The Designer’s Question: Do I Need to Learn to Code?

It’s the constant, ever-present debate for a designer: Do I need to learn to code?

Well, the internet has shown that you can argue this many ways. If you work in branding and communications design or mostly in print, I think the obvious answer is no. But if you are a software product designer, creating designs that are implemented in code, the answer is yes, it’s probably in your best interest to know some code. I could be better at doing my job and understanding project constraints if I had a solid grasp of HTML, CSS, and eventually, JavaScript.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not one of those people who is pumped about learning to code and excited about all the languages. This prospect isn’t easy for me. I don’t enjoy learning to code in the way I enjoy working on a visual design project, or reading about branding or emerging interaction patterns. I tell you this because I don’t want you to think that learning code is a cakewalk for me. I can relate to the struggles with learning to code as a designer who is much more excited about all the other aspects of design.

Why Code?

Still, despite my affinity toward visual design, I see huge value in learning some basic programming languages. My goal in learning to code is fourfold. I’d like to be able to:

  1. Code up simple prototypes.
  2. Edit CSS in production-ready applications—finessing font sizes, shades of color, line spacing, etc. to achieve that spit and polish that a designer’s eye is trained to see and understand.
  3. Communicate better with the talented developers I work with.
  4. Manipulate code so that I can make fast changes on our marketing site.

My Coding Curriculum

As a part of a coaching program we are experimenting with at Atomic, I’ve established a plan to learn how to code so I can become a better teammate and consultant. Along with online learning, my mentor Drew recommended a book and a popular framework we use in projects all the time. My “curriculum” includes:

  1. Team Treehouse (Web Design Track, currently How To Make a Website and then moving on to CSS Basics)
  2. CSS Mastery (Starting with Chapters 1-3)
  3. Bootstrap (The basic components of many web projects at AO)

So far, I’m through the first part of the Web Design Track on Team Treehouse, and I am digging into CSS Mastery. I don’t expect to suddenly know how to code as soon as I’m through this material, but my goal is to build a solid foundation as I continue to take on more coding responsibilities. I’ll let you know how I progress, and if you’re a designer learning to code, I’d like to hear from you, too!