Why Designers Should Learn to Code

August 19, 2014   |  No Comments

Designer & Developer

As well as designing, I also develop and build sites and applications. Which leads on to the question many clients and colleagues have asked – how did you learn to code? What’s also intriguing is they say that there aren’t many professionals that can be both a creative designer and also a developer. Should a designer learn to code? Is it important to learn a new skill set? Maybe so…

Well, why would you want to code? Surely you’d leave that to the developer? Well a designer is simply classed as someone who can design, to make the project look the best it can be. A web designer is a graphic designer who has consciously focused on designing for the web, but not necessarily building for the web. A developer is seen as being responsible for all technical aspects of the work, in no way inviting their creative mind into the role.

So how do we define a coder? Well, it be can be broken down into two specialist disciplines: the front-end developer and the back-end developer. What we refer to as the front-end could be described as the following:

  • XHTML, the structure or markup of the page and is integral to the foundation of a website.
  • CSS or cascading style sheets, the styling that gives us the look and feel and visual experience.
  • Javascript, the functionality of the site and allows scripts to interact with the user from within the browser window.

These languages are what the client would see and how they would experience it when browsing a site. The back-end of the system deals with the executable tasks situated on the server. Typical coding examples are PHP, Ruby, Python, .NET, and the database integration such as MySQL, SQL or Access. Most developers would class these as the back-end or server-side technology.

Designer Developer Coding

Ok, so coding isn’t exactly creative and goes against all the principles that compelled you to becoming a graphic designer in the first place. But at the present time of writing, the ability to code is a highly sought after skill (just look at some of the salary expectations on the job boards and the sheer amount of demand on the marketplace). Learning about code will give much greater clarification about how a website or application is constructed and will allow you to explore new possibilities from your creative awareness. When you’re working with a developer and they indicate that your concept will be costly to implement, you’ll have a much clearer understanding about what they’re thinking and maybe define a possible alternative.

A designer shouldn’t just start coding simply to offer another service though, rather learn to understand how things can be done better. Why be good at coding when you can be excellent at designing? Developer knowledge isn’t necessarily power, it won’t make you an expert, but it can certainly give you the insight and empathy of the programmer. Starting with front-end development such as CSS is a great way of upskilling yourself and placing your creativity into the methodical language of coding. If you’re actively seeking employment it also demonstrates that you’re versatile and willing to learn new skills.

Think of it as a new challenge, not a change of direction.

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