A Graphic Designer Who Can Code: Yay or Nay?

To code or not to code? For a graphic designer, that is a loaded question. Coding remains a hot topic in the design industry. And both sides have highly-opinionated advocates.

The role of a graphic designer in tech is fast changing. Iterating and understanding users won’t cut it anymore. Today, more and more companies hire designers who have multiple skills. Coding is one of them. If you can design AND code, you can identify problems and create solutions. A designer who can code is appealing to tech firms and potential clients. Leading tech companies tend to headhunt people who are proficient in both skills.

So, how important is coding in graphic design?

The role of coding in graphic design is a hotly-debated subject mainly because of drag-and-drop principles. Graphic designers today can use drag-and-drop tools to make functional websites. These tools enable designers to fully concentrate on their art. As such, they can also efficiently save time.

That said, the design industry is extremely competitive. There is always someone who is readily available or highly qualified to do a specific job.

If you’re a graphic designer who can code, you can do things not a lot of designers and developers can do. You’ll have an edge to compete with the best of the best. You can also enjoy better job security.

Why Should a Graphic Designer Learn How to Code?

The simplest answer to the question is, “Why shouldn’t you?”

Learning how to code, even just the basics, can improve your skill set. Learning a new skill has more pros than cons anyway. When you understand coding, you can clear out important work restrictions.

You can get a handle on what the developers you collaborate with truly need from your work. When you learn the coding jargon, you can better express your ideas and intentions.

Often, communication between a designer and a coder gets antagonistic. Most of the time, the conflict stems from the incorrect use of jargon.

Learning how to code makes you a better designer. You can understand how the development process works. You can recognize various programming languages and how they are used correctly.

You can also find out how to limit or broaden your design intentions. Coding lets you have a better understanding of what is technically realistic. This is an important knowledge to have before you start designing. It also lets you focus your time fine-tuning the elements of the website that need your expertise.

Acquiring a new skill can be intimidating. But if you think about, it’s basically the same feeling you have when you first learn how to use Photoshop.

You’re a designer, so you’re already familiar with the core principles of what makes a good website. Learning how to code just broadens your knowledge.

You don’t have to pressure yourself to become an expert coder. You can start studying the basics whenever you have free time. There are tons of resources online where you can learn how to code for free.

The Benefits of Learning How to Code

A graphic designer doesn’t work in a bubble. You team up with others, like developers, IT personnel and marketers. But a majority of graphic designers today are freelancers or independent entrepreneurs. Having another skill like coding can make them offer all-inclusive services to clients. More than that, here are some of the benefits you can get from learning how to code:

  • Flexibility – Mixing design in Photoshop with HTML and CSS is greater than the sum of their parts. For many, coding limits a designer. But when you learn how to code, that limitation is shattered. Rather than being restricted, coding lets you be more flexible with your work. It opens a whole new realm of design possibilities. This time, you know how far you can push the envelope, visually and technically.
  • Achieve Design Goals – When you understand coding, your design will be carried out the way you want it to be. If you work with a coder, there inevitably comes a point where he’ll end up doing bits of design. At times, this can break down the flow of your work. This is not the coder’s fault. It’s just what it is. It’s not practical to ask you to edit a small bit of design every time a new section on the site needs to be added. But if you can design and code, it’ll be easier to make the changes without disrupting your design.
  • Save Time – If you’re responsible for both designing and coding, you’ll save a lot of time. When you’re ready to transfer your design, you don’t have to cut and send all your mock-ups to another person. You also don’t have to wait and see if there are changes that need to be made. If you can code, you can just directly handle the mock-ups and make the changes as you go along.
  • Added Skill – Graphic designers who can code have better job opportunities. Coding is a valuable skill that will make your resume more noticeable.
  • Investment – Learning how to code gives you a ‘future proof’ skill. The time (and money) you invest into learn coding will put you in a more secure job position. You can build a reputation that will be valuable to employers and clients. Also, if you build your own brand, not having to outsource the coding will save you thousands of dollars.

Why Shouldn’t You Learn How to Code?

A graphic designer who doesn’t know how to code is still a graphic designer. You don’t need to learn coding to finish your project or be a star employee. With the right tools, you can build a website that is functional, beautiful and responsive. You don’t need to know a thing about JavaScript to effectively do your responsibilities.

Today, there are tons of resources available in creating effective mock-ups. Take Macaw, for instance. The tool helps designers easily create a live website using drag-and-drop. Another good example is Webflow. The tool creates simple and W3C-compliant HTML and CSS. The end products are usually way better than what many developers write by hand. You can also export the generated code in Macaw or Webflow off the platform. You can improve and work on it in your preferred IDE to build extended functionality.

But the ‘to code or not to code’ debate goes far beyond having access to the right design tools. Emotion and mental factors are part of the argument. If you don’t know how to code, you’re not lame. Your lack of coding skills doesn’t make you a lousy designer. Most of the time, you’re just realistic and practical with your time.

Some designers just don’t want to learn how to code. And that’s fine. If you’re already a professional graphic designer, then be an ace designer. Master your craft. Specialize in it. Design trends are constantly changing. New techniques are always introduced. There is a lot in your niche to stay on top of that will occupy your time.

Stick to your skills. Collaborate with others. Build good relationships. More often than not, it’s a lot more productive for designers and coders to form partnerships. If you’ve built a relationship with a coder, he can frankly tell you if your designs are unrealistic to code. From there, both of you can work quickly and efficiently.

It should also be noted that to learn coding correctly requires a very steep learning curve. If you want to accept professional work as a designer and a coder, you need to be a master of both. You can’t just know a thing or two about coding. That’s acceptable if the client hired you as a designer only. But if your work requires you to design and code, you need to be a skilled coder as well. And that skill takes time to master. From a technical standpoint, developing requires more time, patience and knowledge than designing.

Conclusion

Being a graphic designer and a coder requires you to use the left and right parts of your brain. Contrary to what others believe, these professions require completely different sets of skills. They’re basically your left brain versus your right brain.

Both skills require creativity. But design needs a good visual and artistic sense while coding needs rational and methodical thinking. There are some awesome people out there who are proficient in both. But it’s unrealistic to expect you (or any person) to be highly-skilled at design and coding. This is particularly true if you don’t have enough time to devote to just studying and mastering them.

In the end, you just need to figure out what you truly want. Do you want to learn how to code so you can see your designs come to life? If that’s the case, play it smart and use a professional design tool available online. But if you truly want to master coding, then prepare to make sacrifices. You’ll need time, patience, and resources to immerse yourself into the realm of programming. Make sure to set your expectations properly.

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