I can see this article becoming an oft-cited "turning point" in frontend development, like Ethan Marcotte's A List Apart post on responsive design. It's certainly a beautifully crafted argument for why your engineering team needs some Design Engineers, yesterday.
Some useful quotes on the why/what of design engineers:
How do we take all of the good ideas that have preceded our involvement in the project, tie them all together elegantly, and deliver them to the user appropriately.
As web developers in a larger build chain, I think our goal is to ‘translate’ the design in the best way possible.
But the primary focus is on doing anything they [design engineers] can to help translate the design for the engineering team.And I just love this concept (a man can dream):
CSS is the primary language of the design engineer.
I find it fascinating that there are elements to Trys' explanation of a Design Engineer that almost feel more like frontend DevOps (Design Ops? probably taken 😂) or system architecture. I think that's probably a little true; it's certainly an interesting thought to consider.
A design engineer must balance the user experience with the developer experience, both empowering the team to write great code in whatever way is right to them, whilst ensuring that doesn’t detrimentally harm the user experience.
On "back-of-the-front" developers:
I’m generalising, but developers in these fields tend to be ‘systems thinkers’ and approach things with a programming > design mindset—that’s just how their brains tend to work in my experience. Their skills are in writing elegant, robust and scalable code to ensure our products don’t fall over when things go awry. Their skills are in breaking down the whole product into sensible chunks, storing data efficiently, and making it easy to query. Their skills are in preventing data being leaked, stopping users from storing corrupt data, and ceasing hackers in their stride.
Their skills (again, generalising), are not in realising the nuance of a design. And that’s great!
...but as we know from the design & engineering ‘owl grievances’...
This is just a wonderful sentence that I'm incredibly glad exists 👏🦉