19 Feb, 2020

Turns out, front-end development is a bit like knitting…

As the title of this blog post probably suggests, I am not a developer. I am in fact a member of the marketing team here at Pixel, but there are plenty of times when I find myself needing to make sense of something one of my colleagues is telling me about development. Needless to say, it sometimes takes me a while to get my head around the things they are telling me and I often find that a good analogy helps me out.
Recently, I was chatting to Josh about a particularly intricate piece of development work he did for our client MTech. Now Josh is a developer, no front end or back end distinction, he does it all (just like all our other devs), but he is partial to a little CSS wizardry.

Anyway, as he was taking me through the work he’d done, and flinging stuff like the jQuery library and trigonometry at me (yes apparently is was worth learning trigonometry in school), I thought, nope, I am not getting this.

And then Josh said “it’s really intricate this, because if I get one rule wrong, the whole thing breaks” and I had a lightbulb moment: as it turns out, front-end development is just like knitting. Now I don’t know if you’re a knitter or a developer or neither, but the simple principle that both things have in common is this: if you don’t do the right things, in the right order, if you miss a step (or a stitch), then the chances are the end result isn’t going to be right and that’s a problem.

With knitting, that problem will be something like the pattern doesn’t match or the pieces won’t fit together correctly, but with front end development the issues are much more of a headache, the user experience will be knackered, the design’s probably ruined and in short, the interactions just won’t work.

Now I know you’re probably wondering at this stage, why someone in marketing would really be bothered about these kind of front-end development issues. Well there are two main reasons why...

First, it’s common in web development, for back end developers to shall we say…tease, front end developers, saying they do nothing but colour in and I think it’s about time that record got a little straightened out and second, while I may not be a front-end development expert, I do know that user experience is something that goes hand in hand with search engine optimisation (and I like to think I know a lot about that). It’s in this respect, creating the right user experience, that front-end development specifically, can support SEO and marketing efforts.

User experience is important for search engine optimisation for a number of reasons. For one thing it can make your website more accessible and therefore more crawlable. It can also help manage a user’s expectations based on their search intent, it helps encourage users to return time and time again, it can build credibility and that in turn builds authority and of course, it supports the conversion pathway helping ensure visits from search engines are valuable and fulfilled.

Often, we think of user experience as being the remit of the design team, and certainly for us, that’s where much of the work is done. Our UX Designer Jake and myself can spend hours on persona planning and user journey mapping before he rustles up a lovely set of UX wireframes. These then go through UI and end up in the hands of our development team. But it would be daft if user experience considerations stopped here, after all when we were working on that intricate work for MTech I mentioned earlier, it is Josh, who ultimately creates the animations and the transitions.

He’s the one who controls the speed and style of movement, the changes in colour, the placement of items, the relationship between those items and how those items interact with one another. He’s the one that makes the user experience a reality and that’s why he’s the one, we marketers should be working with more closely if we’re to really maximise the benefits of user experience for search engine optimisation.

(Oh, and that’s also why front-end development is SO much more than just colouring in).