Should Designers Have Coding Skills?

    Craig Buckler

    This debate has been raging on SitePoint for some time. The issue was raised by Elliot Jay Stocks following a simple tweet:

    Honestly, I’m shocked that in 2010 I’m still coming across ‘web designers’ who can’t code their own designs. No excuse.

    The arguments for…

    There are several reasons why designers should have coding skills.

    Medium appreciation

    Artists utilize the medium they’re working with, whether that’s paper, clay, cloth, wood, marble or a web browser. A designer who doesn’t understand how web pages are constructed will almost certainly make fundamental errors, e.g.

    • not considering browser viewport dimensions, font stacks, page weight, or coding practicalities
    • providing Illustrator-based 300-dpi mock-ups which are impossible to replicate on-screen (why can’t that line be one third of a pixel in width?)

    It’s not rocket science

    No one’s suggesting a designer should be able to develop a RESTful database-driven application. But a little HTML and CSS markup knowledge goes a long way. Understanding the basics, strengths and limitations can help designers create better web designs.

    Common communication

    Coding knowledge will help when you discuss issues with developers. You’re talking their language and will understand the problems they encounter.

    You’re a better asset

    Who would you employ: a great designer who can’t code or one that can?

    The arguments against…

    There are those who think designers don’t need coding skills. Perhaps the best designers never get their hands dirty with putrid programming?

    Great designers make great designs

    A talented designer can create usable designs — no matter where it’s ultimately used.

    Time is precious

    Why should a designer spend valuable time learning to code and keeping up with HTML/CSS developments? Is that time better spent increasing the quantity and quality of the design work?

    You don’t need to be a plumber

    A architect designing a house doesn’t need to be an expert in plumbing, electricity or carpentry. Those tasks can be handled by an expert in that field — in the same way that designers can hand artwork to an HTML/CSS coder.

    Ignorance is bliss

    Those who don’t understand the web aren’t constrained by its limitations. They may create a seemingly “impossible” design which pushes the boundaries and leads to fresh ideas.

    Have your say

    In my experience, the best designers have dabbled with coding. They may not have understood the subtle complexities of HTML and CSS, but they knew how to create a usable design which embraced the medium. But my opinion could be biased: they were the easiest people to work with and didn’t need lengthy training sessions about pixels, fonts and browser issues!

    What do you think? Please vote on the SitePoint home page or leave your comments below.