Should UX designers code?

Part of Interviews with Myself (and he’s an arsehole).

Currently thinking, on holiday, in Crete 🇬🇷


So we’re done then?
Well, you might want to probe a bit further; the common answer is ‘yes’.

Given that most people answer ‘yes’, why are you different?
Because I do both, and at 100 shapes we rarely hire people who do both in a joint role.

That doesn’t answer my question.
Ok, so the common belief is that if UX designers can write code — and we usually mean JavaScript here — they’re better for a few reasons:

  • It helps them prototype ideas and interactions
  • It helps them understand the feasibility of implementing the idea in their brain on the intended platform or device

Those points might be true (I’m not fussed if they help the individuals or not) but they’re not essential skills for good designers.

They sounds pretty essential to me.
It’s about the separation of concerns. I believe the best work is done when the best people do the bits they’re best at.

Take any UI on the web: there’s the layout, labels, interactions, visual style to think about. There’s also the project setup, hosting, container-classes and styles. These are totally different sets of things which require completely different brains to create the best of both. If all that responsibility is with one person, there’s a greater chance that something is being compromised.

The best work is done when the best people do the bits they’re best at.

You’re not making sense. Of course it would be helpful if designers could prototype interactions.
Prototype interactions” yes, but they don’t have to prototype with code: sketch something on paper, make a mock, fade between pages in Keynote — these are all ways of prototyping, and all of them get the message across effectively.

Prototyping is about communicating the design, nothing more. People get hung-up on writing code to describe — as accurately as possible — what they have in their brain. That’s wasted effort if you ask me.

Prototyping is about communicating the design.

“Wasted effort”? You just said it was about communicating the design. How is that wasting effort?
Because as a designer, you can get to the final design (the thing that’s in your head) quicker by iterating with the help of a frontend dev rather than writing anything yourself. You’ll become a better designer if you spend time thinking about design, not code.

Bullsh*t: some code is always better than just a picture. Lean startup tells us it’s all about getting to market sooner.
You’ve fallen into the trap: lean startup is about validating ideas early not building something early. Designers don’t need code to validate an idea; they will always be able to sketch something and show people faster than any dev can make anything.

…but if you have code, you’re one step closer to the final product
Omg no. We come across this idea time and time again. Do you realise the difference in quality? If you ship prototype-code in Production you’re doomed. Stop reading and rethink what you’re doing.

Just get designers who code and be done with it.
Are you listening to me? You risk compromising the design, the code or both.

What about ‘feasibility’ then? That makes sense.
Again, it’s not the role of the designers to self-limit; it’s their job to find solutions, not close doors. Similarly, it’s exactly the role of devs to understand the limitations of a platform and communicate that back to design.

(designers) It’s their job to find solutions, no close doors.

Regardless of what you’re saying, it’s ‘common’ belief for a reason
Egos. It sounds cool to code if you’re designer. Devs don’t go round being all “Just wrote an ES6 generator 😎” and if they did, so what?

If you think learning to code something will help you be a better designer, do it…but be suspicious of anyone that tells you it’s essential to do you job.

Fine. What’s next in the series?
I’ve been thinking about attention to detail as a character trait; it’s half the battle of finding good designers to work with.


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