There has been some internet chatter of late debating whether it’s necessary for designers to learn back-end coding, much of it around Frank Chimero’s Designers vs Coding post which is currently doing the rounds. Being the all-knowing opinion formers that we are, we couldn’t help but let our thoughts be known on the matter.
No. They don’t.
Designers need to do one thing and one thing only. Be amazing at designing stuff. What form this ‘stuff’ takes can be hugely varied and cross disciplinary but having an education in coding is certainly not an essential tool. The ability to think of great ideas? Essential. An understanding of how to communicate those ideas in a clear and succinct way? Vital. Knowing how the amazing website you’ve designed works on a back-end technical level? As Mike Sullivan says, Why should I?
There are various ways for the less techy among us to dip their toes into the murky waters of coding, but are they really a good idea? Surely a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and some things are best left to those who actually know how to do it?
As ‘design professionals’, we work with a number of different people who supply us with various services. Developers who build the websites we design, printers who do a great job of producing our print work, photographers, illustrators, couriers… We work with people we trust, can communicate with and enjoy working with. They’re all hugely important parts of the design process and we need them to do their bit so we can do ours. We’ve spent time finding these people, building relationships with them and they’re great. They do what we ask them to do and, the vast majority of the time, they do a brilliant job of it. Would learning to do their jobs myself make my design work better? Would an in-depth knowledge of a printing press improve the concept and layout of a poster? If I had an education in photography, would a piece of design featuring a photograph I’ve taken be inherently better than if I commissioned someone else to do it?
There’s a valid argument that this discussion isn’t necessarily about actually doing the coding yourself, more about understanding what can and can’t be done. Although isn’t this a slightly restrictive way of looking at things? Aren’t we supposed to be ones who come up with ideas? Shouldn’t we be thinking of concepts that communicate messages in a brilliant and inventive way, regardless of what’s supposedly possible? Surely we keep ourselves blissfully ignorant to the fact that our amazing brainwave could be a nightmare to make a reality and go for it anyway? The developers we work with relish the challenges we set them and limiting ourselves to suggesting what we know is possible just that, limiting.
In an effort to reign myself back, I will happily acknowledge that knowing the basics is important. Much of the dialogue between developers and designers is about educating one another on possibilities. But these discussions are about understanding the limitations without being governed by them.
Turning the argument the other way round and asking if developers should learn how to design raises some interesting questions. Is this a valid suggestion? Will the person coding my design be better off if they have a design education? Are designers the only ones who are adaptable enough to make the jump?
Now, I’m in no way suggesting that designers and developers sit at opposite sides of the studio not talking to each other, school disco style. I think working closely together is massively important and understanding the thinking behind how certain decisions have been tackled is essential. But learning how they do it? I think not. Regardless of whether I’m a good designer or not, is my time and effort best spent learning the ins and outs of a hugely complex field (that I’m frankly not that interested in)? I think I’d rather put my energy into what I can bring to the table creatively.
There are a number of interesting points within this debate and I’m looking forward to hearing more about what you think.
Thanks for reading,