Do UX/UI Designers Code? Or Can You Get Away Without It?

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Does a UX/UI designer need to code? At some point, every designer has pondered this very question.

If you are considering getting into UX/UI design, you’re probably wondering the same thing.

The short answer is no. UX design does not require coding. Nonetheless, there are occasions where learning to code can give you a leg up on the competition. So, before you write off learning to code, check out the article below.

Key takeaways

  • Essential skills of a UX designer, including the most important abilities to master

  • Rationale for why learning to code may be a good choice 

  • Reasons why a designer wouldn’t want to learn to code 

  • Type of designer that would benefit from coding

  • Benefits of becoming a full-stack designer

What are the essential skills of a UX designer?

UX design is focused on the user’s experience, which means a UX designer starts with understanding a user’s goals, desires, and frustrations. After the design team comes up with some product prototypes, it’s of utmost importance to both validate the ideas through user research and to identify the product’s pain points. 

To achieve this, UX designers conduct user interviews, contextual inquiries, ethnographic studies, competitive analysis, and rigorous user testing. Thus, a UX designer needs to be skilled in various types of research.

A UX designer must be accomplished in user interface design, information architecture, layout design, and interaction design as well. These all factor into creating a user interface that addresses the identified pain points and is pleasing to the user, both functionally and visually.

Lastly, it’s a UX designer’s job to create wireframes and prototypes. To bring a designer’s vision to life and test if it's feasible, UX designers must be experienced in using various design tools such as Adobe XD.

You’ll notice that coding isn’t listed as an essential skill. This is because learning to code is ultimately a choice. But, learning to code may give you a leg up in the job search and make some parts of your everyday job easier as well. 

Why would a UX/UI designer learn to code?

There are several instances in which learning to code may be advantageous to UX/UI Product Designers. Not only can learning to code expand your job opportunities, but it will allow you to design better products since you will have more detailed knowledge about the capability of code. In addition, it can improve your communication with other team members. 

Here are 5 reasons a UX/UI designer would learn to code:

To understand what’s possible within a product

Learning to code can help UX designers communicate better with developers. Without an understanding of the development process, design teams may dream up ideas that simply aren’t practical. 

Additionally, if a UX designer understands the technologies required to build a product, it may give him a greater ability to design it. To demonstrate, have you ever heard of In-N-Out Burger’s secret menu? The average customer only orders what they can see, but the insider has at least 30 more menu items to choose from. Which customer is better informed to make the best possible choice? 

In this example, we’d say the customer with insider knowledge. In the same way, a designer who codes can choose the best product design to fit the user’s needs, rather than the most obvious.

Essential for lean organizations

Coding knowledge is also critical at lean organizations. A lean organization is a company whose goal is to provide the utmost customer value while using the least possible resources. To accomplish this, lean thinking focuses on optimizing a company’s technologies, assets, and departments.

An organization may choose to cut costs through lean methodology or be forced into it due to monetary constraints. In either case, lean companies prefer to hire team members who are equipped with multiple proficiencies.

Faster workflows

The goal of the design team should be to ensure that each project phase moves smoothly from start to finish. Designers who understand coding can help move things along quickly since they do not have to wait on responses from the development and technical teams. Instead, they have an understanding of what’s possible and how to implement it. Read more on how to speed up your workflow.

Job opportunities

Typically, designers who code will see more job opportunities, according to Toptal. Startups and lean corporations are often eager to hire workers who can manage design and the front end of early-stage applications. 

Some designers may not like the idea of stepping on developers’ toes. Others may be excited by coding and the doors the coding can open. In any case, knowing HTML and CSS may add a significant distinction upon applying for jobs and flourishing in your career.

That’s why many product design bootcamps are adding some coding to their curriculum. The ability to be a “generalist” and do all parts of the product design process will make you agile in the workplace and also a marketable hire. 

Learning to code will improve collaboration with developers

Hang out in product design for a while, and you’re almost certain to hear that designers and developers sometimes butt heads. This is often due to the fact that ambitious UX designers don't always understand the constraints developers face in terms of programming and implementation, and developers don’t know how to speak design language.

UX designers can be better partners in the development process by "assisting" with code-related issues. Code isn't only the designers' domain of influence, but they can work on items that lead to good code. Code can be a way to communicate ideas.

To expand, designers who code can make realistic demands, make simple changes to hand-coded prototypes, and even hand-code prototypes without having to ask developers for help.

To sum up, when developers feel respected, they in turn show respect to designers. This causes working relationships to improve.

Having a big picture understanding of the entire process from user personas to coding can help designers articulate and pitch their ideas to a client, too.

Why wouldn't a designer learn to code?

why wouldn't a ux/ui designer learn to code

Learning to code may be a hindrance to UX/UI designers in some instances.

