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Designers should study business. And keep coding.

Christian Behrens
Mar 14, 2016 · 2 min read

The other day, while browsing Medium over lunch, I stumbled upon yet another article that explains why designers should/should not pursue a certain activity other than design. This one was called “Designers shouldn’t code. They should study business.”, and its author argues that designers were better off “reading over the Q1 projections and finding out that the key initiatives for the quarter have nothing to do with refactoring your CSS”.

While I agree with the title’s second sentence, the first one got me sitting down and spending another lunch break to put together a response to this claim. Here you go:

Regardless whether you call yourself UI, UX, Digital, Interaction, or Web Designer, your job is to design digital products. These products run on computers, tablets, smartphones and in other environments that need to be programmed in some way. What you design will eventually be transformed into code, and if you don’t understand at least the very basic principles of this transformation, you cannot deliver great results.

If you look at other design disciplines, you will find striking parallels: Industrial designers need to know about materials and production processes, but they don’t have to be fully-fledged engineers. Graphic designers working in print should have a thorough understanding of printing techniques and paper grades, but they don’t have to be trained printers. They don’t have to be domain experts in all these fields, but if they don’t understand the possibilities and limitations of these related disciplines, how will they be able to deliver the best results?

This is why we at MING Labs expect designers who apply for a job to bring at least a basic technical skillset to the table. You know how HTML structures content and how stylesheets give it a consistent appearance? Great. You can explain how responsive design works under the hood? Fantastic! You build click dummies in HTML and CSS, maybe with some simple jQuery interactions on top? OMG! (By the way, we are hiring!)

We shouldn’t expect every designer to write production-ready front-end code, just as we shouldn’t expect every designer to have an MBA. But just as a great designer knows what the business side of a product looks like, an understanding of the fundamental principles of how this product actually works under the surface will take its quality to the next level.

Christian Behrens

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Interaction designer based in Berlin. www.christianbehrens.com