3 Reasons Designers Should Learn Code

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.

Conclusion

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.

Justin Seeley is a graphic designer, author, and online content creator. His work can be seen on platforms such as LinkedIn Learning, Lynda.com, CreativeLIVE, and Pluralsight. Justin loves helping both individuals and businesses reach their professional goals through education, creative services, and social content strategy.

6 comments On 3 Reasons Designers Should Learn Code

  • Excellent Article! The lines between designers and developers are becoming more blurred as designers are learning to code and more developers are paying close attention to design theory. Their should be a name for someone who knows an equal amount in both fields.

    • We call them hybrids, but in most cases just demonstrating you have knowledge of both fields is enough. Going forward, knowledge of both ends of the spectrum will become essential for most creative professionals. At least for those who wish to remain employed. Thanks for reading!

  • I only started offering website design this year, as a direct response to demand. I had to learn quickly and started using a drag & drop system to meet that demand FAST. The results are good aesthetically, but I’m now seeing the limitations of these DIY offerings and am keen to learn coding. Justin, is there a Lynda.com course you’d recommend for learning the fundamentals? (I’m a member and have watched your courses!). Thanks, Jody

  • What a good advice! I wrote down and is in mind, but what puts me far from coding are CMS´s thet made me speed up my business because now I´m fast deliver, I only know HTML, CSS and 30% of PHP. After a briefing I do layout from design, coding HTML/CSS then convert to wordpress, in fact is necessary to always code because it can be easy to forget.

    Now I´m busy with responsive design and I´m getting such frustration that you don’t imagine because I take much therefore clients run away.

    I´ve seen your work, advice are very useful and used to learn from you. What I´ll never forget is what you always say “KEEP TRYING, TRYING,… DO AGAIN, DO AGAIN… then YOU WILL WIN

    Thank you very much for sharing!
    (Y)

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