UI developer vs front-end developer explained

The world of design and development can be full of similar and somewhat confusing job titles, especially for customers trying to hire professionals to create various digital products. One of those states of bewilderment is often brought by the popular choice of UI developer vs. front-end developer.

Considering that both jobs revolve around the client side of apps and web products and the fact that front-end developers are engineers too, leads to either overlapping or slightly different ideas of what those roles represent. However, in much more complex projects, there is a clear separation between UI developers and front-end developers.

So, if you are interested in hiring UI or front-end specialists and want to learn more about the differences and similarities between user interface developers and front-end developers, go ahead and read till the end for loads of useful info.

Developers vs. Designers

In many software development projects, developers and designers can and should intertwine (a.k.a. cooperate) during their work in order for the final product to end up more thought-out and cohesive.

In smaller companies, the roles and responsibilities can even merge to some point. Less so in bigger UX/UI design and back-end development projects, where each position is clearly defined and structured.

Yet, in successful companies, designers and developers have to, at least partially, be in the know of each other’s duties and areas of expertise. Let’s now outline the differences and similarities between the two for a much clearer picture.

Differences

Main focus. For developers, the primary focus is on functionality, structure, usability, integrations, and technology limitations. At the same time, designers concentrate on design and its principles, aesthetics, overall appearance, user flow, branding, and style.

Tools. The developer’s toolset consists of HTML, CSS, JavaScript, coding libraries, frameworks, and repositories, also issue tracking and code versioning tools, content management systems (CMS), etc. Designers utilize wireframing and prototyping tools, design editing software, CMS, and various other website or application builders.

Responsibilities. The developers’ primary duties involve programming a user-friendly and functional web or application interface per the original design provided by designers, along with branding and marketing design.

Concept. Designers create the product’s very first idea and how it’s going to look by creating a mockup and, later, a prototype. Developers then take that concept and test its credibility, after which they, simply put, write a code for it.

Skills. There’s much more technical knowledge required for a developer than for a designer, such as knowledge of multiple programming languages and their frameworks. Designers focus more on visual elements, though analysis and research are also present.

Types. There are front-end, back-end, full-stack developers, and primarily UX, UI, UX/UI, and visual designers.

Similarities

For starters, both designers and developers focus on the product’s usability. Programming is just as responsible as the design for the product’s ease of use, intuitiveness, and ability to help users achieve their goals.

Likewise, both UX/UI and development teams follow the same product creation process, typically Agile these days. They both deal with clients’ needs, wants, and pain points while understanding the constraints that are put on the project for logical reasons and trying to work around them.

Overall, all the similarities between designers and developers boil down to being able to create and properly maintain a website or an application.

Front-end vs. user interface: meaning

The term “front-end” comes from the software architecture and essentially means the presentation layer. The antipode of this is the back-end, where all the data is stored and accessed.

On the other hand, the user interface represents the whole range of designing human-computer interactions. It’s not just the website’s interface but also other parts of the experience, such as a mouse, a keyboard, or the rest of the screen.

Yet, it’s actually quite hard, especially for non-developers, to distinguish between front-end developers and user interface developers simply because they both deal with the way websites or web applications present themselves on the user’s screen.

Think of it like this: UI development is design + coding, and front-end development is just coding - implementing and integrating the design elements into websites and apps using various programming languages.

What does a user interface developer do?

First of all, a UI developer focuses on developing user interfaces. After user research is performed, UI developers must guarantee that all the insights will find their way into the final product so users can understand the product’s navigation and interact with it easily.

UI developer's responsibilities include:

  • Customer research and analysis;
  • UI design research;
  • User interface prototyping;
  • Writing the code for the design.
List of responsibilities of a user interface developer
What does a user interface developer do?

Skills required

The most important skill is the advanced knowledge of languages and tools like HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Angular, React, Vue, AJAX, Typescript, etc.

Apart from programming tools, UI developers also need to be proficient in wireframing and prototyping, as well as decent interaction design and visual communication skills.

UI vs. UX

Basically, in a website, application, or any other type of digital solution, the user interface takes care of all the interactions between users and the product.

