In search of the useless

Why visual designers should learn how to code, among other things.

This may not be a fresh new subject to write about but sometimes my thoughts take a while to form, not to mention my opinions. One day you’re sure about something and the other one your opinion is changed by a well phrased article written by a gloriously bearded designer. But I digress.

So should designer learn how to code ? Absolutely. I know, ground breaking opinion. But hold on and refrain from hitting that close button just yet. I have more. I’m going to try and make this article worth your precious time.

I thought of this lately while, in my daily casual browsing, I noticed an increasing number of articles talking about optimization of the workflow, efficiency in design and how it is easy for you to learn how to create, animate, code and deploy your design. Overall, they are really well thought articles and resources written by incredibly talented people that are willing to share their knowledge, and this should be celebrated.

We finally see the bridges between design, asset production and implementation being built. The designer is now more empowered than ever, able to do everything by himself. It is part of the new designer skill-set to know how things are going to look like and how it’s going to be done. It is fast, so fast that Apple will take more time approving your app than you took to actually build it.

And then I thought: “I don’t always want to be fast”. For me the best part of designing is in the preparation, the thinking, the going back and forth, the fear of the empty design file, the heated discussions around icon weight and rounded corners. Typography and color palette. Spending an entire day picking two colors for a gradient.

It feels to me than the more we learn about how it works, the more we loose this innocence, this curiosity, the thing that makes you go “what if ?”

A fresh perspective

One thing you are looking for when you do user studies, ask for feedback or show your latest design to your mom is a fresh perspective. Somebody that doesn’t have the background that you have. Somebody that is going to think differently.

It feels like the more you learn about something, the less you’ll be able to detach yourself from the realities and imperatives of its production.
The more the tools get efficient and simplified, the harder it is to get attached to a design. The faster the design process gets, the hardest it gets to dissociate the prototype from the final product.

While it is extremely important to understand how things function we are in this rare category of work where technicalities meet taste and pure subjective opinion.

I feel like the idea that a design can be beautiful is overtaken by the idea that design is a pragmatic process led to completion by a set of defined steps.
Everything has to make sense, everything has to have a purpose. It seems like the more we’re evolving, the more we take from the technical side than the purely aesthetic side.

In search for the useless

In a sense, optimizing is getting rid of the useless, getting rid of all this disturbance that surrounds the steps you have to take to your final goal.
Art is by definition useless, it doesn’t have any purpose or reason.

While good design is searching for efficiency, excellent design is about delightfulness.

One way to reach delightfulness is to surprise the user. And one way to do that is to surprise yourself, as a visual designer.

Designers should learn to code and how not to code. One example that comes to mind is the influence of print designers going to digital design.
The print designer comes with a fresh look and perspective, his own background and idea of design. His own sense of layout, balance an typography without thinking about fold, divs and browser compatibility.

I’m not saying to forget what is good UI and good design and things you learned through years of practice, they will feed your creativity. I’m saying that your design will benefit from a fresh approach, not grounded by technicalities.

Sometimes its from the most uneducated mind that comes the most beautiful answer. Your knowledge is the tool you will use to build your idea, not the opposite. Do not let the tools dictate your taste. Do not let efficiency win over the useless.