Should designers code?

Ah yes, this old chestnut. It pops up as reliably as daffodils in early spring. My perspective has changed very little over the years.

I still believe this. Does that mean designers need to know how to implement designs in code? Do architects need to be able to lay a block foundation or hang drywall? No.

Designers need to understand and work with the grain of the medium for which they’re designing. For the web, that means understanding important concepts related to how things play out in the browser. To put a finer point on it, I think it’s important for designers to understand these important concepts:

Thankfully static design tools have gotten a lot more robust and capable of matching (or approximating!) how these things work in the browser. Figma’s auto-layout helps with capturing the fluid nature of the web and good general flexbox behavior. Figma Variables have introduced designers to the way developers have been managing design language variables for almost two decades. There are also a growing number of resources out there; my pal Christine Vallaure has been doing a great job creating videos to help designers better understand important web concepts.

It’s also important to recognize that static design tools are not the browser and can’t articulate many dimensions of a user experience. From Atomic Design:

Working in HTML, CSS, and presentational JavaScript allows teams to not only create aesthetically beautiful designs, but demonstrates those uniquely digital design considerations like:

  • flexibility
  • impact of the network
  • interaction
  • motion
  • ergonomics
  • color and text rendering
  • pixel density
  • scrolling performance
  • device and browser quirks
  • user preferences

All to say, it’s important to recognize tools like Figma have limitations and can’t perfectly articulate every dimension of a user experience. The best thing any designer can do is to communicate and closely collaborate with the people who are building things in the actual medium. Designers who foster good relationships with developers will learn what they need to about code, and the final product will greatly benefit from that collaboration.

And just so it’s said: if you’re a designer who wants to learn how to code, by all means go for it!