Take a moment to remember the last website you visited this morning. You may have needed to login to access certain information, especially if it was a banking or financial site. If you were shopping for something, you did some searching, viewed photos, compared pricing, and possibly ordered what you found. However you interacted with the website you visited, there were a litany of things the designers considered so that your experience would be efficient and leave a lasting, happy memory. Making your user experience positive, so that you find and get the information you need, weighed heavily on that website’s front-end web development team. Because the priority for that team was ultimately about delivering a satisfying and intuitive user experience for you.

Front-end web development is focused first on the user

The most fundamental aspect of front-end web development is the primacy of the user’s needs. By understanding who will use the website or app, and what are their functional needs, front-end teams are able to deliver outstanding online experiences. These experiences are partially aligned to the user audience’s aesthetic preferences, which are often influenced by factors like:

  • Culture
  • Demography
  • Regionality
  • Social interest
  • Political affiliation
  • Purchasing habits

Coupling these individual considerations with familiar themes and a company’s branding requirements helps ensure the user interface does its part in delivering the desired emotive impact. But that just provides a basic foundation for the design.

Achieving a cohesive, user-centric, and responsive experience also means meeting the user where they are. Content and graphic assets are built for deployment across an enterprise, so that the experience persists across desktop, laptop, and mobile devices. Therefore, front-end web development team members must possess strong knowledge about the applications, file types, and integration process so they can deliver digital materials to technical specification.

Front-end web development creatively blends the artistic and the technical

The calling card for outstanding front-end web development is flawless negotiation of several competing interests. Layout and typography weigh the company’s visual standards, topical or thematic goals, and user functional needs, such as ADA compliance for accessibility. Research on current trends also influences how the color palette is structured, as well as the fonts that are selected for a particular design. By comparing a perfect product within the same industry or one that achieves a similar functional goal, the graphic design portion of a project can proceed.

We typically build out our initial visual concepts using a tool like Adobe XD. This tool gives us quick access to shared libraries. It also enables fast, consistent layout design, then experience modeling to approximate how the end product will look to a user.

The next step is selecting a solid framework instead of reinventing the wheel each time. Although most clients want their website or app to look and feel completely different from anyone else’s, the critical underlying code is often very similar. Therefore, it’s very useful to leverage established HTML, CSS, JavaScript and jQuery libraries, then modify them to suit the specific needs of a given project. In this way, a company benefits from a solution that feels custom, while the front-end web development team maximizes efficiency by not building everything from scratch.

This is where a strong, dedicated quality assurance process comes in. We never want our products to look the same as everything else. Cheap web builder apps are a dime a dozen. Plus, applying best practices like expertise in accessibility compliance for 508 and ADA is something that can’t be fully realized through an automated solution. And there are times a client will ask for something else that is non-standard, like moving the login button from the top right to the top left. Or having a side-scroll, swipe-style page navigation experience. The lines between preference or requirement can be easily blurred, and negatively impact a project if a team takes their eye off the ball. That’s why listening carefully while following the project roadmap is critical.

Photograph of two elephants, one which has tiger striped fur to infer re-skinning.

Different front-end web development workflows based on the scope of the project

There are usually two primary drivers of a project’s workflow: time and money. So when a company goes through a brand refresh, or rebrands their enterprise completely, it could seem intuitive to simply re-skin the existing website. That way the company could keep the budget low and finish the project quickly. However, many sites these days are more than simple repositories of content in one bucket. Content management systems (CMS), plugins, middleware, and shared dynamic databases can present a difficult challenge for straight modifications, because of the potential for missing assets or legacy code. Believe it or not, it is often faster (and less expensive) to build anew, using a compatible framework as the starting point to maximize efficiency, instead of undergoing a retrofit.

In some cases when a website is built with a free builder app, there may be some corners cut that need remediation to make the site responsive and accessible. Bringing a site “up to code” can require extensive work on schema, adding alt text or modifying visual elements to reach proper contrast ratios, generating imagery with multiple resolutions for different screens, putting captions on videos, and much more. The front-end development team has a major stake in aggregation of assets and code editing, to help ensure a consistent experience for all users, everywhere.

Websites are one among the most important organizational tools your company will invest in, right on par with the accounting system, practice management system, ERP and CRM. A correctly designed website, built from the ground up, is set-up for scalability from the start so that as you grow, the base can support growth in the short or long term. It all starts with the front-end web development communication on user audience and website functional goals.

Photograph of DiscoverTec yellow -branded race car winning race across finish line.

Three tips for super-charging your front-end web development

There is always a desire to get projects done fast and right, regardless of whether the site is a new build, an existing site re-skin, or expansion of a legacy site to a modern version. Here are a few helpful tips and tricks for keeping things moving along nicely.

Inspiration, not stagnation. Start your front-end web development projects each day with a peek at a site like Smashing Magazine or a plugin like Muzli. You can see what’s new on the front-end front, and take your creative self out the immediate, and into the infinite. Clients will admire and thank you for seeming to think outside of the box every day.

Integration, not repetition. You’ve probably noticed a common theme throughout. One more time: starting from scratch altogether is inefficient. Although it is fun to build custom icons, but most of us don’t have time for that. So do yourself a favor and employ a library or plugin like Font Awesome and you’ll have more bandwidth to work on deeper creative challenges.

Comparison, not capitulation. Continuous improvement is all about not caving to a set-it-and-forget-it mentality. There’s no formula to maintaining website success, so it’s crucial you do ongoing testing. Specifically, A/B testing. This practice helps a front-end development team tease out better performing aspects of the site, including imagery, content, interactions, positioning, and much more. Better performance reflects a positive experience for users, which means more business being done on your site.

Conclusion

Although front-end is only the first part of the web development data contract, it’s the half that’s most closely aligned to the users experiencing a website. By working collaboratively with back-end web development teams, websites can be built together that function well, look great, and make users who visit happy.

Published on: July 01, 2022 by Andy Nguyen, Lead UX/UI Designer