Why The Valley Wants Designers That Can Code

Jared Spool

May 31st, 2011

If you’re in a room filled with designers, bring up the topic of whether it’s valuable for a designer to also code. Immediately, the room will divide faster than Moses split the Red Sea. One side will tell you coding is an essential skill, while the other will vehemently argue how it dilutes the designer’s value.

Interestingly, it isn’t the designers who get to decide if coding is a valuable skill. It’s the hiring managers. And right now, based on today’s jobs market, it’s pretty clear where they stand. Many want to hire super designers—designers who can also code.

While hiring super designers has always been floating around, the real demand has come recently out of Silicon Valley startups. With a couple of high-profile design successes, like Apple and Mint.com, the investors and entrepreneurs in the Valley now have a new appreciation for the work of designers.

Startups, however, try to run as lean as possible, so they look for talent with a broad set of skills. The thinking among the Valley folk is, if they can get someone who does both, they can get their product from concept to ship with an ideal set of resources. Otherwise they’d have to hire two people. Or do without one.

We’ve proven for years that you can ship a product without a designer. Many companies have done that, and while it doesn’t make for a great result, it does ship. However, it’s much harder to ship a software product without a coder, if not near impossible.

That’s why, right now, there are dozens of startups looking to pay big bucks to find the coding super designer. The demand is high and those designers who have proven, practiced coding skills can demand a higher salary than those who don’t.

What about the non-startup portion of the hiring world? Right now, the established organizations find it easier to have larger teams with separate developers and designers.

Yet, that doesn’t make the designer that can code any less valuable to them. A team with two coding designers is more flexible and capable than a team with one non-coding designer and a non-designing developer. The flexible team can produce well-designed results better and faster.

Coding and designing are collections of skills. What we’ve learned is teams with a better distribution of skills, not segmented by roles, produce better results. Having a team filled with individuals who can both code and design will be more effective in the long run than a team where the skills are divided up.

If you’re a designer, you don’t have to learn to code. But if you do, and you get good at it, you’ll find more opportunities as time goes on.

67 Responses to “Why The Valley Wants Designers That Can Code”

  1. Tim Sheiner Says:

    I’d be interested to know if you could breakdown ‘designers who code.’ In other words, do you see an understanding of ranges of coding skills from markup/css to javascript to application level languages, etc?

  2. Dave Malouf Says:

    The other side of the “super” IxD is that they also need to be visual designers, too. What I like to call the Trinity designer. Startups REALLY want these. I think the other Super Designer Visual/IxD is more powerful to have, since you have to have engineering in other areas of the startup org. I think the request for “coding” skills is good, but w/o great (better) visual skills the start up is missing the point, IMHO.
    — dave

  3. Rahul Says:

    We call them “interaction engineers”. I’m one of them and there’s only 3 of us because we can’t find anyone else. What we do on a daily basis: user research, consulting on product strategy, usability testing, interaction design, front-end development, visual & graphic design (there’s a difference), copywriting, communicating with developers about features, etc. Being able to do all these things as one person is extremely valuable. It’s also made it possible for me to build a product with 1 engineer (who does front- and back-end engineering) as we don’t really need anyone else right now.

    Interaction engineering is the future of the job, and I don’t work at a Silicon Valley startup but at a Dutch web agency. Silicon Valley (and companies like 37signals) are just ahead of the game.

  4. Paul Daly Says:

    I’d really like to see some data on ‘willing to pay big bucks'; maybe UPA could add that into their salary survey. I told one recruiter his job description was looking for 3 people (UX/VD/coding)–are they going to pay me 3 salaries? No, I think they just want it on the cheap and hiring managers don’t know what the difference is.

  5. Zack Says:

    Is that part of the new trend calling folks that do HTML/CSS of their own design “Developers.”

    In the general sense, people that possess the ability to write fantastic app level code rarely have the fine eye of a great designer, and the reverse is also true.

  6. Handcrafted Says:

    The real reason the Valley wants designers who can code: they’re better…

    Jared Spool over at UIE just published an article about “why the Valley wants designers who can code“. In it, he asserts that startups in Silicon Valley want to keep teams small and therefore look to combine critical roles within a single p…

  7. UrbanImpresionist Says:

    Great article. I have seen this happening (unfortunately/necessarily) at smaller companies looking for UI designer/developer …aka unicorns. The problem is that for a designer to also try to keep up with a multitude of coding programs (which change and improve so frequently nowadays); something’s got to give …and that’s going to be design skills.

