Should designers learn to code?

Whether designers should learn to code, and if so, how much, are hotly debated questions. Those who acquire at least basic coding know-how not only improve their own design, but also support the entire team. After all, it is becoming increasingly difficult these days to clearly distinguish between the activities of designers and developers. Here is my perspective on the question of whether or not designers should learn to code. In my opinion, there are a number of clear benefits to adding coding to your portfolio.

Note: This post is an adaptation of a previous website, should.design, which I have now taken down after several years. I’ve updated the information presented there and reformated it in the following post.

Coding skills make work easier

An adequate understanding of code can not only help a designer to implement his design independently and to gusto, but it also makes the work more SEO-ready. It can also significantly improve the user experience of projects. The fact that one is also future-oriented on the job market is a welcome side effect. Some people feel reminded of the old days, when it was a matter of convincing designers to learn Photoshop and familiarize themselves with digital image processing.

Here are seven reasons why coding skills make you a better designer.

Staying in control of your projects…

Projects are often delayed because developers aren’t always available. The ability to get things done without the hurdles of overcoming a development backlog has saved several of my projects.

In the digital world, scripting languages have become the basis of implemented design concepts. If you acquire competent coding skills as a designer, you can implement your design ideas yourself and are less constrained – after all, depending on your skill level, you become more independent of developers. Don’t misunderstand: This is not about taking up a computer science degree.

Even those who are rather averse to acquiring coding skills admit, like information architect Jan Jursa, that designers “can get very far with HTML and CSS before the road starts to get uncomfortably steep.”

Basic knowledge of HTML, CSS and at least one programming language such as JavaScript or PHP can already be the key to success. In addition, once you’ve learned the ropes, you’ll quickly notice that it’s not just your colleagues’ jargon that suddenly becomes easier to understand. Suddenly, you can also have your say, thus promoting the workflow and possibly also building up a new internal prestige.

…and be a better designer at the same time.

When it comes to implementing typography, color design, compositions and design grids, a lot depends on an appropriate code base. The creative foreground is not enough to take into account the different phases that a project goes through. Responsiveness, adaptation to different devices and a good UX can only be guaranteed if the necessary know-how for the technical implementation of creative ideas is given.

Improve SEO

For those who write their own code, or at least understand the code, search engine optimization becomes more effective and easier. In the past, design was only marginally crucial for SEO; if you paid attention to the keywords and some effective declarations, you couldn’t do much wrong. Nowadays, it depends more and more on a design aligned with SEO and on SEO. Thus, a Responsive design and Mobile-Friendly websites lead directly to better Google rankings and sooner or later Google will use the Mobile Index as its main index. However, those who cannot code will hardly be able to make these adjustments and will again have to rely on a developer.

Good code: good accessibility + usability = good UX

Good, clean code and improved SEO mean better accessibility and usability. If you neglect these factors, you simply won’t be competitive in the long run.

Make websites dynamic and responsive

With a bit of coding knowledge you can make websites responsive on your own time.

JavaScript can make projects more dynamic and change them in many different ways. For example, individual elements can be animated or responsive communication with the backend or server can be established. Finally, static, non-dynamic and non-responsive websites belong to a bygone age. The users, therefore also the search engine, the customer or client and last but not least your own eye will thank you for the change.

Improve communication

Those who understand the language of their counterparts logically communicate better. And when designers and developers understand each other better, this can have a positive effect on the implementation of creative projects. No one is asking the designer to replace the developer. However, in a given case, the designer must be able to bring the developer or project manager closer to the planned implementation. This can be better communicated in technical jargon – there is no doubt about that. And close cooperation between designer and developer in most cases promotes successful implementation of planned projects.

Expand your career opportunities

The requirements for a web designer on the job market are usually clearly formulated. HTML, CSS, at least one scripting language, possibly even basic PHP knowledge as well as mySQL and in any case basic SEO knowledge. That was already the case in 2011. You should also have more than just an idea of digital image editing. For the classic designer, the requirements are, in addition to Photoshop and Illustrator, HTML, CSS and also at least one scripting language, although not as detailed.

As a result, any additional coding qualification is in high demand on the job market and can bring designers lasting success. Anyone working as a freelancer or looking for alternative employment as a designer will have the arguments on their side with sound coding skills. If you compare the relevant job advertisements for designers, web designers and developers with advertisements that only partially touch on modern technologies, you will notice a clear tendency: Developers and people with coding and IT skills are desperately sought after.

So the topic was, is and will remain on the radar. Recently, Kristina Olivia, Digital Designer at Populi Ltd, gave an interesting talk at Front-end London on the topic “Should Designers learn to code.” Her opinion: “While you don’t have to learn to code to be a good digital designer. But to better understand the big picture, it is very helpful if you understand how code works.”

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