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

should ux designers code?

I once wrote about whether UX designers should code. 5 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 the collective sigh of relieve from designers and programmers alike.

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.

So no, UX designers do not have to code. It’s certainly a competitive advantage, but it is far from a requirement. 

Long answer: it depends on what kind of designer you want to be.  

Now that coding is an option, 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: Career Transitioners, Freelancers and Consultants

The second type of designer who’ll benefit most from learning coding skills is the career transitioner looking to break into UX.

UX is a competitive field. The more hard skills you bring to the table, the more reasons to hire you.

This is doubly true in the freelance market, which is often a source of UX projects. 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?

I grouped career transitioners and freelancers in the same bucket because UX students often pick up freelance work to help build their portfolios. The same logic applies to serious freelancers and consultants: it may be worth to position yourself as a rarer commodity to land more client work.

Designer #3: Entrepreneurs and side hustlers

Entrepreneurial designers types 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.

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

The fear of not knowing how to code was, in my opinion, primarily driven by job marketplace fears. 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, re-evaluate. 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.

4 Comments on “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.

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