    It is quite unlikely for anyone to be outstanding at both. Quality design requires keeping prototyping skills up to date, trend following, research, usability testing, coordination with other disciplines, etc. The best a company can realistically want, and ought to seek out, is a designer with with merely a good understand of coding and dev skills as we, not just PMs, are often the glue that keeps projects cohesive. Otherwise they’re really just getting devs average design skills at best IMO.

  8. Norcross Says:

    I’m a developer who can do design, within limits. I think that it’s too broad a brush to paint one a “designer” or “developer”. I can handle CSS, color scheming, typography, and framework layout, but ask me to design a logo or ask me what shade of blue would be best and I’ll look at you like you just showed a dog a card trick.

    I think each side (dev / designer) should have some knowledge of each other’s work, but to expect one to handle both really well isn’t realistic.

  9. Jin Yang Says:

    Could you clarify what you mean by “coding?” Coding typically means mark-up languages(HTML/CSS) to a web designer. Every web designer who’s worth a check should do that already, and do it well.

    If you mean “programming,” as in .NET, PHP, Ruby etc, then I can see it’s more rare. Having back-end programming skills definitely makes a designer more valuable to the team as your article suggests.

  10. Tami Says:

    I have to disagree with those doubting that someone can do both well. There are people that can do both, and many of the extremely talented industry leaders do both. I do both, and I do both well. I know others that do both, and do them well. But they are a rarity, and I think that’s what the article is about.

    One thing I say as a designer/coder is that the way I design, I’m already thinking of the html and css in my head. Perhaps not exactly, but a general feeling of how the overall page structure is going to be. This is an area where the designer that can code really shines – seeing what can and will be accomplished from the very early stages of the design process and ensuring it comes out that way when its coded.

    Handcrafted hits the nail on the head with the matrix reference. Yes, we see all the way through the code.

  11. Laura Says:

    There are an interesting range of opinions on this very topic.

    I’m a print & web designer by training. I’ve also been happy to find that I’m a natural fit for UX – I want to know how something works, why it works, what effect it has on a user, and how it could be improved to make people’s experiences better. I also love math and am learning development – yes, “just HTML and CSS”, but also JavaScript and other programming languages. I make sure the things I create on any level are accessible for everyone, including web users with disabilities.

    It’s easy to think that a person can only be really good at one skill and so-so at the other, or only pretty good at all three skill sets. I’ll be the first to admit that my strongest skill set lies on the design side, but I’ve also been designing roughly three times longer than I’ve been coding.

    I recently had an interesting conversation with Jared about being skills-based versus role-based. (And Jared can expand on this better than I can.) If you strictly define yourself by the role you play in a company or start-up, it’s likely that you’re limiting your own potential. You have no room to grow your potential in other areas if you only repeatedly do the one thing you do really well, whether it be design or customer service or UX. If you want to limit yourself to one role, that’s completely fine.

    But if you’re open to improving your skills in the not-so-perfect areas you’ll strengthen your own abilities and the teams you work with. It takes more work, and it takes communicating with the people who are better at some skills than you. If you seek to be skills-based instead of roles-based, you and your teams will most certainly benefit.

    Doesn’t that sound like a better deal for everyone?

  12. Eric Reiss Says:

    Employers always want people with the broadest range of skills, so this isn’t exactly “breaking news”. Personally, I far prefer designers who understand the business goals of what they are designing and can therefore contribute more than just aesthetically shuffled pixels to W3C standards.

  13. Bryan Says:

    Huh. Coding practices are constantly evolving, but design fundamentals will never change.

    If a visual designer has any respect for the medium in which they work, they will pick up the skills necessary to communicate their principles to software engineers and system architects. Right now that means understanding HTML/CSS at a minimum, and a pastiche of web languages if you want to be a “rockstar” designer. Your rockstar designers know how to make something look and feel great, and out of necessity have learned how to make things work. I wouldn’t expect a developer to have the same insight into the communication arts as I would expect a designer to have.

    I think the more attractive option is a hardcore software engineer who can also be a UX generalist. This theoretical creature has been bred to make things work, and their curiosity has led them to think about how things can work better. Their biggest advantage is the ability analyze and iterate, and not get hung up on the same things that visual designers typically do. I simply wouldn’t build my company on code written by a designer.

