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.
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.
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.
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.