August 18th, 2017
Unpopular Opinion: Web design is a technical skill, so yes, you need to be able to code.

Thats right, I said it.

Even as more and more “easy website builder”s erupt from a growing multitude of sinkholes the need to understanding the underlying functions is just as important, if not moreso, as it was 10 years ago.  Design on the web is not static, it’s interactive, and when you factor in monitor size, resolution, OS, and browser, is viewable under a nearly infinite set of conditions.

Why would one think that having knowledge of only the static design process is sufficient?

But why though?

Chiefly because you don’t know what you don’t know, and when that impacts the development budget and timeline, that’s a problem. When it means you need a translator between the designer and the developer, it’s a problem. When the design promises functionality that wasn’t included in the scope, it’s a problem.

Ever had a developer tell you:

“Well that isn’t…strictly speaking, possible.”


“Well I can but it’ll be tricky”

or as a developer, when you ask why something is the way it is, the designer says “because it’s cool”

…starting to see what I mean? It’s just as ridiculous as a web designer who’s never worked in CMYK taking on a custom print job with custom folds and die cuts- you don’t understand the underlying challenges even remotely well enough to ask the right questions that would allow you to tailor your design around the limitations of the implementation.

But creative types just don’t think that way!

That’s either a limiting belief, or an admission of incompetence.  There is an immovable blockade between you and the knowledge, but you put it there, and only you can remove it.  People will reinforce this thinking at every turn, because we like to shuffle and organize people into tiny boxes- but as designers we all know that when you start to break out of the box, you create much more interest, right?

Still though, I’ve gotten along just fine not knowing this stuff, why you gotta make me feel bad?

Take this for example

Something you’ll see frequently, a designer making a custom form element.  A radio button.  But not with the default styles, so either it’s going to be changed via CSS,  OR it’s not going to be a real form at all but just an html element that we use to trigger JS on the page to perform some kind of action.  Is it going to be on just this form, or on every form? How is it going to change on tablet and/or mobile?  Do we want to retain the custom style, change it to a different custom style, or use the default form element for the mobile browser?  Are we using an image background, font, or all straight CSS?

Was time budgeted in the project for all of these considerations? Is the developer going to be able to handle it elegantly?  Or did it just “look cool”?

The web is holistic, its multi-faceted.  You can’t design for one narrow facet and expect to produce an exemplary work product.

The behavior of elements, choosing the most bandwidth friendly implementation, understanding your data sources, predicting users technical limitations- these are all things leagues beyond the designer who has limited their tool box to a copy Creative Suite.  Your value to the client is in creating a point of interaction between them and their users, and who do you think is going to create a better solution- someone who understands the full stack of technologies the user will be interacting with, or someone for whom everything below the skin is a mystery?

But there is hope, you can do it, and I believe in you!

If you’ve made it this far without rage quitting, I want to share something with you:

I SWORE for years that I would never make websites, coding was too complicated, I wanted to make beautiful print pieces that you could touch and hold and feel in your hands.  See how well that worked out.

I wouldn’t give you a problem without also pointing you towards success!  I learned how to code by…well by lying about how much I knew and getting put in a role where I had to learn, or lose my job.  For you, lets try a slightly less do-or-die method…

These are just a few of the MULTITUDE of resources available- see this idea that designers should code is not a new idea, but it is an ongoing struggle because it is difficult.  But the rewards are astronomical!  As a designer who has some knowledge of code, you can command a much higher salary, you are highly sought after by both clients AND agencies.

Basically if you can find your own mix of designer/developer that works for you, you win the game.

Seriously!  You don’t need to be writing apps or developing ginormous backend management systems, just get a solid grasp of CSS/HTML and enough jQuery to manipulate the page.  If you work in WordPress you will inevitably pick up some PHP on the way, and what you’ll quickly see is that all of this programming basically works the same way.  From there keep going if you want to become a true web ninja, otherwise just pat yourself on the back because now you are integrating knowledge of the underlying challenges of CSS/HTML into your design sense and becoming a badass.