  14. Fahd Butt Says:

    I call myself a “User Experience Engineer” so I don’t have to pick a side in the “designer” or “developer” camp. We are engineering experiences for users, and it begins with the napkin and ends with whatever-is-needed-to-deploy. We want our experience to be delightful and sometimes that means moving divs 1-pixel at a time. It also means we want our code to run fast so the user isn’t waiting.

    I think the drawback of being a generalist is that your knowledge is shallower than the specialists. It helps in communicating between the different roles but there are times where you’d be lost in the area you aren’t as strong in. Therefore its a role that is more important at an early stage of a startup (and especially a founder) where you aren’t developing for scale or designing for all use-cases. As the startup grows, a generalists role is akin to a Product Manager that can still get his hands dirty.

  15. UrbanImpressionist Says:

    * Pretty sure by coding the author is alluding not to HTML and CSS (which most designers do know) but as Jin mentioned to more complex things I’ve been seeing in listings such as: AJAX, Javascript/actionscript, JQUERY, PHP, .ASP/.NET, Coldfusion, etc.

    More of my argument against a dual role (again not talking more than HTML & CSS) and speaking from experience, said dual role individual is going to get bogged down for hours or even days on issues and learning curves wasting far more (valuable) time getting technical issues resolved than a season dev would (for instance, on a PHP widget to function correctly). That’s going to hurt both dev and design and cost of the project. Penny-wise; pound foolishness IMO.

  16. Pravinn Says:

    Startups needs people who can wear multiple hats.
    Here you don’t have testers, You don’t have Technical architects you don’t have a reception or they don’t even have proper office space. Company owner might pick up a calls & answer, they might be a technical geek themselves. So why they will need a roles. Main concept of the startups is to make a workable prototype and market them to get first, second, third round of funding.

    After getting a good round of funding they will think of setting up the roles and have money to pay.

  17. Quora Says:

    Do companies need designers who can code?…

    Why or Why not? Based on Jared Spool’s post: http://www.uie.com/brainsparks/2011/05/31/why-the-valley-wants-designers-that-can-code/

  18. Jenifer Tidwell Says:

    I can’t disagree with Jared’s basic point, having built a career out of doing both design and engineering! But in practice, there are some thorny problems with it. I found that when I tried to be both a designer and engineer/coder, I ended doing a lot more engineering and a lot less design than I wanted to do. That happened in several organizations, large and small, and all in spite of my best efforts to change the balance.

    I think part of the problem is that engineering skills are, in the end, valued more than design skills.

    I explain more in my own blog post:
    “Designers that code: a response to Jared Spool”

  19. Tucker Williams Says:

    I found that those in this blended role design to their ability to code the thing rather than rely on an expert with a deep understanding of software development to create a solution just as elegant as the experience design. I’m sure there are a few out there who do both amazingly well, but I bet they’re working all the time – if that’s what works for you then go for it.

    Now, making a statement that coding will open up more opportunities, while not completely inaccurate, is a bizarre point of view because of technology itself. I don’t need a coder to do a lot of the work anymore because coders/engineers figured out that we don’t need new code all the time, hence the invention of software platforms, modularization, software tools, etc. And it’ll just continue to improve because of people who love to code! I love you all by the way… thank you for the passion and spirit you put into the things that allow we designer types to focus on what we love to do too.

    What’s more, there are many opportunities outside of production for designers who seek to improve their ability to think critically and strategically about the design of products.

  20. Designers who can code « Yeah, that's been Yuk-ed Says:

    […] understand and sympathize with the arguments for and against designers who can code. For me it boils down to question of what I to focus on […]

  21. Kevin Says:

    I put myself through college getting a computer science degree while working as a web and print designer, and like a lot of programmers, I started young, around 9 years old. After college, all my job roles have been “designer who can code”, including 5 years at 2 silicon valley startups.

    Based on those experiences, I’ve moved to a pure design role, and only write code for interactive prototypes or for personal projects outside of work. I also tell younger designers that it’s a waste of time to expand their skillset to learn to code, beyond HTML/CSS, and not because you can’t be good at both. You absolutely can, if you’re willing to work hard.

    The issue is that most companies looking for designer-developers don’t really value design. They’re looking to get design on the cheap, and that usually means UX is not a core part of their product vision. From a career perspective, you can’t grow as a UX designer at a company like that – you’ll have few opportunities to do your best work, and that will be reflected in your portfolio. I think you have to weigh the short-term gain of a (slightly) larger salary with the long-term hit to your career prospects.

