Understanding the difference between a front-end developer and a UI developer is essential when creating a new digital product. Otherwise, you can end up wasting a lot of time screening potential freelancers, hiring developers, and weeding through offers from development companies.
Do you need a front-end developer and a UI developer when creating a web or mobile app? What's the difference between these two roles, anyway?
Stick with us while we answer these questions and more.
Terminology is constantly changing in the software industry, and not everyone always shares the same definitions of varying titles and terms. This confusion can be exacerbated by software development being incredibly technical, sometimes leaving non-programmers in the dark when communicating with coders.
In a perfect world, everyone would agree on where these two terms overlap and diverge, but unfortunately, things aren't that cut and dry. There are definitely front-end developers who have expertise in UI (user interface) design. Typically, this is more common at smaller development companies. Larger companies are more likely to have separate people fulfilling the roles of UI designers, UX designers, UI developers, front-end developers, and back-end developers.
The short answer is: front-end refers to the technical aspects of a site, application, or software that a user interacts with, while UI designers and developers deal specifically with the user interface.
Perhaps the simplest way to think about the difference between these roles is to consider UI developers as the people more focused on design, while front-end developers are more focused on implementation. Another way to say it is that someone focusing on UI/UX is more concerned with the human side of the design and development process, while the front-end developer deals with the technical side of putting the elements UI developers create into a framework that functions smoothly.
To better understand the distinction between these roles, let's first learn a bit more about each one.
In software and web design, development is typically broken into two broad categories: front-end and back-end.
Front-end developers write code with the end user in mind– they are creating the features and elements of a site or software that the user will see and use. Another way to think about it is that front-end developers are dealing with the client side of an application or site.
In many cases, front-end developers are tasked with taking the designs created by UI and UX designers and turning them into a functional reality.
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A UI developer helps to create a user interface flow that allows the user to interact with the product in a way that is efficient, intuitive, and simple. Simultaneously, they incorporate the brand's business and users' needs and goals.
These developers are tasked with creating a flawless visual appearance for the websites and apps they are helping to produce. Using HTML/CSS solutions, they use their skills to help translate the interactive elements, images, and page layouts the creative team designed into a functional product.
UI developers have to balance the technical aspects of development with the desired visual interface of the end product while keeping their end users' preferred devices and browsers at the top of their minds.
Working closely with the engineering and design teams, UI developers work to help designers understand how their workflow concepts would flesh out, given the potential and limitations of development. They also communicate both the design intentions and the business goals of the product to the engineering team, helping to make sure the initial vision of the product is reflected in the end product.
Lastly, UI developers create the visual interface of the digital product. While front-end developers are busy working on the functionality of the product, UI developers are more concerned with design effects, animations, and other visual aspects.
The role of the UI developer is important to ensure that the end-user has a pleasant experience and stays engaged while using the mobile app, web app, or website.
Somewhat understandably, the role of the UI developer is often confused with UI/UX designers. While people in these positions often work together closely when developing a product, they do have distinct responsibilities and specialties.
While UI/UX designers tend to focus more on the overall feel of a digital product and aspects of usability, UI developers typically follow the path laid out by UX designers in creating the visual elements of a site or app.
Are you trying to decode the different roles when it comes to building software? Check out our recent post about the difference between a software architect and a principal software engineer.
Plenty of apps are created without an individual playing the specific role of a UI developer. Crews can range widely in size, from a team of one or two incredible developers who are able to make miracles happen on a tight budget to huge multi-department app development teams at major corporations.
It is definitely possible to find a front-end developer with experience with the specific roles of a UI developer. A typical five- or six-person team usually has a UI/UX designer and a front-end developer rather than a UI developer.
Are you building a web app but aren't sure when you should expect it to be finished? Take a look at our guide to learn how long it takes to develop a web app from start to finish.
While there is certainly a lot of overlap between these two titles, and some companies might lump the responsibilities of both into one role, there are a few important distinctions to be made between the jobs of front-end developers and UI developers.
