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Why Designers Should Learn to Code

Written by
Ravi Parikh
August 8, 2014

By now, you’ve heard all the jazz recently about how learning to code can make your life easier. But the real question is how? This is a particularly easy thing to explain for designers. As a graphic designer, your job often requires you to create beautiful, functional assets that companies or individuals can use and display. Now that the world has become increasingly web-oriented, you often find yourself creating assets that will ultimately end up going on websites. Heck, you probably are even designing those sites yourself.

But what after you design them? Right now, perhaps you create the mockup and then hand the work to a developer. From there, the developer takes your design and puts it into code. However, the sad reality is that most developers are terrible at design. Once you’ve provided them your design and they begin to code, you might find that the end result isn’t remotely 1:1 for what you’ve planned. In an effort to try to match the design, the developer will often become frustrated working on CSS, because they are accustomed to writing JavaScript or back-end code. It’s pretty safe to say that most developers are design-o-phobes.

Now imagine this: You the designer, create the mockup and then go on to build out the entire interface of the site you just designed. You can take the mockups you made, code up the HTML, CSS, and some JavaScript so that your site looks beautiful. This will also give you more control on all those little subtle animations that can make or break a site. With modern technologies like ZURB’s Foundation and Bootstrap, you don’t need to build from scratch anymore. You can go to places like WrapBootstrap and simply download a template. You can then take that template, modify some HTML, change a few layouts, and drop in some awesome jQuery animations. It’s not rocket science, and violà, you now have a beautiful website.

Now let’s go into the empirical data as to why this skill is valuable. To build out a basic website, a developer may charge anywhere between $2,000 – $5,000. We’re talking very basic, with not a lot of backend database functionality. Developers can typically bill double the amount of a graphic designer for a normal consulting rate. If you could both design and now build a basic site like a developer, your value could increase significantly—further establishing more interest in the services you offer. As as result, you might no longer be dependent upon a developer anymore, and instead become a one-stop-shop for basic web design and development.

Perhaps, the most valuable asset you will gain from studying code is akin to learning a new language. You will also be able to communicate your wishes and desires more clearly to a developer. You will be more aware of the possibilities that exist and be able to push your design further to help separate your from all the templates that are out there. An understanding of the frame work of a website may also help you distinguish between a developer taking short-cuts and one of quality to partner with.

Ravi Parikh is co-founder of MakerSquare.


Join us this Monday, August 11th at 6:30pm for the MakerSquare Meetup. RSVP here.


About MakerSquare

MakerSquare is a school that focuses on teaching software engineering principles. They offer a part time Front End Web Development Course that will begin September 9th. The course will last for 10 weeks and take place on Tuesday and Thursday from 6:30-9:30pm at Start Houston. The goal of the course is to teach people to take their mockups to code. For more info click here.

Written by aigahouston

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  • richardegil

    I am all for designers learning to code, in fact I think developers need to learn about design, but not for the reasons stated above. Yes, learning how to code will make you more valuable as a designer but it should be in order to make working with developers more efficient and a better experience. The tone of this article implies that developers are hard to deal with and if you learn how to code you won’t have to bother with developers anymore.

    “However, the sad reality is that most developers are terrible at design.” This is a generalization and comes off negative.

    “..the developer will often become frustrated working on CSS, because they are accustomed to writing JavaScript or back-end code. It’s pretty safe to say that most developers are design-o-phobes.” As a front-end developer, I write HTML, CSS/Sass, JavaScript and PHP on a daily basis. This does not make me a “design-o-phobe”, I start my day looking through designspiration.net, dribbble.com, awwwards.com, etc. I LOVE DESIGN! I love getting a really unique and challenging layout from a designer and sinking my teeth into it. I know I am not the only developer that feels this way.

    I do agree with the last paragraph, and feel this should be the reason designers learn to code and developers learn about design. We need to communicate better. We need to close the gap between design and development. I can’t tell you how many design meetings I was told I didn’t need to be a part of where it would have been beneficial. Yeah, I may not be able to flush out a campaign from start to finish, but after a decade of experience I can tell you when a design might run into some pitfalls when it goes into production.

    We as designer and developers need to learn about each other’s craft so we can work together as a team and provide the best result for our clients. The tone of this article seems a bit one-sided and missed a great opportunity to encourage building better teams.