    Some people might say “But startups have to be cheap, they have limited resources!” Which is true, but a lot of startups are very picky about the devs they hire and try to get the highest caliber they can – and they aren’t cheap. In the end, you spend money on what is valuable to you, and if you think spending money on UX is a wasteful luxury like hiring a receptionist, that means UX isn’t core to your product vision.

  22. Xandre Lima Says:

    I work in a company specialized in the financial market, online trading and banks and we have many great designers, developers, htmlers, information architects, usability analysts, system architects, etc., all separated. The thing is, almost all of our colleagues are super professionals in their own area, I mean, they know more than the average professional in their own field. The problem is, if you find a designer who is also a developer, you won’t have this kind of expertise on your team ‘cos he/she only knows a bit about design and a bit about coding. Maybe it’s enough to put your product on the run, but you will be embracing risks. This happened to the Farmville project. Farmville was not the first social game to use a farm. They saw a terrible app where people build farms and they took the idea into a new level. Start yps must think about this, if you put your product for everyone to see it and someone has a better team to develop something similar starting from your idea, you’re doomed…

  23. User Interface Engineering: Why The Valley Wants Designers That Can Code | Usability Counts Says:

    […] An excerpt: We’ve proven for years that you can ship a product without a designer. Many companies have done that, and while it doesn’t make for a great result, it does ship. However, it’s much harder to ship a software product without a coder, if not near impossible. […]

  24. Jonathan Says:

    Mr Spool is stating that hiring managers with highly constrained budgets will seek to hire people who can do more than one job. That’s hardly news. In fact you’ll find the same thing applies in many other disciplines (some people can do both accountancy and compliance, marketing and PR, SEO and SEM).

    But the entirely separate question of whether anyone can DO good UX design and production-quality markup is easy to test. Look at companies that have enough money to hire for separate roles and see what they do. You will see they choose to separate the roles. It would be much more interesting to know what Mr Spool would have to say in a blog post called “Why The Fortune 1000 Wants Designers Separate From Coders”.

    PS: I’ve just noticed he has now tweeted that he thinks people can be both good UX designers and good coders. This is from a man who I assume does neither in his daily life. Of course, he’s entitled to his opinion, but I’d say that’s a bit odd since he appears not to be saying it on the basis of any demonstrable facts at all.

  25. Jonathan Says:

    (Replying to my own post, first sign of madness)

    I’ve just written an apology to Mr Spool for the fact that I didn’t read all his post, and see he does partially address the point I raise (although still without citation for his assertion that hybrid teams do better). I then submitted my comment without the spamcheck, got an error message, hit the back button, and lost my entire comment.


    Anyway, in summary: he’s probably right for startups and small companies. But once a site reaches a certain level of complexity, hybrid roles will have to specialise because there’s not enough hours in the day to maintain quality and handle the work. This is the same for those that do both SEO and SEM, accounting and compliance, and marketing and PR.

    (copying to clipboard this time before I hit submit this time)

  26. Dale Sande Says:

    I don’t think that designers who can code their UIs are unicorns. We exist. But, I’d say they are rare cause the industry has made them rare. For to long the role of the presentation layer developer has fallen to the app developer or engineer. After all, if you can code .NET, Ruby, PHP, etc … HTML/CSS should be child’s play, right? And I have found that personally to be vary far from the truth.

    In my experience you can code and design but there will be challenges. You won’t be an awesome ‘developer’ and you won’t be an awesome ‘designer’ either. You will be a ‘designer who can code’ as the article puts it.

    What is really lacking is a clear way to communicate a design to the engineers. Comps, layouts, PSD files, etc … don’t work in my mind. I feel that what this article is speaking to is that companies are looking to fill that communication gap and having a ‘designer who can code’ is one way to do that.

    I personally advocate for the role of the presentation layer engineer. This is a coder that can interact with designers and developers. Create assets that address the concerns of the designers while providing tools that the engineers can use to create the final app UI. This was the reason behind me embracing concepts like modular web development, OOCSS and lead to the creation of http://axle.dalesande.com

    In a tart up you do need someone who needs to know HTML, CSS, at least jQuery and I would advocate for LESS or SASS as well. But as far as languages, I don’t think that they need to be .NET, PHP or Ruby masters. But if you know how to interact with the surface of the language, you can add a lot of value to a team.

  27. Jamie Hoover Says:

    Digital designers that can’t code are just as ignorant as those that can’t draw. Architects must be multi-disciplinary or we would be forced to dwell in buildings that were either ugly or fell down on our heads. HCI schools should be modelled more closely to that of architecture.

