Why Designers Should Learn How to Code

There’s a never-ending debate about whether web designers should be able to code. Web designers who can’t code their own designs still exist. When the web first took off, the designation “web designer” was limited in scope. Technological developments led to an ever-growing demand for web designers, and now the field is open to unlimited possibilities for specialization.

Why Designers Should Learn How to Code

If you are talented with graphics yet clueless when it comes to coding and the back end, then you will most likely be the first who a firm that is tight on budget lets go. Does splitting your share with another coder make sense as a freelancer? It’s simple: the more skilled you are, the more valuable you will be.

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Why Designers Should Learn How to Code

Detailed and very specialized projects should be referred to web developers. They will always have a role to play, but web designers need basic knowledge of coding, too. In this post, I will address why designers should learn to code themselves.

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Miscommunication

Designers may not able to clearly convey their ideas to developers because of their limitations in implementing design. As a designer, you could find yourself lost if you are unfamiliar with the technical language and lingo employed by developers.

This leads to miscommunication in planning and executing projects. How often is your final product—whether a website, software or a game—a quiet compromise between what could have been and what was created? First-hand exposure to the code used to implement a design helps to avoid confusion between designers and developers.

User-Friendliness

The design of a website is its soul, but user experience is equally important. Everyone wants a website that is easy to navigate and that can be accessed without fuss. The more of an impact your final design has on the user, the greater the chance you will find success as a designer. Being able to dig into how the coding works ensures that you are better equipped to excel. It will also enlighten you about elements that might need to be cut. Thinking out and planning a design is only half the job. Gaining knowledge of coding enables you to design a stunning product with excellent user-friendly capabilities.

Being Realistic and Feasible

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Being a creative genius in design does not necessarily mean you will become a successful designer. Why is this?

A creative genius uses their imagination to create a fascinating design. However, it’s important not only to be creative but to focus on the feasibility and practical application of your design. The only way to really understand the limitations of a web layout is to be involved in it yourself.

Time-Saver

Quality is a requisite in the web design industry. Efficiency is another. The better you are at your work, the quicker your tasks will be completed. With the designer’s active involvement in coding and implementation, the development timeframe shrinks considerably, simply because the layout process becomes much more systematic.

Time Is Money

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During my career I have come to realize that more people working on a project leads to more noise, but not necessarily more work getting done. The more people who work on a project, the more time is consumed. It takes a long time to bridge the gap between a designer’s original idea and what is feasible. This gap is usually bridged by interaction between the designer and developer. However, if the designer is a coder on the project, they are more likely to draw out the original idea keeping technical constraints in mind.

Improvements and changes can be worked out along the way by the designer, which saves time. Compare this to a process where the developer reviews the project only after the designer has finished working on it.

Grow Your Market

Increasing professional competition and financially tumultuous times have raised the expectations and demands of every corporate house on its employees and associates. Multi-tasking has become a popular method of working. Possessing one set of skills and being an expert in your field doesn’t ensure that you have an edge in today’s world. Rather, possessing skills in multiple departments not only keeps you above competition but makes you indispensable.

At some stage in your career as a designer, you may be required to play other roles, such as project manager, web developer or content writer. Graciously accepting these assignments and excelling at them will put you on a higher level. Proof of your flexibility boosts your portfolio and value as a designer.

Search Engine Optimization

Online marketing is at an all-time high. Websites are created as marketing channels that reach out to a global audience. The demand for SEO is growing everyday, creating a unique domain for expertise.

When designers are personally involved in coding and implementing their work, they ensure that their designs will be SEO-compliant. Code will be written with SEO in mind, keywords will be included, files will be named appropriately, and alt text for images will be correct. In short, the website’s ranking on search engines will be kept in mind at all times.

Compatibility

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We have already discussed the importance of a web presence to every organization. To make your presence known, your website must be accessible and compatible with various gadgets, such as PDAs and smartphones. A designer who plans the implementation of a website will be better off keeping the content simple and the code plain and consistent, to ensure that navigating the website is a pleasure.

