Code like a designer: Day 1

Two years ago I finally got fed up with the never ending “Should designers code?” argument and wrote about my experience as an interaction designer who uses code as a tool and why I thought it was useful for interaction designers. It was called Code like a designer and my goal was to try and shift some of the conversation beyond the boring, mostly useless fight about should designers dirty their beautiful, delicate, creative minds with the rational, uncreative, maths based tool of “code” or not.

I still believe to this day this is the wrong question to be asking because like every good designer before me I know the answer to almost any question that asks for an absolute is, “It depends.” I am not interested in the overly vague and prescriptive question about what all designers should or should not do, be it: writing code, becoming product managers, having a Dibbble account, or whatever we come up with next to fight about on social media. The best designers throughout the history of our profession have not put limits on themselves. They adopted new knowledge and tools as the work has demanded. All of this is to say, if you’re here looking for someone to tell you that you should/should not code, you are in the wrong place.

I was inspired to start writing more regularly on this topic by Alan Cooper’s very well thought out series of posts (1, 2, 3, and 4) on the topic. Specifically this bit:

Some interaction designers have defended their coding skills as a useful interaction design tool. I think it is wonderful that you know how to code, and it is totally okay that you have made it an effective part of your work process. I, too, am an experienced programmer and I have often used coding as an integral part of my design process. I’m in full, unqualified agreement.
However, I do not believe that our anecdotal experience should be construed as a general truth. Just because coding might help you or me, it does not help everyone. Over the years I have worked side-by-side with some of the finest interaction designers in the business, and many of them do not code at all. Coding is not a skill necessary to be a top notch interaction designer. The majority of the better designers I’ve been privileged to know do not code.

I certainly fall into this camp of designers who defended their coding skills to him in the comments, but he’s right that any attempt to generalize a single way to do our job is incorrect. I don’t intend to preach “the one true way” to do interaction design but if you are interested in code, if you are curious about building more capable prototypes, if you are intrigued by the idea of bringing your skills as a designer to a new media and learning a new set of tools, so am I.

Should designers code? Should engineers paint? Should doctors learn woodworking? Should lawyers learn how to do plumbing? It depends. Do you want to learn how you can use code as a design tool? Then stick around.