Should designers know how to code?
This debate has raged for years. Should a web designer focus solely on design, leaving all the other business of coding to someone else, or should they tackle coding and backend development issues themselves?
As with many arguments, there are merits to both sides. On the one hand, a designer that knows how to code might be able to offer a wider array of services to clients. On the other hand, a designer that focuses on design can utilize their specialized expertise to create products that are more engaging and creative.
But take our word for it – if you’re a designer, forget about coding!
In today’s post, we dive into this age-old argument and present some of the primary reasons why web designers should not code.
But First, Some Definitions
Before we explain our stance on this argument, some definitions are required.
The term web designer means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For our purposes, a web designer is someone who is involved purely with design.
A web developer, which again, means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, is someone that handles the backend aspect of a website.
A developer works with code, builds and maintains databases, and all the other highly technical stuff that makes a website work out there on the World Wide Web. Developers take what designers give them and bring a designer’s vision to reality.
Now, with definitions set, we would like to argue this:
Designers should focus on design.
There are a number of reasons for this, but at the heart of it is that designers do not need to code given the current climate of digital creative professions. At this stage of the game, there are far too many resources out there that can be utilized by designers to take care of all the backend needs of a site’s development.
Think of it like this: an architect can design an incredible building without personally knowing how to run electrical lines or how to install an elevator car. Just like an architect relies on experts in various disciplines to build his or her creation, web designers can (and should!) rely on outside resources to make their designs become reality.
Give Yourself More Time and Minimize Risk by Choosing Not to Code
The tools and resources at your disposal today make it vastly easier to focus on design than it was just ten years ago. Specializing in design means you don’t have to go against your natural tendencies and talents to try and take on the development side of things, which, let’s face it, is not something most designers are adept at doing.
It also means that you will save yourself a lot of time (and pain, and money) in the long-run by sticking to what you know.
Your Brain Isn’t Cut Out For Development
The vast majority of people are either right-brained or left-brained. Right-brained people are creative. Left-brained people are analytical. While some people possess both abilities, rarely do you find someone that is good at both types of tasks.
Thus, the basis for the argument that designers should stick to design:
It’s just the way it is. Just like you wouldn’t expect a PHP developer to take a client’s wish list and design a stunning website all on their own, you shouldn’t be expected to mark up the code to make your site design come to life.
Yet this is a double-standard that has existed for a long, long time. The time you would spend trying to code is essentially money flushed down the toilet because you are just wasting time trying to do something you probably aren’t well equipped to do in the first place.
UPDATE: It has been brought to our attention that the research we cited regarding the skills and attributes of the left and right hemispheres of the brain is not only outdated, but is in fact altogether incorrect.
In a study at the University of Utah, researchers examined brain scans that show no evidence that some people are left-brained and others are right-brained. Instead, the study revealed that, while some functions are indeed lateralized (i.e. language skills tend to be on the left, attention tends to be on the right), there is no evidence that individuals “preferentially use their left-brain network or right-brain network more often.”
As a result, our assertion that “the vast majority of people are either right-brained or left-brained” is totally inaccurate, and for that we deeply apologize. We were wrong, and we didn’t conduct our research for this article in the manner that we should have. Many thanks to our readers for bringing this issue to our attention.
We’d also like to note that although our main argument in this article stands – that designers shouldn’t code – our assertion isn’t that designers shouldn’t learn how to do it. On the contrary, having knowledge of basic HTML and CSS is certainly handy, but as we discuss later in this article, trying to split one’s attention between design and development can tax your time, leaving you without the time you need to do your job to the best of your abilities.
Time is Precious
Web design (and development, for that matter) grows, changes, and expands at an astonishing rate. It’s difficult enough as it is to keep up with the latest trends in design without also having to worry about staying reasonably educated in the realm of website development at the same time.
Rather than desperately trying to keep up with advances in design and development, web designers that stick to design are freed up hone their artistic craft.
