This week I attended a talk put on by AIGA Pittsburgh on Responsive Web Typography. While there, I realized that I have a different take on the popular question ‘Should designers know how to code?’ than I did only a year ago. At one point the speaker mentioned this popular question and I didn’t perk up or become interested in the question like I had in the past. I already knew the answer, and it was Yes. I have attended talks on the subject and arrived at this conclusion after several years of being on the fence about it. To me, that’s not even the question that we should be asking. The real question is ‘How much code should designers know?’

We, as designers, need to face the facts:

  1. There are twice as many opportunities for work for developers as designers.
  2. There is a deep-seeded fear in all designers that if they do not know how to code the will be left in the dust. And there should be… to an extent

I am not a developer and do not claim to be one. I am extremely jealous of those people who are able to use both sides of their brain to be good at design and code. (Uhhhmm hmmmm, Rob, hmmm – Oh excuse me, I must be getting over a cold.) This is a fairly rare set of skills and, as you could guess, those who can do it are extremely valuable. But guess what, designers? Most people who can code don’t have design experience and find it very difficult to design. Probably just as difficult as you think coding is. As designers, I actually believe we have the advantage. Learning to design isn’t cut and dry. It’s a lot more difficult to pick up that skill and be good at it. So there’s hope for us designers after all!

Where to start

So where do we start? I have been to several classes about learning code and have ‘attempted’ to learn a few times. First, you have to truly want to do it. Just going to a class because you heard you have to learn code won’t get you anywhere. My desire to learn code quickly developed after I handing designs to development and watching the design slowly degrade. Designers ultimately don’t have the final hand in the design if they aren’t working closely with developers. They need to be able to communicate with their developers on their level and understand code or you’re in for a very long and hard design career.

I will never be a developer, and I don’t want to be one. The important point I am trying to make is that designers need to know code well enough to speak the language. That means, being able to have an educated discussion with the person responsible for the code. After all, if you go to a foreign country on vacation and don’t know the native language, you sure do get around a whole hell of a lot easier if you know a few vocab words and maybe even some sentence structure. The same applies for designers knowing code. At least know enough to understand it! I like to refer to this as “fake it ’til you make it.”

Finally, use inspect element in the browser!!! Inspect element is a great way to figure out what styles need changed on what classes. If you aren’t the one who wrote the code, this is a great way to figure out where the problem area is or what class you want changed. This will make the conversations with your developer so much easier, and who knows, they might even respect you for it.

Resources I use to help with code

  • Treehouse – I can’t speak highly enough about this.
  • Meetups like Refresh Pittsburgh – These are good for resources but also allow you to be surrounded with people in the industry.
  • Inspect Element – Chrome Inspector / Firebug