In contrast, the user experience does what the name suggests - makes sure the experience of using the product is best-quality.

The UX’s main focus is on the emotional and psychological parts of the experience, emphasizing comfort and the overall atmosphere, which covers navigation and the feel of each interaction.

On the other hand, UI is more preoccupied with the graphical layout and transferring that experience into visual elements, accessibility, etc.

What does a front-end developer do?

Front-end development is the technical implementation of the digital product’s user interface. Every time you visit a website, anything you can see, click, or otherwise interact with is the direct result of the front-end developer’s work.

The responsibilities of front-end developers are similar to those of UI developers simply because they deal with the same goal - giving users the means to interact freely with the product.

The duties of front-end development specialists include:

  • Creating the code for the features that enhance the product’s user experience;
  • Write reusable code that will later be helpful for other developers and for maintenance purposes;
  • Making sure UX is aligned with the design;
  • Optimizing web products to ensure their speed and scalability.
List of responsibilities of a front-end developer
What does a front-end developer do?

Skills required

A much broader spectrum of skill sets is required for front-end development - ranging from quite typical for the development process knowledge of programming languages and algorithms to some cross-industry skills like understanding web architecture, database architecture, and method engineering.

Tools

The toolset is somewhat similar to a UI designer’s tech stack, apart from the few design-oriented solutions. So, the tools for front-end development also include HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, but also Ajax, Angular.js, Chrome Developer Tools, GitHub, Bootstrap, and jQuery.

Main differences between front-end developers and UI developers

Both roles play a crucial part in creating responsive products with an emphasis on a great user experience. The slight blur between these roles, though, can be negated by learning the following differences:

  • Front-end development highlights JavaScript out of the base trio of web development (​​HTML, CSS, JavaScript), while UI development focuses more on HTML and CSS.
  • The presentation layer that is the main focus of the front-end development is juxtaposed with anticipating and leading users to where they need to go in the user interface development.
  • The front end as-it-is represents every clickable element in the website or web application. At the same time, the user interface developer considers everything else that incorporates user experience, including color, icons, etc.

UI developer vs. front-end developer salary

Both UI developers and front-end developers have pretty similar salaries, ranging from $51,000 to $77,000 (in the U.S.A). However, when comparing front-end developers to just UI designers, the former receive bigger pay due to their work being more technical.

Which is better - UI/UX or front-end developer?

This question itself is slightly incorrect, but we have to address it due to it frequently being asked by people hiring for either of those positions. If choosing between UI developers and front-end developers, you’re fine with either choice, as they will mean very similar specialists in a typical web development project.

Choosing between UI/UX designers or front-end development professionals is unnecessary, as both of these roles are essential in creating a well-rounded website or web application. UI/UX designers create the visual design, and then front-end developers bring that design to life by writing code for it.

How to choose either a UI developer or a front-end developer?

The demand for front-end developers, or UI front-end developers, is much higher nowadays than the demand for typical UI developers due to a much higher need for multi-tasking during certain periods in the company and the requirements for tools like Ajax or jQuery.

The most important factors you should consider when hiring for either of those developer positions are the skill set, experience, a nice variety of projects in their portfolio (with some being similar to yours), affordable rates, and sufficient communication skills.

Front-end and user interface aren’t always the same

Do front-end and UI mean the same thing? The whole point of the UI developer vs. front-end developer argument is that these two things are interchangeable in web or application development. Yet, semantically speaking, they are a bit different, as we have prior established in the article.

When you hire web developers for your website or application, both UI developers and front-end developers mean the same thing, even though everything UI-related in the name belongs more to the design part of web development.

Overall, we hope we’ve managed to shed some light on who you need to seek for your future projects.

Serhii Hyliuk

Head of Growth

Head of Growth and Customer Success. I'm interested in design, new tech, fashion, exploring new places and languages. My mission is to make our clients happy.

Head of Growth and Customer Success. I'm interested in design, new tech, fashion, exploring new places and languages. My mission is to make our clients happy.

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