Should Designers Code?

Code and Design Are two vastly different disciplines.

So I see a lot of people talking about how designers should code. How it makes sense for frontend code to be produced in the design phase.

Now, to a point, I agree. I definitely agree that being able to write code will help a web designer better understand the medium they are designing for. However does that make coding a prerequisite for designing in the digital space? No. No. No.

As an analogy, in photography people always talked about the need to know about the developing process to truly master taking a picture – and yet we find ourselves now I’m the digital age, where a vast number of photographers have NO concept of how a digital print is produced. Many of these photographers produce great photography.

Writing code is not a pre-requisite for good design.

Web is the same: you don’t actually have to write code to design great web sites or user experiences. I will grant that the understanding will probably help, but it is by no means a prerequisite.

Obviously, if you don’t implement your own designs, you will need to rely on a developer to do this for you, which leaves you open to the stereotypical “it’s technically impossible” issue, where the dev just can’t be bothered to implement it. However, this is a process issue and has very little to do with your design.

Compartmentalisation is sometimes necessary for creativity.

As a designer and developer, I have to try very, very hard to compartmentalise when I design, so that my visual creativity is not limited or stifled by my understanding of the development process. Design is about creativity. Design is about pushing boundaries. The argument that all designers should code is like arguing that all developers should design. (While we’re removing steps from the process, lets remove the frontend and backend distinction – since THAT is a separation that makes absolutely no sense).

As an aside: its strange to me that no one is talking ablut how developers should learn design. The reality is thst if the two disciplines were brought closer together, communication and teamwork would be easier.

It’s not that designers SHOULDN’T learn to code…

Now, to be perfectly clear, I’m not suggesting that I don’t think web designers shouldn’t learn basic frontend development skills so that they can truly understand the medium they work in. I teach a basic HTML/CSS course for designers at Shillington College in Sydney, and the value in the course for a designer is huge. However, it’s not really a case of training designers to BE developers, rather it gives them a taste; an understanding. I suspect that of the hundreds of people I have taught HTML and CSS to, only a tiny fraction (i would guess < 5) of those students have gone on to become web developers. However, their understanding of the development process and the overall technology stack helps them immensely in their design work.

Let’s be realistic. I’ve been writing frontend web code for over 15 years, I believe I’m pretty good at it. I don’t think that a designer who does a 1 week short course in HTML/CSS is going to instantly start producing markup or CSS that is comparable to what I can feasibly produce. I’m not trying to discourage the designers from learning and trying to perfect development – but I am going to suggest that it’s very, very hard.

The problem here is employers and recruiters.

My gripe here is really with employers, recruiters and HR departments who write the job advertisements I constantly see that read like this:

Junior Web Designer for dynamic agency in centre of (insert-city-here). Must have an understanding of HTML/CSS/JS and be able to code up their own designs. (Nice to have: flash, php, mysql, barista skills, speaks french and spanish and norwegian. Can juggle.) 

 Now, as someone who routinely hires both designers and developers this sounds like the perfect employee. However in reality, we usually end up giving any HTML/CSS that a designer produces to a real developer to re-implement. I’m all for companies hiring junior designers and then training them to write code i just abhor this culture of requiring these skills to even get an interview.

Because I like stupid analogies, I’m going to close with a couple:

  1. You wouldn’t ask your dentist treat your cold.
  2. You wouldn’t expect your architect to actually lay bricks on your house.
  3. You wouldn’t ask your butcher to fillet a fish.