As designers, we’ve all been there…. endlessly looking for reasons why we don’t need to learn the scary world of coding. I mean, why should we have to be engineers too? And look, I get it, I am a visual artist first and foremost, starting out my career with absolutely zero — zilch — nada coding experience. So when I say learning how to code as a designer is scary, I mean it. It’s yet another new skill to learn on top of honing in on your design skills and keeping up to date with trends.
Now, I should specify that when I say ‘code’ I mean that which crosses over in your role. I don’t
have any need to learn back-end because that is completely separated from what I do. My job as a
designer is to make things look professional while allowing for great user experience.
Collaboration with designers and front-end developers occurs frequently. I have found it highly beneficial to understand HTML and CSS, but it’s completely unnecessary for me to learn Java or C#. I mean, I work with a Java Champion who helped write the language! So I think we got it covered on the back end. But hey, if you are feeling bold then who am I to hold you back. By all means, let your art flag fly high, you little coding monster you.
Yes, there are incredibly understanding developers that have your back. You need to have theirs as
well. It will make you a better communicator and even save your team some time if you know how big
of a goal you are trying to achieve even if it looks like it should be a quick fix. Your developers
will thank you for it and be more willing to work with you.
Think of it like this: Someone asks you for a logo design. They are under the impression that since it should be a simple symbol, why, it should take hardly any effort at all! In fact, could you have that to me by the end of the day? Thanks. Well as anyone who has created a logo knows it’s actually quite time consuming if you want to produce something that is well-thought-out, adheres to brand identity, passes through multiple approvals, etc.
What I am trying to say is that even though it might seem like a simple task, it could be incredibly
complicated and time consuming for your developer. Make their lives easy — you will be so much more
respected by your team. You will be a more appreciated team member by stepping into their world and
understanding that a seemingly tiny change could take a while. If you can implement that change
yourself, even better.
It’s also easier to spot when a developer is being lackadaisical in their efforts to get the job done. They might say that it takes days when you know that it should be a quick fix. You know, not saying it will happen to you but if it does then you can call hogwash. And if it really is something that is more complicated, then you will be more empathetic in understanding that. That gives you more confidence in yourself and your team.
Now, I’m not saying go crazy and start mucking around with too much code even if you are completely
confident. You could start breaking code, and trust me, I’ve been there and it’s not pretty. Be
brave, just do yourself a favor and put some bumper rails on the bravery. Asking your developers to
check over your shoulder is a great safety net.
Having knowledge of how to code will place you ahead of someone, career wise, who does not. It will
make you more valuable as an employee if you are able to understand the world of coding.
Years ago I asked my professor, who had a very successful career working as a UX designer if he thought that coding is a necessary skill. His answer? “Not needed. Design and code should be separated.” This surprised me considering that he was well versed in front end development. I usually get a response that goes like this “well people need to focus on their specific skill set so that they can become an expert in their field”, but I thought to myself, would he be where he is now if he didn’t know those skills?
I would argue that since he knows how to code, it allows him to better understand the limitations of the environment. CSS and HTML need to be able to function properly to make for good user experience. Curiously enough he does code every now and then for his company. I’m willing to bet that even a little coding knowledge has gone a long way for him.
Set a timeline for yourself. Our rule of thumb at the office is to spend 20 minutes on the problem, and if you are still wrestling with it, nudge your coworker. It’s important to practice good time management, and I have found that setting a timer for myself prevents me from losing track of time. If you are looking for a fun and interactive little timer, I encourage you to check this little website out.
And never, ever, ever interrupt the thought process. When they are in the zone, respect that. It is
likely that they will emerge with some newfound brilliance. Engineers usually wear massive
headphones for a reason other than ‘make it fashion’. It serves as a big, bold neon sign that reads
“ON AIR”. A polite message using your internal communication system will suffice.
Make it known that you expect the same out of them. For me personally, when I am knee-deep in the creative process, interruptions can be detrimental to my creative flow. In that state of mind, we are problem solving. It’s hard to get back to that state of mind.
Say you start building IKEA furniture and lose one of the bolts while you are watching a rerun of “The Office” because Angela just threw her cat through the ceiling (you may refer to Season 5, episode “Stress Relief”). You laugh so unexpectedly, vigorously throwing the object in hand in elation, now it’s lost forever. Here’s the thing, that end table will get built without it, but you will probably be forever cautious when setting down anything heavier than a cup of coffee on it.
When building, don’t forget any missing pieces, ask your engineer if you can borrow their brilliance
for a brainstorming session. They will be more involved in the design creation and will understand
where you are coming from.
A side note: Coding knowledge is most useful when working in a small to medium-sized business. Yes, to those of you who are my peeps with coding experience, skills, and wear multiple hats — you know who you are, working with large behemoths like Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, etc. — I’m not talking to you. I get that your experience and perspective is a little different with so many specialized cooks in the kitchen, rendering it completely unnecessary to code at all.
Even so, the departments do have to communicate, and it helps to be able to understand the language, especially when you are trying to push a product across the line. You will have a better understanding of how long it should take and be able to engage in a healthy debate logically so that your department is not waiting on development for longer than it should.
Not saying that has ever happened to me, though 👼
So, why not learn another skill that could advance your role as a designer? And really, this goes for any department. In order to step into someone else’s shoes, step into someone else’s shoes.