should ux designers code?

Should UX designers learn how to code? A definitive answer.

I once wrote about whether UX designers should code. Years later, my answer remains mostly the same. This article will help you stay away from fruitless “should you code” debates into perpetuity. 

If you’re transitioning into UX, you’re probably wondering whether you need to learn how to code. It used to be one of the most contentious topics in the design community.

Now, the question of whether designers should code is a choice. 

Short answer: no, UX designers do not have to code

For designers, the pressure to code has lessened. *Cue collective sigh of relieve from designers and programmers.*

The design field has matured. Hiring for UX continues growing. Design wages remain robust. And design has finally won a seat at the proverbial table.

Companies now understand that being customer-centric is a competitive advantage (say that 3x fast). This understanding has translated to companies investing more in UX design.

Verdict: UX designers do not have to code. It can be a competitive advantage, but it is far from a requirement. 

What type of designers benefit most from learning to code?

Look at top tech companies’ job descriptions for UX and product designers.

You’ll find that most of them do not ask for programming skills – they’re concerned about getting high caliber design and strategy skills.

The question shifts from “should designers code?” to “what type of designer would benefit most from coding?”

Coding is a serious skill that requires a huge amount of time and energy to learn.

These are the 3 types of designers who’ll benefit most from coding.

Designer #1: The Code Enthusiast

The first person who’ll obviously benefit from this is the designer who enjoys coding. She has a knack for code. Loves playing with CSS animations in her free time. She gets a kick out of designing in Sketch as she does in HTML and CSS.

Do you find yourself really enjoying interaction design at a technical level? You might be the type of person who loves building out complex states in Framer and beyond.

If this sounds like you, there’s no reason not to leverage your passion to become a hybrid with a job title like UX Engineer or UI developer.

A designer with coding skills will also fare very well in the startup job market, which tends to demand a wider breadth of skills compared to the more specialized roles at large enterprises.

Designer #2: The UX Design Consultant

There’s a saying in the consulting world: “the riches are in the niches.”

If you’re interested in carving out a niche as a UX consultant, pairing your core design skill with another skill like coding, user research or writing can make you stand out among other freelancers.

One of these niches is advertising oneself as a UX consultant who can create designs and implement them in code.

Imagine the startup business owner who needs a quick landing page built – why not get the design and the page built out with one hire instead of two?

Pursuing a career as an independent design consultant? If you love code, it can prove to be a profitable niche.

Designer #3: The Designer-Founder

Entrepreneurial designers who want to bring their side project to life have a strong incentive to learn how to code.

It’s frustrating to build out an entire experience, but be limited by code or at the whims of a programmer.

Learning code can have a dual benefit for designer-founders:

  1. Cheaper cost to launch an MVP (minimum viable product)
  2. Some experience for hiring a software engineers or technical cofounder

Whether it’s a custom UX portfolio, simple landing page or an app idea, some designers will benefit by being able to implement their ideas in working code.

Settling the should you code debate

UX beginners often worry if they need to learn how to code because they are drowning in a sea of information of how to become a UX designer. At it’s core

Will I be obsolete if I don’t know how to code? What if being a designer isn’t enough?

Now that the design field is a pillar of business, those worries shouldn’t drive away someone who wants to become a UX designer.

Dig deep to discover your motivations for wanting to code.

  • If you’re driven by fear of rejection, refocus your efforts. Know that there’s more than enough room in the design industry that doesn’t require you to code.
  • If you’re driven by passion and curiosity, dive in.

Either way, the case for coding is no longer a binary yes/no argument. But let’s just settle it once in for all.

Question: Should designers code?
Answer: Only if you want to.


6 responses to “Should UX designers learn how to code? A definitive answer.”

  1. “Even knowing this much and being aware of front-end vs back-end will help you understand how your designs translates to programming.”

    I disagree.

    I agree with you that it depends on the goal.

    I’ve been a front-ender for years and currently in my graduate year of Communications & Media Design with a Major in UXD. And I think if you want to understand what kind of impact your design has on your front-end (and back-end) team, you absolutely need to be an intermediate practitioner in HTML, CSS and the arguably of Javascript or jQuery.

    This is especially true for more complex systems like content-heavy apps with a limited range of available patterns.

    The more you know, the better you know what implications your decisions are on making your designs and interactions meaningful for the end user. Plus, it speeds up your product development.

    Many companies have that ‘gap’ between the uxd/visual department and the development department.

    But then again, you could argue that it’s the front-end department who should learn more trades of the UX field and hook-on early in the design proces to guide and support the UX and visual team.

    So in my opinion the question ‘should I learn to code’ is: yes. It will make you more valuable.

    The other question directed to front-end developers: should I hook-up with UXD’er early on and help streamline the project? Hell yes, share that knowledge.

    1. Across all industries knowledge transfer is difficult. There remains a gap between design and development at many companies, and I agree that the more you know, the more capable one is in making a usable product.

      Depending on the environment, I wouldn’t necessarily agree that designers need to be intermediate practitioners in HTML/CSS/JS. Does it help a ton? Without a doubt. Is it practical to focus on if that’s not the designer’s strength, and there’s more than ample work to be done on strategy and UX (and this effort is often underestimated)? Not always.

  2. Fantastic article. Thanks

  3. Thanks for this very nice article. UX/UI Designer should be interested how developers work and think. So not only empathize with your audience, also empathize with your team.

  4. This is amazing article that I have ever read on this particular aspect, topic, and concern!
    The article explains how UX Designers can tackle this anxiety, fear related to code conundrum. And who really should bother about that!

  5. I think it is always a nice to have skill.

    You only realise the need or interest as you grow in your career.

    Lots of companies expect you to know at-least HTML/CSS so that you can provide these developers to the engineers and there is no back and forth of design reviews/in consistencies.

    I really love this opinion from Rafal TOmal

    Personally for me, it was my coding experience and skills that helped me transition into UX Designer within the same company.

    I only inspire aspiring/struggling UX designers to learn coding, grab a job in a company and transition from developer ot a designer.

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