What is a Design Technologist?

Reading time: 6 min.
Author: Konstantin

The spike in attention to the topic of cross-domain professionals is not a surprise in a world where the number of startups keeps growing exponentially. Many companies today understand the need for design thinking, and the hiring spree in the design industry continues to speed up. The Harvard Business Journal explained this shift by introducing the term "Experience Economy," where consumers use their money on buying experiences rather than goods. As a result, companies that do not prioritize user experience will lose their business, and other more agile companies will fill their vacant slots quickly. In other words, customers are not interested anymore in companies who prioritize the wealth of the company over the experiences of their consumers. The once-popular waterfall method for product development was not able to overcome this paradigm shift. It tried to break down project activities into linear sequential phases, but at the same time, it ensured that there was a wall between creative thinking and development. Later on, business leaders were going to remove it with agile development, but instead, they strengthened this barrier. The innovative core, which was supposed to connect all the processes, has not joined designers and developers, because there have been no processes that would join separated teams in practice. This influences product development in a way that any changes, coming from user research insights to an approved design, can not be done or can have a severe impact on the end product.[1][2][3][4][5][6]

Luckily, the tech world has realized that only coding is not enough to deliver an excellent user experience - a design talent should also take part in the process. Today, unique user experience is often integrative, bringing together objects, apps, products, services, touch screens, wearables, etc. The traditional designer/developer division, in a way, undermines the creative process. The difference between software development and design becomes less clear, their integration into product development is strong as never before, and perfectly represents the current market demand. Essentially, the shift created a need for a cross-domain professional in designing and coding. Someone who can quickly recognize the problem, develop the solution, test it, and thus waste less time on preparations and more time on working. Someone who has a passion for technology and desire to push its capacities.[2][7][8]

Consequently, the Design Technologist role has emerged in the job market to resolve the obstacles mentioned above. This role is also known as UX engineer/developer or Creative Technologist. They are quite often Front-End Developers at the core; still, they exist in a gray zone - not quite pure engineers, not actual designers. However, this hybrid status is attractive to technology companies that are looking for those who can identify obstacles and build solutions at the same time. Their software development experience enables them to code in a real context, work with irregular data sets, and alternate between efficiency and user behavior. The design technologists certainly have a bias towards action - instead of talking about solving a UX problem, they build exploratory solutions to solve that problem through a series of prototyping. Their main aim is to bring UX, design, and engineering expertise together to build product prototypes and to help to test the effectiveness of a solution. They guide other developers in building fidelity prototypes using the most suitable tools for the task, actively take part in concept development, and design iteration. There are at least three categories that describe the technologist's impact: driving the iterative design and validation process, building bridges between design and developing, researching, and implementing tools to increase productivity. They are capable of improving the efficiency of ideating and product development while being restricted by design principles, requirements, styles, and UX.[8][9]

Still, Design Technologists are different from UX designers: the first ones execute concept development through prototyping and understanding about system design engineering-wise, and design system design-wise. Design technologists also partner closely with UX researchers to plan studies that test the team's hypotheses. The higher the fidelity of the prototype, the more real it will feel to the user and the better quality of feedback the team will receive. On the other hand, the traditional project takes over user research feedback too slowly, getting it only into the next sprint, and mixing it with different deadlines and business needs.[9][13][14]

The Design Technologists can also be able to encourage leaders to invest in innovative ideas using their unique viewpoints. That allows design conversations to have a broader look at the subject by pointing out opportunities that might be invisible to others. They speak the same language as developers and designers and thus avoid the situations when coded mockups look nothing like what the designer intended. Moreover, design teams get advantages from being able to engage during the exploration of design solutions. For example, prototyping helps designers see the immediate impacts of their design. Otherwise, if designers limit their view only by wireframes, it can lead to the reconsideration of their solution already after the product release. Design Technologists uncover this earlier and thus without a significant investment.[7][10][11]

Design Technologist's tasks can pop up at any design phase, like creating wireframes, prototypes, running experiments, and estimating engineer's work. They do not fit into the traditional product delivery process. Instead, they work through all the stages of product development. In practice, technologists create empathy between design and coding and take care of essential items like consistency, brand, and usability, and tiny things like CSS animations, button alignment, and error messages. It is necessary to mention, though, that one concrete tech stack does not limit Design Technologists because the stack should match the deliverable output according to corresponding time limits. They should be capable of designing constraints to improve efficiency on the level of the concept, instead of the real product development process. Basically, having a Design Technologist on the team means there is always an engineer whose job is primarily the user experience.[7][12]