Here we go again—one of the most hotly debated topics in the industry: should designers learn to code?
It’s a question that has divided opinion for decades, and one that never seems to reach a conclusion.
It’s all too easy to get caught up in a debate about what skills belong to whom - but as most designers will know, it’s rarely black and white. In reality, the lines are continuously blurring, and it’s almost impossible to work within the confines of a single job description.
In the ever-evolving, competitive design industry, there’s a more relevant discussion at play. More and more, we’re asking how—not if. How can designers maintain their edge and become more agile? How can they collaborate more effectively to create great end products?
In this post, we’re not going to revisit that age-old debate of whether or not designers should learn to code.
Instead, we’re going to consider a different question: how can learning to code empower you to become a better designer?
Enrich your work
Regardless of whether or not designers need to know how to code, there’s no denying that mastering new skills will significantly enrich the work that you do. This is true of any profession: in order to progress, you need to continuously learn and strive to better yourself. The alternative is stagnation—coasting along with no real growth.
The design industry is, by nature, one of the most progressive fields to work in. The best designers think outside the box and constantly seek to innovate—and learning new skills is all part of this.
As a designer, you naturally approach your work from a design perspective. But what if you could view things from a different vantage point? Say, through the lens of a developer? Learning frontend skills will broaden your horizons far beyond design. You’ll discover fresh approaches to old problems, develop new ways of thinking and learn to consider your work more objectively.
Become a better collaborator
Great designers are masters of empathy—and not just for the user. If you can empathize with your coworkers, you’re in a much better position to collaborate. This is especially valuable when it comes to working with developers.
Learning key frontend skills will enable you to both understand and effectively communicate the technical requirements of design. But why is this important?
If you follow @Iamdevloper on Twitter, you may be familiar with this Tweet poking fun at the lack of understanding between designers and developers:
Designer: “I want you to implement custom select elements”
Rinse and repeat.
Of course, this is a tongue-in-cheek account, but it does highlight a common problem; a discrepancy between what the designer wants and what the developer can deliver. To overcome this breakdown in communication, designers and developers need to speak each other’s language. Designers who can “speak” frontend have a much better understanding of what’s possible from a development perspective.
With some fundamental frontend skills under your belt, you can start to design for the developer as well as for the user. Even if you don’t get hands-on with code in your day-to-day work, you can design with the knowledge of how your vision will be implemented.
Speaking at Front-End London in 2016, Kristina Olivia, UI designer and creator of the Designer Does Code blog, described how she uses her knowledge of coding to make informed design decisions:
“To me, code is just really another tool for designing things. I use it to improve my work in order to understand what I’m doing. It helps me within design…because I know that I can code this up and this would work, or this wouldn’t work, this would be a really bad UX so I’m not going to design it in that way…”
Stand out, design unicorn!
Designers who can code may also have a more secure footing in the job market.
In his 2017 Design in Tech report, John Maeda predicts that intangible elements such as written content and code will have an increasingly pivotal role to play. As Elizabeth Stinson over at wired.com puts it:
“As the distinction between engineering, writing, and design becomes blurrier, design’s role in technology only stands to become more ingrained in the product development process.”
More and more, designers may need to be actively involved in the development side of things. Just as UX and UI constantly overlap, design and development will become increasingly intertwined—and up-skilling will enable you to meet this market demand.
Ultimately, frontend skills are an added USP. Multi-skilled designers stand out as agile team players—and this is the kind of versatility that many employers are looking for. Think of it as learning a foreign language; it doesn’t take away from your design expertise—it adds another dimension. Designers who can code belong to the “design unicorn” category: rare and precious!
Discover our Brand New Specialization Course: Frontend Development for Designers
To help designers meet the demands of this fast-moving industry, we have launched a brand new specialization course: Frontend Development for Designers.
We’ve devised the course specifically with UX and UI designers in mind and, as always, you’ll have a dedicated mentor on hand to provide thorough feedback on your coursework.
Ready to expand your skillset and delve into the frontend? The next course is starting soon: reserve your place here.
What You Should Do Now
- If you’d like a step-by-step intro to find out if UX design is right for you - sign up here for our free 7-day UX short course.
- If you are interested in becoming a UX Designer check out our UX design course (you'll learn the essential skills employers need).
- Find out more about our graduates: their journeys, portfolio projects, and salary increases.
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