Should Designers Know How to Code?

September 14, 2011

By Tad Fry

I’ve seen this topic creep up a lot on Twitter and design forums, and I wanted to formally take a stand on this issue. Yes, I found a dead horse, and I’m about to beat the crap out of it; you have been warned.

The question, “Should designers know how to code?”, is the wrong one to ask. Rather, I feel we should be asking, “Why shouldn’t designers want to know how to code?” If you’re a designer, and your work is going to be on the web, then why would you not want to know how to make your work better?

Your goal as a designer should be to help people. The purpose of design is to assign meaning to objects so people can understand them. So, if we’re blessed with a language (HTML) that assigns meaning to our objects, then why do you not want to know that language?

Great job making that awesome website. It looks fantastic! But have you considered that not everyone can see it? Will a screen reader be able to read your work? How portable is your design if it’s not properly coded for importing into other services like Instapaper or other readers? Your website isn’t the only place where your content can live. But if you don’t learn how to code, then your content is dead… and its sole resting place is the cemetery that you call your website.

If you haven’t figured it out by now… my answer is yes. Designers, especially those whose work is going online, need to know how to code. Knowing how to write semantic HTML is another tool you can exploit to make more effective work.

A common rebuttal is that you work in a team where you design, and you have a developer who writes the appropriate code. You should still have an understanding of how your design is going to be coded. Sit alongside your developer and ask them what you could do with your design to make it more code-friendly. It will improve your work, and be a tremendous benefit to who you design for in the first place, your users.