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Should Designers Code?

Daniel Schwarz March 31, 2021 · 5 min read

It’s 2016, not 2006. Roles like User Interface Designer and Front-End Developer are more favorable than the old-school Web Designer, and they have been for a while now. We’ve become much more attuned to the different stages of building a website, not to mention the fact that there are more technologies, more trends and more competing websites than ever before.

Every aspect of a website needs a specialized type of designer.

And when Google changes its algorithm to accommodate a change in the way we design for screens (like they did with mobile-friendliness/responsive design), you know it’s a huge deal.

But how can you be sure that the component you’re designing (whether you’re using Photoshop or Sketch) is responsive if you don’t code? It sort of makes you wonder, did we make a mistake by splitting “web design” into multiple specialized fields? Or did we do ourselves a favor by focusing our efforts?

Let’s debate it out.

Why Designers Should Code

In bigger teams, somebody else has the role of developer. Developers have to take your design, represent it with words and make it functional. While you may have an idea (whether you visually conceptualize it or not) how the website should adapt to different screen sizes, and how the website should react to a user’s interaction, a developer has to actually make it happen.

Forming creative ideas without boundaries is a wonderful thing to be able to do, but sadly technology does have boundaries — by disregarding the limitations of what code can actually accomplish, you risk creating bumps further down the road.

Performance and Code Maintenance

Performance and code maintenance are two things a web developer has to think about, however, one of the underlying factors that contribute to bloated code and slow websites is the complexity of the design, which the developer may have no involvement in.

Perceived loading times, actual loading times and code complexity are three boundaries that would be better considered before handing a visual design over to a web developer.

Designing With Code

If you tend to build smaller websites then the benefits of being code-savvy are quite obvious. It doesn’t take much work to design and code smaller websites – in fact it makes it a whole lot easier to design with code, directly in the browser.

Many designers enjoy working this way because it eliminates the need for forward-thinking in regards to writing code that runs fast and looks clean. If another developer is taking care of the code, then you run the risk of them either implementing heavy workarounds to fit your visual concept, or them sending you back to the drawing board to come up with a more practical layout.

Why Designers Shouldn’t Code

Designing and coding? Well, that’s a lot of work. Although many of us may be capable of such a feat, it’s a strain on the brain. You’d be responsible for so many things: visual aesthetics, user experiences, interaction design, search engine optimization, branding, mobile-friendliness, code maintenance and so on. Teaming up with a developer sure has its advantages.

Focusing Your Efforts

Having a team (or simply a buddy to work with) means that more energy can be channeled into the design while somebody else holds the fort elsewhere. Having less responsibility means having a clearer mind and efforts that are more focused.

You Shouldn’t Code If You Simply Don’t Like It

Some designers don’t even like programming, and I’m a firm believer of doing only what you love. If you’re doing something that you’re not passionate about you’ll never be awesome at it.

Conclusion: The Sweet Spot?

In my opinion, the necessity to know how to code is circumstantial. What enables you to code (as well as design) efficiently depends on your personality. Do you enjoy reiterating over several rough ideas at once (i.e. being a creative), or are you more neurotic (i.e. you obsess over the final details)?

If you chose “final details”, then you’re likely the gal/guy who takes all of the ideas and designs something solid with it. When you’re done, you hand it to the developer, right? Personally, I believe designers should be able to defend the viability of their work and offer a “this should be code-able” guarantee.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that web designers should code, or even know how to code to a so-called “developer standard”, however, an understanding of the fundamentals could be a huge step towards a workflow with fewer bumps in the road.

What’s your take?

Equally, web developers could explore a deeper understanding of user experiences and the importance of detail. So, should designers code, or not? Or is communication, regardless of skillset, the real secret to an outstanding designer-developer team?

Let’s discuss!

Daniel Schwarz is a full-time design writer and digital nomad. He’s the founder of Airwalk Studios, a company that recently switched their interests from freelance design to content creation. Now they’re working on writing books and magazines for design enthusiasts. Daniel is 25 years of age, originally from London.

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Daniel Schwarz

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