Why Designers Should Know How to Write Code

November 18, 2011

Several years ago I was chatting with my friend Adam McDonald (now my co-founder at Xhatch) on chat. We were still undergraduates in college. He was pursuing CS and I was pursuing fine arts. He kept telling me "you need to learn to write code." I resisted then and said "I just want to design." McDonald is one of my best friends, so I decided to give it a try.It is one (of not THE) of the smartest decisions I've ever made to become an effective designer.You might ask yourself, "why does a designer need to know how to code?" Some things to think about. Would you want to hire an architect who is familiar with the building process and know the amount of effort and costs it will take? A clothing designer who understands the impact of the materials selected for a certain article? How about a barista who knows how coffee beans are harvested and prepared for a roast?As the late and great Steve Jobs said, "Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works."I personally would not hire a designer who does not know how to write at least HTML/CSS. If they don't know how to build something, how do you expect them to build something that will work?Some reasons why:

  • Designers who can code will understand the structure of a website—how certain elements will vary depending on the amount of content in it. A typical struggle for print designers is they do not consider dynamic element since they are accustomed to designing on a 2 dimensional surface that does change. Interactive is living and it looks different on certain platforms.
  • A designer who understands programming will be more appreciated by developers. There is nothing more frustrating for a developer to be handed a design without programming elements being considered. Don't be the designer that creates more work for developers.
  • Having a designer on the same page as the developers will make a more fluid transition. From our experience, I don't have to send Adam so much documentation or blueprints on the designs because he knows I've already considered what he has.

Writing code isn't hard to learn. Just start with a personal project and hack away. I know many people who learned how to code from just messing around on their MySpace profile. You have no excuse!