Every so often an old argument appears on Twitter, 'Should web designers be able to code?' The answer is nearly always a resounding 'yes' from the web community. But I disagree.
Before people start searching for their pitchforks and flaming torches, I want to make it clear that I don’t work exclusively with designers that can’t code. I always make my decision on a project-by-project basis. Some projects do need to have a designer involved that understands exactly what can and can’t be done. Some don’t. This is just my opinion on why I like working with designers who can’t code.
For the sake of this piece when I say 'designer' I am talking about a web designer and not a graphic designer. I think we can all agree that web and graphic design are very different specialities (although some people can do both very well). It is always very obvious if a graphic designer has 'had a go' at web design with no understanding of how the two mediums differ. And who hasn’t had a design supplied to them in Quark Express from a graphic designer at least once?? I know I have, and I never want to repeat that experience!
So, onto the why ...
While there are many design disciplines out there that require the designer to have a technical knowledge of the product they are designing (architects spring to mind), not all do.
Think about someone who designs cars. They have to think about how the car looks, the aerodynamics, how comfortable it is for the driver and so on. But they don’t need to know the exact specification of how the cooling system works, or how to wire in the car stereo and hook it up to use Bluetooth.
There is an entire team of people that will work on that car from concept through to manufacture. They all have their specialisms and together they make the best possible product. They don’t have one person that can do 'a bit of everything'.
This is how I see web design. I don’t think that the web designer necessarily needs to know how to code. They don’t need to know that the navigation menu will be created using an HTML list. What they do need to know is where to position that menu on the page so that it is as easy as possible to use. And, while they do need to consider how that menu will behave when the user’s mouse hovers over it, they don’t need to know the exact CSS/HTML for that interaction to work.
For me, making sure the designer has a good understanding of the medium and user interaction is vital but the ability to code up a page themselves isn’t.
The challenge ...
I also like the challenge that working with a designer who can’t code provides. I am a developer. I do some design work but my interest is in the development, both front and backend. I live for the code!
Most developers have a code library (I certainly do) so that they can reuse as much code as possible. It means they can complete the job quickly, keep within budget and time frames and for me, it has the added bonus of needing a lot less cross-browser testing than if I had written all of the code from scratch each time.
Working this way does make it very tempting to design a website for the easiest build possible though; to restrict yourself to what can be achieved easily in HTML/CSS, or to reuse the same menu system time and again. As a result I see a lot of websites out there that never step outside of the box.
Designers that don’t code don’t think about how to incorporate that cool menu system that was written for another website; they are only thinking about the project at hand and what the best solution is for that project.
I don’t want to churn out the same old thing over and over again (where is the fun in that?). I want to push myself and make every website I build better than the last. And being a developer first, I love the challenge of seeing a problem and finding a solution to it. Bringing in a designer that can’t code can help me to achieve all of that.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like to make life deliberately difficult for myself. I do make sure that what is being designed can actually be built, and doesn’t add so much time to the project that it is no longer within the clients budget and timeframe. But I will also take the time to look at the design and think about how I would achieve something, and not just rely on what I’ve done before.
Those who can …
As I said at the beginning, I don’t work exclusively with designers that can’t code. I have often learnt a new way of approaching something (or a reason not to do something) from a designer that can. And of course, if the project requires the design to be done in the browser then using a designer that can’t code is simply not an option!
I’m also definitely not saying that all designers who code just churn out the same old thing. But, ask yourself honestly, how many websites have you seen recently that are really nice but follow the current design trend so closely that if you changed the logo or colours it could be a completely different site? Or looked at someone’s portfolio only to notice that all of their websites look very similar? Then ask yourself why you think those websites are designed like that.
In this ever changing industry, we can’t afford to relax. Designing responsive websites has been a huge game changer in recent times. But even then, as long as the designer knows and understands the different screen sizes and how people interact with the website in different ways on different devices, do they really need to know how to use media queries?
At the end of the day, everyone has their own preference. I like to think that I build awesome websites (don’t we all?) and this is how I choose to do that. And, the challenge it presents makes it so much fun!