Many web designers have crashed and burned over the years after trying to get their artistic mind to wrap around the highly analytical development side of things.
Instead, you should stick with design, save yourself some time, and utilize someone or something else to handle all the backend requirements of your websites.
Minimize Risk by Not Coding
How many times have you or a colleague attempted to code a website, only to screw it up and have to spend hours and hours trying to fix it or hire someone to fix it for you?
If you’ve been there, you know it’s an incredibly stressful situation, and one that you shouldn’t be in to begin with. It is an easier and smarter choice to let a developer take on the backend part of the website so when – not if – there is a problem, they and their left-brain can handle the situation.
Expertise and Specialization are Good Things – And They Will Get You More Business
As mentioned earlier, design trends and principles are ever changing. By sticking to the design side of web design, you are better equipped to further your skills, study up on new and exciting methodologies, and put that learning into practice than you would be if you try to tackle coding as well. Most digital creative professions have compartmentalized into specializations anyway, so why not hop on the bandwagon and become a specialist yourself?!
Become an Expert
One of the primary criteria people use to select a web designer is the designer’s level of expertise. Focusing solely on design promotes the development of those much sought after expert-level skills, which all customers will appreciate.
Whether you acquire a keener design eye or develop a better understanding of color theory, the expertise you gain by focusing on design will make your designs much better and your list of clients much longer. After all, there is a lot of value in being master of your domain rather than being an okay designer who also happens to have okay coding skills.
You’ll also have more time to actually leveraging your expertise and promote yourself as a web design expert.
The bottom line is this:
If it comes down to being really good at one thing or being marginal at two things, the choice is obvious, right?
Web-Related Jobs Are Increasingly Specialized Anyway
A decade ago it might have been acceptable to say that there were webmasters, web designers, web developers, and little else. Today, that list has expanded to include SEO specialists, social media managers, digital content strategists, and so on.
There are even multiple specializations in design and development, with some designers working specifically with WordPress or developers working exclusively with PHP, Ruby, or Python.
The point is:
The trend is for creative professionals to move into areas of specialization, not continue to try to be a jack of all trades. If everyone else can specialize, why can’t you?
You Don’t Need to Code Because Help Has Arrived!
Perhaps the best reason why designers should stick to design is because there are an abundance of resources designers can utilize that will take care of all the backend mumbo-jumbo for them. Some resources require reliance on other people while others let you do everything on your own without any coding knowledge necessary!
Hire a Developer
When you’re just beginning your design business, explore the option of working with a developer because it could be a match made in heaven. Building a nice working relationship with a developer could lead to a long-term arrangement whereby you offer them business, and they offer you business in return.
After all, developers should stick to development, just like you should stick to design. And the best part?
The potential is there to double your business by forging a strong working relationship with a developer.
Perhaps an even better option for a web designer is to utilize a website builder like IM Creator to create his or her designs. Website builders offer all kinds of amazing tools and support features that allow you to keep your focus on the design, but also negate the need for you to hire out development work.
Because website builders utilize slick features like drag-and-drop editing, built-in SEO, and hosting, domain, and email services, designers can take care of everything from design concept to deploying the website online, without needing to know anything about HTML, CSS, or other development-related issues. You can then market yourself as a website creator rather than merely a website designer, and offer your customers complete out-of-the-box website solutions. But that’s relevant to just specific, usually small, projects.
The intent here is not to say that designers shouldn’t know how to code. To the contrary, knowing how things work on the backend can make you a better and more effective designer. But knowing how to code doesn’t mean that you should.
What is your opinion on the great coding debate? Should designers take on that task or not? Leave your thoughts by commenting below.
Bootcamp Business Model… by Sebastiaan ter Burg via Flickr Creative Commons
Media UK Code by James Cridland via Flickr Creative Commons
Time by Sean MacEntee via Flickr Creative Commons
How to be an Expert by Alan Cleaver via Flickr Creative Commons
Help! by GotCredit via Flickr Creative Commons