Should designers learn how to code? In short … maybe. As a web designer, you should first decide if you think it’s more important to specialize or diversify your skill set. Both options come with ups and downs and you should understand all the variables before jumping to a conclusion. Here are a few things you should keep in mind.
Why and how should you diversify?
If your current specialty has a grim future, better diversify
There may be a few reasons you’re interested diversifying your skill set. Are you:
- In a creative rut? Not feeling challenged?
- Not seeing yourself going far in just one part of the design industry?
- Noticing an increased demand from your clients to expand your service offering?
If so, then you may benefit from learning how to code. However, learning a new skill is very demanding and very few of us have the luxury of spare time. So if you want to learn but lack the time, then you may need to work up to it by:
- Specializing in your current area
- Gaining financial stability
- Deciding what you can take on next, and determining the steps to accomplish it
In short, start coding if you feel drawn to it and believe it will improve your value. Think about it in the long run and anticipate the pros and cons. Just remember to work up to it gradually: don’t torture yourself and bite off more than you can chew.
Why be good? Go be great (at one thing)!
Great designer or great coder? In the beginning of your career, you can probably choose only one.
Time is both our friend and our enemy. That’s why in the beginning of your career you should only choose one area of expertise. If you’re a designer, you know you’ve reached this level of design quality over a long period of time yet there’s still a long way to go.
The same applies for coding. You can’t become an amazing coder just by learning a little bit of HTML and CSS, and asking Google for help now and again. Would you partner up with a coder who is just okay? Of course not! You’d expect the same level of quality and attention to detail that you invested in the design phase. So to sum it up:
- If you’re at the beginning of your career, start with only one field: designer or coder
- If you’re an experienced designer and want to learn how to code, prepare to invest a lot of time
- Don’t offer your coding services if you haven’t spent an adequate amount of time learning
All things considered, people who are not just good, but GREAT at multiple things are very respected, very well paid and highly valued by others. If you can pull it off, go for it!
Understanding your significant other (your coder)
Coders can often get frustrated when working with the other half of the project (the designer), and with good reason. Some concepts look great in Photoshop, but they’re simply not reasonable to implement. Some designers’ lack of knowledge causes them to pitch ideas to clients that are out of this world. This leaves the coder picking up the slack and fixing issues that weren’t in his job description. This is why so many coders urge designers to learn a thing or two about coding.
To clarify: don’t learn the coding basics so you can quickly start offering coding services, but rather so you can know what can and can’t be done. If you want to start the process of learning, then simply invite an experienced coder to a cup of coffee and I’m sure you’ll get an earful of impossible situations they’ve had to deal with because of an inexperienced designer.
At the end of the day, being an expert in one particular field is great. Some people strive for that their entire lives and still can’t manage to achieve greatness. On the other hand, there are those of us who can juggle multiple fields at once while maintaining a superb level of quality. If you can and want to be one of those people … go for it, but remember: nobody looks for someone who is a jack of all trades but master of none.