DISCLAIMER: Before we get started, let me say that I understand that this headline will cause more than a few strong reactions. There will be panic, anger, frustration, and the inevitable “you have no idea what the hell you’re talking about” people out there. However, I implore you to read this and understand where I’m coming from before you pass judgement. That being said, let’s talk about why I think that if you’re a designer, you should learn code.
The world of design is changing. There’s no doubt about that. The line between print/web design is more blurred than it ever has been, and designers are being asked to create things that they’ve never been asked to do before. Not every job will require you to know something about coding, so I’m not saying you should devote the next year of your life to becoming fluent in PHP or anything. However, as you’re being asked to design things like website comps, banner ads, eBook covers, and other things that will eventually make their way into a format that will ultimately be controlled by some sort of code (HTML, CSS, etc.), I think it would be a good idea for you to at least have a working understanding of those technologies and their capabilities in order to design more efficiently and avoid the inevitably awkward conversation when a developer looks at you and says “I can’t build this…”
I. Effective Communication
By learning even the most basic nuances of code you’ll be able to communicate more effectively with your web developers. You will get a better understanding of what is easily coded and what isn’t, and therefore be able to prioritize your needs and get your designs coded in a more efficient timeframe. One of my favorite phrases when talking about the designer/developer relationship is:
Designers should always know how to communicate their needs to developers, because developers are the ones who turn the wooden puppets into real boys.
When I was first learning how to design and code my own websites, one of the things I learned very early on was that the design process in an app like Photoshop is the complete polar opposite of the process of a code editor. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does lead to some frustrations when you’re trying to recreate what you see in a comp while writing code. When you can understand why something takes a (seemingly) long period of time to implement, your working relationship with developers will be immensely better than it is now.
II. Better Deliverables
One of the most effective ways to communicate your ideas, especially in the case of a website, is to deliver a more interactive prototype. If you can learn some basic coding skills and give your clients, developers, or even employer a better idea of the functionality you’re designing for, they will be more likely to get on board with whatever it is that you’re pitching them.
I love putting together quick website prototypes because it gives my design a sense of life that a static mockup just can’t give. Being able to interact with something and see how it functions will give people a better understanding of your design process and allow them to actually see that which had previously only existed inside your mind.
III. You Become More Marketable
By expanding your skills and incorporating code into your repertoire, you are putting yourself into a unique class of hybrid individuals that can serve two very essential needs for clients and employers. This will become increasingly more important as websites, apps, and interactive documents become more prominent than traditional collateral like business cards and brochures.
Over the past few years I’ve spoken to several college graduates who were excellent designers, but are unable to find work because they didn’t possess the ability to create websites or apps. I feel like that’s a trend that won’t be going away anytime soon, so I highly encourage you to at least dip your toe in this pond before it’s too late.