Good Designers Code, Great Designers Build

Good Designers Code, Great Designers Build

Before I start I must admit I’m unsure about the title. I don’t know if it captures my point, and I am quite aware of the irony that I copied the title instead of stealing it. That’s ok — though I wish to become a great writer, I don’t see that happening soon. Anyway, I hope the title does not detract from the main point.

The debate rages on

The topic of whether web designers should know how to code seems to always be a touchy subject. There is such a range of expertise in our field — you have designers who don’t want to learn code, coders who don’t want anything to do with pixel pushing, and a whole bunch of us in between — and as such you also have a range of responses. As far as I can tell, the general consensus seems to be, why not?

On Learning Code

Personally, I feel that web designers should know how to code HTML at the very least. There is absolutely no reason why any good web designer cannot learn good markup. Mark Boulton said:

A designer who is a fant­astic writer, with a flair for typo­graphy — and an under­stand­ing of con­cepts such as semantics and doc­u­ment struc­ture — is no less of a designer just because they can’t write HTML.

and I agree, but an intelligent designer such as that should have absolutely no problem learning HTML. HTML is the common language of the internet and it is easy. Learn it, there really is no excuse not to. With CSS and javascript, I think opinions start to diverge. I do believe web designers should learn CSS and perhaps Javascript, and I think Mike Kus presents some compelling reasons why they should. And while I believe learning to code is good, learning to build a site is better (hence the title).

Building a Website

What do I mean by building? It’s “understanding the medium,” as many involved in the debate would say. We all (should) know that web design isn’t just about pretty. But what exactly is this medium? Again, Mark Boulton puts it eloquently:

The medium of the web, as far as I see it, is only partly defined by tech­no­logy (HTML being a small part of that). It’s defined by people, by stor­ies, by products.

A great designer understands how to tell a story, knows how to engage the user, and designs the site to serve the content. To do so with great effect — to successfully build a website — in my opinion, requires one to understand the technology on which it is built. A great web designer who understands the limits of CSS, Javascript, and browser compatibility is able to work within, and at times extend, the boundaries of web technologies. What better way to gain that understanding than by coding? Yes, a thorough understanding of the medium makes a great designer, and yes, that includes transient technologies as well as timeless principles. Being ignorant of either one only leads to compromise.

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