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Code is friend, not foe

[Hey students! is a multi-part series. Read the rest.]

Should design students learn how to code? Yes? No? How much? Why?

As a designer-who-develops/developer-who-designs, I wanted to share some thoughts on the topic. My hope is that by explaining a little, it will help you – as someone interested in web or UX design – make informed decisions about the kinds of opportunities that would be best for you to pursue.

My view is that any new design students should have an introduction to (and opportunity to hand-write) basic HTML and CSS. That allows you, the student, to see if you might enjoy front-end development work and/or have an aptitude for it – and it gives the broader class of design students some insight into what it takes to transform designs into interactive experiences. That type of understanding will become incredibly valuable if/when you work with a developer or development team in the future.

Beyond that, I’d encourage any design student interested in web/mobile/interactive/UX design to give “real” programming a shot while you’re in school. Try some server-side development, maybe try to make a simple mobile app, and definitely try to learn some javascript that’s more involved than activating a plugin. Familiarize yourself with modern best practices in digital design – things like accessibility, usability, and multi-device support – and learn what it takes to implement them. Even if you’re convinced that development definitely isn’t the career choice for you, you’ll get to see all the pieces that have to work together to get a robust application to run in a maintainable way. It will open a lot of doors for you, and it will make you a better designer.

You heard that right.

If you’re a decent visual designer, you’re knowledgeable about best practices, AND you’re able to build what you design, you could find yourself in a unique position to solve problems in ways that traditional designers or developers probably can’t. You’ll have a better appreciation of the constraints and opportunities available to you for a given project, and you’ll know when and how it’s appropriate to push the limits with your design. When you’re developing a project, you’ll become keenly aware of the design tweaks that would provide a more cohesive experience for your users, and you’ll see opportunities for improvements (both visual and technical) that would enhance the application.

And on an interpersonal level, having a good understanding of both design and development puts you in a great position to facilitate communication between the other designers and developers on your team, which is always nice.

So to sum up: If you’re currently a design student (especially one even a little bit interested in UX), take advantage of the opportunities you have to learn about programming and front-end development. It will help more than it hurts!



3 Comments


3 Jul 2014

Reply

Amen to all of the above! :)



. . .

Reply

Great to see another Hey Students! post with such great advice. Will there be any Fun With Code posts in the future?



. . .

Reply

You bet! There’s a good one coming up in a week or two.


25 Mar 2017

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