<h1>should designers code?</h1>
a lesson in life, design & learning
it’s been a long time coming, but i am finally learning to code.
**raises hands to the sky — testify**
i’ve claimed for ages that this is an essential skill, one that i must learn — and now i am finally doing something about it. i’ve been previously reluctant, due mainly to the stereotypes and the unhelpful environment presented to women — neither of these are suitable excuses however, i blame laziness for my inactivity.
i am like a lot of people out there: i dipped my toes into code, splashed around a bit, had some fun, and then felt like i was drowning.
on many occasions i started online courses — Code-academy, General Assembly and a few others — but with little success. the main reason to my failure was the constant excuse i was telling myself “i am a designer, therefore i don’t really need to code… do i?”
in 2010 however (Elliot Stock) sent out a very provocative tweet, one that got me thinking:
“honestly i am shocked that in 2010 i’m still coming across ‘web designers’ who can’t code their own designs. no excuse.”
five years on, surely there can be no excuse now? and yes, essentially i agree. but before i become the epitome of hatred amongst those web designers who don’t code, i would like to explore both arguments.
argument one, there is no need to code.
why? the tools.
there are many useful tools available to a web designer, ones that assist in pretty much any way you could ever imagine. we are no longer bound to the mediocrity that is static wireframes, tools like Invision give us the power to wield and build relatively interactive designs. further to that, software products, like Macaw — an enabler to the newly developing design generation — tell designers to forget code and build by drawing.
tools such as these allow designers to create simple, yet functional, websites; perfect for those early client presentation stages.
regardless of all this, i believe the argument against learning to code goes beyond just having good tools to hand. i don’t say this lightly — and to be obvious — but code is hard, it takes time to understand, and to be even close to good at it takes a lot of dedication. what’s more, to remain good, and to keep up with the shifting trends in technology takes more time, more dedication and more time — have i said that yet? more time.
…but, i am a designer, that is my profession, therefore i should focus on being the very best designer i can be; that’s time consuming enough! i spend time staying on top of the new techniques in my field, i spend time trying to innovate on previous design trends and i spend time trying to learn the tools in my own domain; there is only so much time…
on top of all this, it is completely justifiable to simply not want to learn to code.
i would say there are many designers who consider themselves solely ‘print’, if there is such a term anymore; and i get that. i am a few years out of uni and we weren’t taught to code, we were taught how to be designers, to come up with concepts and visualise ideas. code is, and always will be, an extra, something that a designer will have to dedicate an external life to — and some simply don’t want to do that, and i think that’s fair!
argument two, we should learn it anyway
above is quite an extensive argument for why a designer should not want (or need) to learn to code, yet despite all this, i still think we should do it anyway.
i am not saying that you should become the world’s greatest developer, but life and conversation could become a little easier if the time is taken to understand the languages — and the functionality of those languages — in the developer’s domain.
for a designer who doesn’t code, there is little understanding the build process of a website. in the design process, visuals are created without much consideration into the capabilities and time scales of the build process, something thought to take just a few hours, could actually take days… that can be highly frustrating… and costly.
learning doesn’t need to be impossible either, armed with the right knowledge and with some gentle guidance, you can go a long way. there is so much in the terms of pre-written helpful tips, and code for that matter, that makes your life easier at the start. example, Bootstrap, written by the experts at Twitter, an open source code repository that helps your designs become responsive — spot on. and there is so much more out there like this, guidance and help from platforms such as W3School and the Mozilla Development Network provide a considerable helping hand at any stage of a developer’s learning curve.
online, in the world of development, it is almost guaranteed that if you have a question, there is an answer — and it is pretty much a given Stack Overflow will provide it to you.
if that is not quite enough, there are so many schools teaching code, and not all at cost; Code First Girls is a programme aimed at getting women into technology and they run yearly scholarship programmes for female students wanting to learn to code. in addition, Steer, General Assembly and others offer a variety of lengthened classes for anyone wanting to learn.
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the most important point i want to stress however is respect.
reciprocal respect from within the design and development field, respect from your peers, colleagues, and so on. by embarking on the journey of self development, pushing yourself past the stage of no knowledge, to some, is a big thing. you gain an insight in to the realm of your co-workers, what struggles they encounter, how they deal with their difficulties; and that can help you to have empathy when voicing concerns or frustrations with design implementation.
essentially it is an invaluable skill for any designer. it can help you to see design solutions more easily, improve your web understanding and positively affect your understanding for the user experience. importantly as well, it will help your relationship with the development team; that is always useful.
thus i forget the designer/developer, a skilled master of both, however there is little i can say about these kind of people (apart from how i envy thee). My honest observations though are these talented individuals are a necessity especially within the startup environment, someone that has a rounded understanding of the entire process. and with digital design becoming a specialism in some universities, there is an expected rise in the amount of designer/developers, and that can only be a good thing.
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to conclude, i say this, with your best interests at heart: give yourself a head start, find the time to invest in yourself, improve your skill offering. by doing so you will become a far more invaluable asset; and a more rounded person.