While both of these jobs have to do with the technical aspects of the final product that users will be interacting with, their responsibilities differ a bit.
Firstly, front-end developers focus on architecting websites and apps without expecting to be particularly knowledgeable about an effective UI's design aspects. On the other hand, UI developers specialize in structuring a product's UI design.
Secondly, front-end developers are primarily tasked with integrating specific visual elements into the website or app they're creating through coding languages. UI developers are more focused on how the product's visual elements and code structure interact to create positive experiences for the user.
A third distinction is the perspective that each of these professionals is taking. A UI developer is focused on the tiny assets of an app or site that end up coming together to create the final product, while a front-end developer looks at the bigger picture in the form of a product that is compromised of a collection of content-filled sections or pages.
To put it as simply as possible, a front-end developer is responsible for making the visual aspect of a site or app work, while the UI developer is responsible for building the visual aspect of a website. While a UI developer might have skills that span across the industries of design, psychology, and engineering, a front-end developer is well-versed in things like programming, web architecture, method engineering, database architecture, and algorithms.
While the specific responsibilities of each role can vary between teams and companies, here is a general idea of how these two different types of developers can work together to create a site or an app.
The UI developer might prepare a set of components such as inputs, buttons, styles, and controls and pass those over to the front-end developer.
The front-end developer might take the items prepared by the UI developers and place them into the larger structure of the site.
Wondering how much it costs to hire a freelance software developer? Check out the average hourly rate you can expect to pay.
A question we frequently come across is whether you need to hire a front-end developer and a UI developer to create a digital product.
The answer to this question depends on a wide variety of variables, including the product you're developing, how complex it is, your budget, and more. On top of that, it really has to do with the specific people you hire, the skillsets they have, and whether they can take on tasks beyond their standard job title.
The reality is that the skills, responsibilities, and areas of expertise of front-end developers and UI developers can vary depending on who you're talking to or which company is hiring for the role. For this reason, it can be more useful to be upfront and clear about the responsibilities you are looking for a developer to take on when you are hiring team members to ensure that they are up for the task.
You can technically build an app without hiring any developers at all using one of the countless no-code platforms out there. That being said, this usually isn't the best choice for most people.
Other startups might choose to run with the bare minimum number of coders– one or two rockstar developers that are taking on the bear on their own.
If you're interested in building a larger development team, you'll probably have a crew of five or six people. Even in this case, you most likely won't need both a UI developer and a front-end developer. A typical crew of this size consists of one of each of the following:
In cases where you are looking to create native apps or web apps that work on both Android and iOS devices, you also might want to hire a mobile developer.
It's only when you have different departments for each of the above-listed roles rather than individual people that you might need both a UI developer and a front-end developer. This is what happens at large companies such as Google, Netflix, or Amazon.
Putting together your own team to create an app can work swimmingly– or it can be a nightmare. While it's great to be able to produce a stellar digital product with the smallest crew possible, you also run the risk of having to switch developers mid-project the fewer people you have on board.
There are many different ways you can approach developing an app or digital product, including putting together a team of freelancers and hiring employees. Both of these options come with their own challenges and potential benefits, but there's another avenue you could stroll down that releases you from the burden of having to screen and hire designers, developers, and project managers.
When you hire an experienced team like our crew here at Planetary, you don't have to worry about a freelancer ghosting you or providing benefits for a full-time team. Instead, you can partner up with a staff of talented experts to help you create just about any idea you could possibly dream up.
Regardless of whether you're thinking about building a simple app or a complex digital product, we can make it a reality. We love working with companies of all sizes– from small startups to Fortune 500 companies. Not to brag, but we also have a pretty impressive portfolio you can scroll through at your leisure.
If you're looking for a team of trained developers to help you build your app, contact us today and tell us a bit about your project. Once you reach out, we can talk about the details of what we can help you achieve, how much it'll cost, and how many people will be put to the task.
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