Learning to code enables a designer to keep principles of accessibility in mind even in the initial stages of design. Collecting the necessary information in the beginning helps avoid confusion and saves time in later stages of development.

Avoid Disharmony

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It is not uncommon to hear of disharmony between developers and designers. This often occurs when a website must be returned to a designer for reworking due to technical limitations. The only sustainable way to avoid such friction is to learn to code yourself. Ensure that your design is flexible from the start so that changes can be made without taking away from the essence of the design.

Do Not Be Complacent

Complacency kills in any profession. One must continually adapt and remain open to learning new skills and techniques. The design and development field is extremely fast-paced, and it changes as new technology is introduced. A designer needs to be aware of the latest trends in order to effectively implement their designs without fuss.

Do Not Believe Myths

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A common assumption in the design industry is that knowledge of the back end of web development and coding is a hindrance to the creative capabilities of designers. From first-hand experience, I strongly oppose this. When I first learned coding and implementation I was of this opinion. However, with experience I realized that knowledge of HTML and CSS opened new dimensions for me to explore. Playing around with the code enables me to be creative in implementing a design.

Conclusion

I am in no way concluding that all coding and implementation work should be done by the designer. Developers need to do what they do best. However, a design can be taken to a new level of excellence only if the designer is aware of what the developer does. This will ensure that the product is created exactly as planned. Please spare a moment to share your thoughts on the subject.

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28 Comments

  1. My 2 cents: Designer must code

  2. I think that everyone on a web project needs to know a little bit about what everyone else is doing in the development process, as EVERYONE IS RESPONSIBLE for the final USER EXPERIENCE.

  3. I totally agree. I know it makes me so much more valuable to my current employer that I can design and code. 2 for 1 deal…can’t beat that.

  4. Totally agree with you. I’am designer and I can code, but just with HTML and CSS.

  5. Great Article!
    Learned new things here. Great stuff!
    To be a Complete Developer and Designer in one… you don’t have to be a superhero. It is not as hard as you think. Everything depends on whether youre ambitious and dedicated. And needs a little bit of time and reading ofc.

    Why use a coder, when you can do this yourself? I’m not saying that designer have to do all the coding. If you want to get the Big Picture of web designing, you should learn at least the basics of coding (CSS, HTML or XHTML?).

  6. Well then I guess all coders need to design as well.

  7. I absolutely agree!

  8. Very well said!

    Money will definitely be flowing if a designer can code. Specially on those one time big time projects. Lets say a $3000 worth project will be split with a developer or worse. You get 40% or he gets 60%.

  9. yeah , I totally agree with you . I’m learning about code too now . because , if I don’t know the code , i won’t be grow up . haha . nice post by the way

  10. I am one of the rare breed of web designer’s who can’t code a tag. Having been in the game for a long time and out on my own for 4 years, I’ve been lucky enough to avoid most of the (valid) points you’ve touched on.

    I find there’s quite a need for specialised design skill out there and most of the work I do is for bigger development companies. I also work well with tech to determine the user experience.

    However, the biggest problem I have is that I have NO CONTROL of the QUALITY of work that finally goes live. The dev companies implement my designs and then I’m out of the picture (they usually have no budget for my feedback after they secure the PSD files). So I’m often faced with the disheartening reality of having been really pleased with the design, but horrified and embarrased by the build which I then can’t use in my portfolio.

    There’s no way around this but to learn to code, but at this stage of the game, it’s almost too late. Do I go back to Uni at 34? And if I learn by myself (no time, let’s be honest) it’s going to take ages to be good enough to put my newly acquired skill out there. Dilemma indeed.

  11. I think this article makes valid points, but equally so, I appreciate those web programmers who have actually made efforts to learn how designers design as well. It’s a two-way street. Also, I recently came across a job opportunity where the employer wanted a designer that also was a proficient web programmer. Is this becoming more and more the trend?

  12. I agree 100%. As a print designer turned web pro there are some very basic things that every designer must take into account when designing a website. Nothing teaches you better about what those things are than coding your own CSS and HTML. There are great tools available to help designers as well. I love using SiteGrinder to build CSS and HTML all inside of Photoshop. Using SiteGrinder has made me a better designer whether I’m developing the site or not. I now know what to look for and what to omit from my designs from the dev perspective.