Scope creep

Designers who know how to code may find that it’s no big deal to add a thing or two. However, because they have so much knowledge, they easily wander outside the scope of the product. That’s why it’s crucial to stick to the scope of the project. 

If you know how to code, you may end up pulled into too many directions, and you’ll end up too busy to focus your best creative efforts towards designing the product.  

Tunnel vision

There are unlimited ways in which you can combine elements of a design. A principal part of the design thinking process in UX design is to generate as many ideas as possible, no matter how silly or outlandish they may be. If a designer knows how to code, they may develop tunnel vision. In this case, they become overly focused on the constraints of available technology. In this way, coding abilities can actually hinder creativity. Since the objective of user-centric design is to think people-first, and not technology-first, a designer should think outside the box to create the best possible solution.

What coding languages do UX/UI designers use?

what languages should UX/UI designers learn? CSS, HTML, JavaScript

The most common markup languages that UX/UI designers should know are HTML & CSS. JavaScript is a secondary language that might be helpful. HTML is used to format the structure of a page, and CSS helps add styling such as font size, color, opacity, and more. So, both of these languages can help you give better instructions to the UI designers. 

The benefits of knowing basic HTML and CSS

Even if you don’t want to become an expert coder, basic HTML and CSS skills are valuable to all UX/UI designers. This basic knowledge helps to establish a “shared understanding” with developers. That is, the designers understand the developer’s perspective, allowing them to collaborate on a deeper level.

Now that you understand the importance of learning some basic coding skills, you may be wondering what HTML and CSS are. Well, it has been said that if HTML is the skeleton of a page, CSS would describe the height, body shape, skin, eye color, hair color, etc.

To explain, HTML (HyperText Markup Language) is the standard language for creating web pages. It tells a browser how to display the structure of page elements such as headings, paragraphs, and links. CSS, which stands for Cascading Style Sheets, describes how HTML elements should be displayed on the screen. For example, CSS includes background colors, text alignment, and fonts. 

For example, if you know CSS, you could mark up your wireframes and ask the designer to incorporate a specific color by using its hex code. 

In addition, HTML and CSS work together in responsive design to automatically resize, hide, or enlarge a website to make it appear perfect on all devices (desktops, tablets, and mobile phones). Try this free lesson to learn HTML & CSS basics.

The benefits of knowing JavaScript

Knowing JavaScript (JS) can be beneficial. First, it means designers are able to build what they design, which is especially helpful in the prototyping stage. It’s an asset when working with developers as well; it shows you understand what’s possible for them to accomplish and may allow you to take on uncomplicated aspects of coding the project yourself.

So, what is JavaScript? With 95% of websites using it, JavaScript is a popular scripting or programming language. As the third layer of the HTML, CSS, and JS layer cake, it allows programmers to display dynamic interactions on web pages.

In other words, Javascript makes web pages interactive and (usually) instantaneous. To give you an idea, Javascript is responsible for the change of a button color when hovering over it with a mouse. Web developers integrate the scripts seamlessly into HTML, which allows for the creation of dynamic and interactive web apps.

Further, it can be used to display dynamic interactions between the front end and the back end without reloading a page. Some examples of dynamic websites are Netflix, Paypal, and Facebook.

What type of designers benefit most from learning to code?

Most designers at larger companies need a basic understanding of code. This allows them to communicate effectively with the development department. More on this significant job aspect below.

That being said, there are a few types of designers that may benefit from learning to code:

  • Entrepreneurs - For those with an entrepreneurial spirit, coding may come as an obvious next step after mastering UX or UI. Entrepreneurs like to carve their own path, and having the know-how to not only think up and design a product but also see it into fruition will go a long way.

  • Startups - If startup environments are your jam, it may be helpful to have a deeper understanding of code as you will most likely wear many hats as the business rapidly expands.

  • Passionate - If you genuinely enjoy coding, nothing is saying that you can’t code. Just be sure to master UX design before learning to code: if you don’t have a good product to begin with, it doesn’t matter how well it’s coded. If you’re truly passionate, you might even turn your design experience into a career as a UX Engineer. Freelancing as a UX Consultant is likewise a lucrative option.

Summary

In the end, does a good UX/UI designer require coding capabilities? Not necessarily, but it helps. It’s up to the designer whether they want to learn to code or not.

It’s important to note that most companies do not require UX designers to implement any code. UX designers and coders have different skill sets and are usually hired accordingly. For this reason, you do not need to learn to code to be a successful UX/UI designer.

On the other hand, learning to code makes a designer a great asset to any multidisciplinary team. Coding is more than just a skill - it can open opportunities to work with other teams, take on projects from start to finish, and gain experience that may ultimately drive your career growth.

Thinking you might need to learn to code? HTML & CSS basics and JavaScript would be useful as UX/UI Product Designer. Try a free lesson today. 

Headshot of Tristina Oppliger

Tristina Oppliger

Writer

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