“Should designers code” is the wrong question

It seems like every couple of months, a new “should designers code” blog post pops up. Some of these articles even do a great job of balancing the pros and cons of learning code. And yet comments on this issue are usually of the “of course they should” variety. As a designer, you may feel pressure to follow that advice. After all, how can so many people be wrong?

Yet most things are rarely this black-and-white, and this topic is no exception. Framing the discussion like this overlooks opportunities to learn something other than coding. Opportunities that will enhance your craft as a designer in different and better ways.

Everyone’s time is limited, including the time they have to learn new concepts. As a designer who is thinking about learning to code, you may see it as a good use of that time. And if you are the only designer/developer in your organization, it likely is.

But if you work with others who can code, how will duplicating that knowledge make your product better? Instead, take that time and invest it in what comes before both code and pixel: User research.

User research is a topic that is often advocated for in design circles. After all, how can you create the right thing if you don’t understand what the right thing is?

And make no mistake, good user research is hard. It takes time to identify the problem. Hours interviewing and observing users, teasing out new insights in their behavior. Then putting it all together in to a cohesive map that guides you to the right solution. And all before “Photoshop” is ever opened.

Understanding user research will result in a better product than knowing code ever will. And yet it seems it is always overlooked in the throes of this debate.

So I hope as these discussions continue, they evolve away from “should designers code?” Instead, let’s ask what is best for you as a designer, the organization you work for, and the user you hope to serve?