Posted by Monica Nakamine on Friday, August 8, 2014 - 00:00
While the thought of writing a line of code might go against your every creative instinct as a designer, learning it can give you a distinct edge in today's job market.
To make their teams as lean and mean as possible, agencies and in-house departments are hiring designers who can sufficiently handle the tasks of related disciplines – from photography to writing code. Because of the digital age in which we live, the ability to code is becoming a skill that is highly sought by hiring managers. Put simply, if you're a designer with coding skills, you're a hot commodity.
Despite this opportunity, some designers are reluctant to jump on the coding bandwagon. Many see their roles as purely "creative" and feel HTML developers or computer programmers, for example, should be responsible for the "technical" aspects of a given project. Granted, designers might be more artistic, but who's to say that coding doesn't require creative thinking?
If you can get over this mental block, learning code is in your best interest. It will enable you to:
1. Add to your skill set and boost your marketability. As you keep yourself up to date on existing software, coding is a completely new, yet related, competency that more and more employers seek. You might not need to know how to code today, tomorrow or next month – but eventually you might have to. As noted, there's already a demand for this skill. Learning it now is only going to help you gain an edge.
2. Stretch your definition of creativity. When you think of coding languages, creativity might not be the first word that comes to mind. But think of what they're capable of producing: beautiful websites, complex gaming worlds, smartphone apps – the list is endless. Here's a good analogy: Think of code like music. Both require knowledge of a specific language: Java for coders and musical notes for musicians. Creativity comes into play when that knowledge is applied – when you're able to string together notes or pieces of code to create something complex, intriguing and beautiful, like Beethoven's 5th Symphony or Grand Theft Auto V. In that same vein, approaching creativity through coding may help you explore new design possibilities.
3. Send hiring managers a message. Even if an employer is not specifically seeking a designer who can code, the fact that you know how to do it tells them that you're versatile and willing to learn new things.
4. Be an invaluable liaison. Knowing how to code puts you in the unique position of translating between two languages – design-speak and code-talk. If you've ever worked with Product or Engineering departments, sometimes the jargon they're using makes absolutely no sense to you. Knowing a bit of their lingo can also help fill the gap.
5. Be more collaborative. By filling in those gaps, you start to foster a more collaborative environment among the entire team. Productivity goes up and squabbling goes down. And, as an extra benefit, you're strengthening yourself as a leader.
6. Bring your designs full circle. Instead of handing over the wireframes for a new website to the tech team, take the reins and build the website yourself. It might seem like a longer process but, in the long run, it can be more efficient. No back-and-forth emails or "need clarification" questions. It's all in your control!
7. Feel the coder's pain. OK, so you gave coding an honest try, but you're just not that into it. Not to worry. Going through the process of learning code should give you some idea of what die-hard coders have to go through to produce quality work. As designers, you know how maddening it is to hear someone complain about a design change that is seemingly minor to them but is gargantuan for you. Don't be that person for coders!
Coding skills will give you another perspective to consider in your design work, help you empathize with full-time coders and, ultimately, strengthen your team. Design might always be your core competency, but understanding code will make you that much more desirable to hiring managers.
Are you a designer with coding skills? Why did you decide to learn code? How is it working out for you?
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