convenient interface, which would fulfill the user’s needs. To do this, you have to understand and identify the user’s strivings, goals, behavior patterns, and model scenarios of user’s interaction. The more cross-industry fields you are proficient in (analytics, psychology, marketing, user experience), the better solutions you will be capable of creating.

The UI Developer’s Job

For the UI developer, the main working instrument is Adobe Illustrator or similar software. It is needed to draw sketches and prepare graphics materials. Illustrator is good at working with vector graphics, which enables scaling and adjusting the conceptual interfaces for various screen resolutions.

As for auxiliary tools, the UI developer may also use Microsoft Expression Design and Expression Blend. Last but not least, the designer must dive deep into the UI guidelines for the relevant operating systems, which they want to adjust their interface to (Windows UI guidelines, Mac OS guidelines). That way there will be no need for inventing the bicycle where proven do’s & don’ts already exist.

The crucial trait for the UI developer is logical thinking, and this is why such people are never the pure artists. The UI designer is a 100% techie, with only a knack for humanities. The mathematical approach is necessary to combine the standard tools in order to solve the project’s problems. As for the much appreciated creativity - it is only allowed when standard tools cannot provide the satisfying solution.

The UI developer has a clear set of priorities in mind.

  1. Firstly, the interface has to be functional.
  2. Secondly, it has to be convenient to the extent that it does not irritate the user in frequent work.
  3. And only lastly, it has to be beautiful, if by beauty we mean appealing the eye.

A good UI developer is a combination of design skills and technical know-how, and their responsibility is the visual apprehension of the user interfaces.

What About Front-End Developers, Then?

Front-End is the development of the client side of the web interface. The Front-End developer is responsible for the interface running and operating, as opposed to the visual looks designed by the UI specialist.

If we were to draw parallels with the printed media, then the UI developer would create the general layout, and the Front-End developer would do the page proofing so that layout could actually be printed.

The Front-End specialist needs to embrace a lot more programming skills than the UI designer. They have to understand the HTTP protocol, the principles of work of servers and browsers, the peculiarities of displaying the web on various devices that are currently on the market.

The challenge associated with front end development is that the tools and techniques used to create the front end of a website change constantly and so the developer needs to constantly be aware of how the field is evolving. Today, there are three pillars on which the front-end is typically built. They are HTML, CSS and JavaScript. As a programmer, the Front-End developer must also be educated in the fields of algorithms, data structuration, coding patterns, object-oriented programming and the functional approach.

Oftentimes, the front-end developer must find solutions to the UI/UX problems on their stage of product development. That is why it is a great advantage for them to have a few basic UI developer skills.

Below is the concluding infographics that explains how various subjects are handled by the Frontend and UI developers. Feel free to share it, and subscribe to our blog for more articles on web design and development!

Read more on the tips and tricks of web development:

  1. How Web Developers Run Usability Testing
  2. How Web Developers Review Their Code
  3. What Does It Take To Assemble A Perfect Web Development Team?