Jodie Locklear

To Code Or Not To Code?

What’s the biggest question most people have when considering a career change to UX design? Well, if their background is not in web design or development it’s probably, “Do I need to know how to write code?”

This question is definitely at the forefront of my mind as I begin my transition into this evolving and exciting career. Top names in the field all seem to agree on the fact that knowing how to write code can give you a competitive edge in the job market. However, they also seem to warn that knowing how to code can also have the “side-effect” of limiting your creativity.

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I come from the school of thought that says you need a strong foundation of understanding before you can freely create. Take abstract art for example. The finished product may have a simplistic look, but the composition would not work if the artist did not have a keen understanding of the elements and principles of design. In fact, the simpler and more minimalistic the artwork, the deeper the artist’s understanding of principles like balance and unity needs to be.

I have a background in interior design. As an interior designer, I had to have a foundational understanding of building construction, building codes, and limitations of materials and finishes, etc. Also, because new building materials and finishes were constantly coming on the market, I had to stay up-to-date on new trends and materials. Having that foundation and understanding of building construction and materials informed my designs, and gave me a clearer idea of where conceptual boundaries could be pushed.

While I’m a firm believer in having knowledge, I don’t believe it’s necessary for that knowledge to be in-depth. In-depth knowledge is a bonus – understanding how something works and its applications, is what’s most important. As well as, staying up-to-date, abreast of new technologies/innovations and their applications, and not being afraid to learn!

So how deep into coding does a UX designer need to go? I recently read Ben Melbourne’s blog post, The difference between a UX Designer and UI developer, and it got me thinking more about this topic. His visual diagram below illustrates the relationship of skills that he breaks down like this:

  • User Experience (UX) Designer = Research + Design
  • UI Developer = Design + HTML/CSS/JS
  • Application Developer = Back-End coding + HTML/CSS/JS etc.

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My personal goal for writing code, and how I see it relating to UX design, is similar to how I approached interior design. My short-term goal is to know enough html, css, javascript, flash, and other front-end scripting languages to inform my designs, and have a clear idea of where design boundaries can be pushed.

As a comparison, I decided it would be helpful and fun to look at Melbourne’s diagram from the standpoint of interior design. The interior designer being the equivalent of the user experience designer, contractors – the equivalent of the UI developer, and industrial designer/s taking the role of application developer, respectively. The diagram might instead now look something like the diagram below.

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I know I’ve left some roles out, and my delineations may not be entirely accurate, but the point hopefully still comes across. So in response to the original question, “to code or not to code?” I choose to code, or at least know enough to carry a warning.

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This entry was published on May 15, 2012 at 7:56 pm. It’s filed under UX Transition Mission and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

4 thoughts on “To Code Or Not To Code?

  1. Pingback: To Code Or Not To Code? | UXWeb.info

  2. Alleia on said:

    The more you know, the more you know what is essential and what is not. Applies to everything we do.
    Alleia Pembroke

  3. Nice post. I particularly liked the visual mapping out of the skills – it does a good job of articulating overlaps.

    My current job is a broad digital communications role, in a very small organisation. So I have to cover the whole spectrum, from writing copy, thinking about strategy and user journeys, to fixing problems with our .htaccess file and tweaking CSS.

    When working as part of a team with different skillsets it’s very helpful to be able to talk each other’s language. It’s especially useful if you’re managing a team that spans all these different areas.

    Learning enough coding to give you a conceptual understanding – and some practical awareness – will be very useful, I think. And having a greater range of skills gives you more control over the whole process rather than leaving you dependent on others for certain aspects of work.

    • Thanks for your input!

      In recent months I’ve learned that what you’re describing seems to be the consensus when it comes working in smaller versus larger organizations. Smaller organizations seem to value the ability to wear many hats and larger organizations seem to prefer you wear 1 or 2 hats and wear them really well.

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