Websockets and Why Designers Should Learn To Code

Jared Spool

January 9th, 2014

HTML5 has an awesome feature that’s now gaining attention from designers: Websockets. It’s a way to create a persistent communication channel between the client and a server, without using page refreshes or the asynchronous mechanics behind AJAX. Think much faster communications, because it’s not establishing a new connection for each round trip.

Look at this cool Racer demo from Google, showing race cars racing across multiple devices, with no noticeable lag when the cars jump from one device to the next. Imagine moving messaging, data, or anything else at that speed.

Real time updated stock prices, auction bids, or other fast-changing data. The limit is your imagination.

Here’s the deal though: because it’s new, each browser implementation is somewhat idiosyncratic. The Racer demo works in Chrome, but may not work elsewhere. Making websockets work can be finicky. It won’t always be that way — the browsers will eventually fall into line. But for now, it’s a difficult thing to get it all to work.

Here we are with a great, powerful tool. If we want to take advantage of it, we need to dive in and start playing. We need to see what it can do and what it can’t. We need to learn it like an artist learns their paintbrush, paint, and canvas.

Websockets are just one reason why smart designers are taking the plunge and learning to code. With some simple coding skills, these designers can start playing with websockets and see what they are all about. They can work up simple demos and prototypes to test out ideas. They can get their coworkers excited about exploring these new technologies too.

Learning enough code to play around with websockets isn’t about learning production-quality coding skills. It’s tinkering in the garage, not building a new car for Toyota. That’s all that’s necessary here. Enough code to learn what the tools can do and speak intelligently to our peers in development.

Designers don’t need to learn to code. But those that do now can start playing with things like websockets.

Still not convinced? Take everything above and swap in “media queries” for “websockets.” That’s where responsive design started 3 years ago. Remember, it was designers like Ethan Marcotte and John Allsopp that got everyone excited about what responsive design was all about. And that started by playing with CSS tools like media queries.

Designers don’t need to learn to code. However, designers that learn to code will be the ones leading us to better user experiences.

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