It’s 2010. The very first iPad has just been released. Justin Bieber has a fringe. ‘Web designer’ is a job title. ‘React’ is a verb. People are asking the question: should designers code?
Earlier in the year, Elliot Jay Stocks causes a storm by tweeting that he’s “still coming across ‘web designers’ who can’t code”. Inside the blogosphere you’re basically stupid & irrelevant (you idiot) if you don’t have a published think piece on the topic. By 2011, Harry Roberts refers to it as “that question”.
It’s not 2010 anymore. The very first Apple Watch has just been released. Justin Bieber’s hair and career have gone in opposite directions. People are still asking that question.
Just this week I read a variation on that question published at the end of last year — We Don’t Need More Designers Who Can Code or Should All Designers Become Back End Engineers? as it might more accurately have been titled. I don’t have the energy to argue with straw men — I’m not aware of anyone currently suggesting it’s in an entire design team’s interests to become “superhuman, full-stack internet monsters”. But the title got me thinking about something I wanted to write — where I work, we definitely need more designers who can write front end code.
I completed a degree in visual communication when CSS 2.1 was going back and forth between a ‘Working Draft’ and a ‘Candidate Recommendation’. HTML & CSS were powerful allies in my quest to make cool stuff happen on my screen and share it with other people.
Now I work as a product designer at GoCardless. I’m focused on improving our existing products and helping to create new ones using a combination of design & front end engineering.
I love making things. This truth has been my guiding light as I’ve learned to code — a candle at my desk during late nights of console.logging and StackOverflowing. It helps me make sense of the path I’ve chosen so far, and illuminates the road ahead.
Rather than spending my working days cursing myself for being the ineffectual Swiss Army knife who wanted to be a power drill, I’ve found myself in a great position for moving quickly and making an impact on the products we’re currently building at GoCardless.
At the moment my particular role is almost unique at work, but I feel sure that can’t reflect the reality of the industry — the ubiquity of that question is surely thanks to a whole generation of designers whose love of building stuff is pulling them through the world of build tools, MVC frameworks and beyond.
It’d also be great to have more designers who enjoy just enough coding knowledge to inform their work and bolster their relationships with developers, but for whom actually shipping code isn’t necessarily a priority — you could be laying out a splash page with a rough idea of how CSS transitions could be used to bring everything to life, or working on a new product feature with a basic knowledge of what’s possible with the particular app framework that you’re designing for.
Equally, we’d love to hear from designers who don’t code at all — regardless of a particular balance of skills, we’re mostly excited by the thought of making cool stuff together and we’re working to create an awesome place for designers to do their thing.
And hopefully more people than ever are asking that question, because it’ll mean my particular combination of skills are still worth discussing.
What do you want to have achieved by then? What skills do you have, and what do you want to do with them? What are you working on now, and what would you like to work on in the future? Those are far more interesting questions that I’d love to hear the answers to — drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.