    If I wanted to be a specialist, I’d work in a factory.

  28. mrbmc Says:

    Teams deliver. Not individuals. Don’t label people by their skills.

  29. Coding for Designers | Normative - Design for Devices and the Web Says:

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  32. tommyr Says:

    There’s nothing unique to UX here. This is the same dilemma as for any job / speciality.

    Irrespective of how skilled or multi talented they are if you hire just one person to write front end code, do the visual design, run ux tests etc. there’s a limit to how much time they can spend on any one of these. The same person in a job where they can dedicate 100% of their time to one of those tasks will do a better job at it.

    If you’re a startup or you can’t afford more employees then you need a generalist and you have to accept you’re only getting part of a designer. If you can afford more then it’s largely down to your organisation and the way you’re projects are run whether you choose to have specialists or generalists. There definitely comes a point though when a team’s large enough or the product complex enough that it makes sense to have someone who’s more specialised.

    Some companies are guilty of trying to do UX on the cheap by employing generalists. When time’s short and features need implementing coding always takes priority and design / UX is compromised.

  33. Steve Says:

    This is nothing new to me. 10 years ago I got a job as a Multimedia Designer which I still do today. I have noticed that most jobs now favour the designer or the developer. The all-rounder like myself is left feeling a bit left out.

    I have worked with a number of designers who refuse to code and a number of coders who refuse to design. What you can end up with as a beautiful design that doesn’t work or a well written application that looks awful, I’ve seen it so many times.

    It’s time to big up the all-rounders, we can deliver the best of both worlds!

  34. technogeist Says:

    Designers are just as likely as coders to become detached from the needs real humans, the end-users.

    Just take a look at the world of architecture 40 years ago. Visually appealing concrete boxes But the reality of living in, and with their creations is an orwellian nightmare.

    Too much time spent on features/irrelevant details, and not enough spent on the reality of living with their ui decisions.

  35. TickTockDesign » Why The Valley Wants Designers That Can Code » UIE Brain Sparks Says:

    […] Why The Valley Wants Designers That Can Code » UIE Brain Sparks. […]

  36. greg Says:

    For me, I’ve never met any one person who can code and design at the top levels for both disciplines. They either code better than they design or design better than they code. To make great software you need to do all of these things (http://gregmelander.com/post/1287593439/experience-design-pyramid-this-may-seem-a-bit )…and specialists are the people who know how.

  37. Steve Says:

    Despite my previous comment, I tend to agree with greg. Whilst I am fairly competent in a lot of areas, I can’t call myself an expert in any one particular field. This is fine for ‘bread and butter’ work but when trying to push the boundaries a group of specialist designers and developers are best.

    The question these days is what the hell to specialise in! .NET, PHP, Android, iPhone, Flash, Silverlight, JAVA………the choice is endless and which ones will still be around in the next few years? no one really knows.

    Right I must get back to my ‘Learn how to make iPhone apps in 24 hours book’ which is turning out to me more like 24 days not hours!

  38. aplaudatu Says:

    The beginning of the end…” experienced MCITP ,Photoshop ,XML ,Java , CCNA , ,with at least 12 years experience in high management”

  39. Jay Says:

    I once had the dubious pleasure of working with a guy who, when tasked with writing specs, said, “I didn’t spend five years in school to become a tech writer.”

    He quickly became the system manager because he couldn’t design OR code.


  40. Anders Tolborg Says:

    An argument against the designer and the frontend dev being the same person seems to be that this person will not be able to spend 100% of her time doing either activity. A person being able to spend 100% time on just one activity would logically become better at the subject discipline.

    I believe this argument is flawed, and the reason lies in how we use language. When u are both a designer and a frontend developer, doing design and doing frontend dev is not two separate activities. You always have both disciplines in mind. It might be different to a person who only knows one of the disciplines, since the knowledge and understanding of the other discipline will not affect work being done.

  41. Sample blog post « Komo2otree Blog Says:

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  42. The best project (process) ever! « Gavin Wye Says:

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  44. Manish Deo Says:

    code and design, Liked

  45. Dan Seward Says:

    Earlier in this post Kevin said it best: sure, there are some people who can do both. They might even be good at them. The problem is with companies who want to pay one person to do two things. When you build a house, you can get your electrician to do your plumbing, but you’re safer hiring a good electrician and a good plumber.