  13. I started off as a graphic designer, but soon I kept getting asked to code sites along with the graphics I created, thus I dove into the deep end and learned as much basic HTML as I could and it put me into demand for many years.

    I still hand code in HTML, but PHP, ASP and other codes I struggle with, I can edit them without to much issue, but hand coding them doesn’t happen, I’ve not been able to wrap my head around them to the degree necessary to do so and have paid the price with loss of clients and options that where looking for a designer who could code in them plus design.

    But I feel that there is still a place for those who can at least code in HTML and who bring other web skills to the plate along side the graphic design skill set, its just a harder market to work within, with budgets for companies are ever tighter.

  14. Designers should ideally have an understanding of how a site can come together but where do you draw the line on how well a designer can code?

    I’d prefer a quality designer who doesn’t write shit code than a mediocre designer who can write some mediocre code as well.

    J.

  15. @Luke, absolutely!

    I am supposed to be a web designer but I get involved with jQuery, smarty and a little PHP as well as code all my own HTML and CSS.

    It’s a fine line though, I’m evolving into a developer because I have been exposed to so many features and problems I have to build or solve myself. I would rather spend all day looking at code and fixing things or making stuff work than actually design these days, I hate Photoshop now as it is such a huge time drain.

    So I agree that a designer should be able to build their own designs in HTML and CSS but if they are anything like me then they might lose their design edge because you tend to design sites that you know you can code, I actually think divs, z-index’s, floats or what smarty tag is going to feed that info when I am moving things around in Photoshop, I know I shouldn’t but I can’t help it anymore.

  16. Developers should also learn how to design as well. Actually, project managers should know how to do both too. Don’t even get me stated on the marketing department, they should double as sysadmins.

  17. You are my new hero. I get so tired of a designer not understanding why I can’t make monkeys talk or get the website to have a conversation with the viewer. If they would just go through the basics it would help coders a lot.
    Luckily for me I do both design and code so I can relate better but I still run into the occasional guy that thinks anything is possible. “Yeah we want to create a website where people can give blood online and hospitals can download pints” – uggggggg
    Thanks for this insightful article!

  18. well i honestly dont know much about the designing and coding but by reading post and comment of the readers i agree with them :)

    • Thank you for the great tutorial! It has been very helpful to see a few techniques in action.

  19. Designers can certainly learn how to code. Unfortunately, coders cannot learn how to design. Sure, you can learn some aspects of it, but designing is very much a “you have an eye for it or you don’t”. Too many coders think that they can design, as well. That’s why Websites That Suck still does well.

  20. Should designers know how to code? I can answer that with another question:

    Should car designers know how to drive?

  21. When designers know how to code it can give others a better idea of their design plus it makes them more well-rounded.

  22. Well i like to think in field of web designing a designer should have knowledge of coding. and it’s not very difficult to learn. Developer do his part but at the same time understanding of his work by the designer is essential.

  23. This argument frustrates me. Having been a production artist, graphic designer and art director I have worn a few hats in the creative field. Each of the positions I held had clearly defined tasks and skillsets. A production artist produces the designer or art directors designs, layouts, high res work, resizes for different mediums and subsequent collateral. As a graphic designer one would design the look of whatever the task is, a logo, a poster etc.

    An art director would come up with creative concepts and direct the work of others, designers, illustrators, photographers, to see it all come together.

    As creatives, time is not on our side. It’s not “easy” to constantly create compelling and original design, and often takes up a lot of your time. Especially when clients expect at least 3 variations of the creative as is usually the standard.

    So where is the time to code when you have other creative jobs to do and other clients to move on to?

    I agree a designer should know at least the limitations of the medium when it comes to the web, but we should not have to do someone else’s job for them! Most highly developed creative people have enough stress on their plate contemplating design solutions. Having to think and worry about coding just saps creativity.

    Know you role and stick with it.

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