Designers: Adapt or Die.
The writing is on the wall, and it’s in 400 pt Helvetica…
Learn to code or be irrelevant.
You’re not going to like this, but…
If you’re a Designer in tech and haven’t already noticed that all the young lions coming out of school to take your job (or beat you out for that juicy contract gig) all know how to write some kind of code or script, you really should pay a bit more attention.
It’s time to make a critical choice that your future livelihood in the tech industry will depend on.
The day is quickly coming where we’ll have no use for you if you can’t design AND code. It’s not personal — just business.
< awkward > silence < /awkward >
OK, hold on. That’s just plain wrong. Why would you even think that’s the case?
Well, let’s start with the obvious — we’re all in the midst of a colossal shift to a Maker/Hacker mindset and approach to just about everything we do — whether that be creating products, providing services, doing things at home, or even just communicating with each other.
This new world needs and values doers, not talkers.
Unfortunately, even the most talented Designers who don’t code are the equivalent of talkers in this example, and Coders are the doers. Why? Design work without the ability to be experienced falls short. Yes, Design is absolutely critical to everything we do, and I totally live the whole power of collaboration thing every day myself — but that complete reliance on others to finish the job isn’t going to cut it anymore in this shifting marketplace.
Don’t all these fast prototyping tools count as coding?
No. Not without the ability to go off script (bad pun). They’re awesome tools compared to how we used to do things as Designers in the past, but that’s all they are — prototyping tools with rails that constrain your approach and execution. Nothing but fancy slideware with behaviors.
Whatever. Why should I believe anything you have to say about this anyway?
Maybe you shouldn’t — but honestly I’ve seen this happening every day with big and small teams alike, and experienced it myself from both perspectives (being a Designer and Coder) and the conclusion is inescapable.
The most valuable person on the team is not the one with the million dollar idea, it’s the person with the ability to actually bring that idea to life quickly. And that value gets exponentially larger when it’s the same person who can both brilliantly envision and skillfully build. That person is called the Coding Designer. And that person is worth their weight in gold to employers and clients.
I’m not saying Designers can or should replace true Developers. Different skillsets (except in the rare case). I am saying the days of being able to skate by without fabricating your designs are numbered Designers, so it’s time to do something about it. You don’t need to become hardcore Devs, but you do need to know how things work in the code world and be able to express your ideas in that medium.
Still not buying this. Where’s your so called proof?
OK, since nothing I say will convince you, let’s be a bit scientific and data-driven here. We’ll depend on your observation of real people in real situations to be our guide.
- Go to a Hackathon
Look around at all the college kids and people in the early stages of their careers. You’ll notice something that’s almost a universal constant — there are very few Designers to be found in relation to the number of Developers. And the Designers who show up are surely in high demand. Aha! You say, that refutes your key point right? No, you’re missing the point. In a time-sensitive, pressure packed situation like a hackathon, speed and working prototypes win. Same goes for the real marketplaces of the world, but let’s stick to the hackathon example. Now let’s imagine if all of those Designers could also code. What impact would that have on the output and quality of the final hacks? Hint: a HUGE one. Coding Designers are priceless in situations that require rapid prototyping of new ideas. Ask around.
- Observe Makers
Find a Maker garage near you. The key attribute of people you’ll find there as part of the Do It Yourself (DIY) or Maker movement is the desire and ability to build things themselves. It’s true they often collaborate on designing whatever it is they are interested in, but nothing stops them from moving their idea forward. This same behavior has existed forever in the product development world, but the difference is functions were compartmentalized and often gated. Conversely, Makers and organizations with Maker-mentalities need the ability to force things into being quickly so hypothesis can be tested out and designs revised as needed. In those cases, Design and Coding/Fabrication are skills found within the same person. Not saying they’re rockstars at both necessarily, but the more each person involved can accomplish themselves to achieve the desired outcome, the faster everything goes toward reaching the stated goal. True that design may suffer a bit and code quality may suffer a bit, but the result is out there in the world quicker and can be adjusted as needed.
- Talk to a Product Development Team
Big or small, new or experienced — ask anyone on the team if they’d rather have an awesome Designer who can’t code, or a pretty good Designer who does, and see what they say. And remember — don’t be offended. It’s just business. Every team faces the same challenges — there’s never enough people, time and money to get the job done as quickly as it needs to be. So, if there’s a chance to have someone capable of doing more than one role sign ’em up. Even better if they’re both the tip of spear and the person digging in the dirt. Designers who can conceptualize, ideate, and then jump right in and code it up so it can be used and evaluated by others are the future of that role. Those who can’t are still awesome, but nowhere near as valuable to the team.
It may sound like I’m down on Designers who don’t code. Not at all. You are the engine that’s driving many of our brightest innovations forward. No one disputes that. I’m just saying that you need to pay more attention to what’s happening around you while you’re heads down in Photoshop and making wireframes.
The game has changed. Adapt and evolve by learning to code, or face becoming extinct.