Should Designers Have Coding Skills?

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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.

Craig BucklerCraig Buckler
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Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.

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