  46. Dan Seward Says:

    Also, just to stir the pot: I have met a lot of developers who read a Steve Krug book and think they know how to design good experiences. The best “coders” I’ve met, while studious, effective, and efficient, don’t always get design. Without dissecting the psychology too much, experience design and code (and the personality types needed to master each) are worlds apart. In this I agree with Greg above.

  47. DRoss Says:

    Nice article and over the last few years companies and startups are beginning to realize the importance of someone who can design and front-end develop + do a little more when needed.

    I went to school and got a design degree. This was a little over 10 years ago and I don’t know about now but back then they didn’t teach much about web design in college – (real UI design and html/css) Heck, css was pretty new and 95% of the websites being built 10 years ago were built using tables.

    So I wanted a website portfolio for myself and was always interested more in web design than print design. I went to the library, got books, was involved in early css/html forums and lists, looked at the design and code of the early web superstars and taught myself front-end development.

    I already had an eye for design but the other side of my brain wanted to learn and do more. I quickly took up css and building sites very well. I’m meticulous about clean, optimized code and companies took notice. I was actually living in Tennessee (originally from California, don’t ask:) and landed my first web job there. They already had a pretty good designer and I was hired actually more for my front-end skills. I quickly began taking on the role as the lead designer and built all the sites I designed.

    About a year later I decided Tennessee wasn’t the best place for web design work and started looking. No kids or girlfriend/wife at the time holding me back so I looked on a few job boards and replied to a few (at 4am – lol).

    A company in NYC quickly hired me, gave me some nice moving expense money and I worked there for about two years. (Still very good friends with the owner of the company, great guy). I worked at another place for about a year but now I’ve been freelancing full time for the past five years or so and love it…although at this moment I’m slightly burnt out as I’ve been working so much with so many clients the past few years.

    I prefer to work with startups or on smaller projects as I like to keep the work to myself and do what I do best. I could probably start my own company but I already wear 10 hats and am happy where I’m at now.

    So, to end my life career rant I guess the point I’m ending with is it does take someone who can use both sides of their brain to do design/development. Front-end development is definitely easier to “learn”. Design is different. It’s hard to teach someone good taste. But I was always amazed and still am at some of the design and front-end work some people do these days. There are some highly talented guys and gals out there. And yes, it’s an extremely valuable skill set to have both. And to any newcomers, especially people who understand user interface/web design, you really need to learn html/css at the minimum. It’s not that hard and you’ll be a better designer.


  48. PracticallyUX » Blog Archive » To Code or not to Code, that is the Question. Says:

    […] been much debate lately on whether designers should write code. This article from Jared Spool seems to have stirred up a hornets nest. I started off my career doing both design and front end […]

  49. Gail Swanson Says:

    Designers are better when they can empathize with coders, but most designers just don’t have the bandwidth to tackle both responsibilities.

  50. Josh Strike Says:

    Just to point out the obvious, there’s no reason to have one person doing both those jobs if they can’t combine their work into a single step; and that’s rarely the case. Which means the person has to also be the art director (if not the senior developer too).

    IF you’re a designer with a background in typography, fine art and communications, AND you can code what you want on the screen blindfolded, chances are you’re still not gonna work any faster than two guys with that same background unless you somehow convince your boss to let you code the design that’s in your head, and skip the steps of (1) laying out comps for approval, and (2) translating those comps into viable code. Now…that takes a lotta grit and a golden tongue, which means the coder/designer in question would probable be better off working for herself than kicking up 80-90% of the client’s budget to her boss.

    You can keep working it out for the hiring managers of the world, but I’ll give ya a hint: Really creative, intelligent people don’t want to waste their time tying your shoes for you.

  51. NesQuarX Says:

    People who can do both design and code really well, do exist, but they’re only marginally less rare than unicorns… Being an UX designer who began his career as a programmer who freelanced in graphic design from school years, moved into hardcore J2EE and then moved to UX… I can vouch for their existence.

    Though I’ll have to agree that if one has to do both at a regular basis, one needs to do a ridiculous amount of work not really compensable even with a top-of-the-line paycheque. But the actual benefits do show when you’re on either side of the river and need to communicate with the other side.

    While designing, I was always able to explain to the coders exactly what was the optimum way to implement what my UX needed, leaving the nitty gritties and debugging monsters to them.

    While coding, I was always always able to tell the designers how exactly their UXes can be optimized to gel flawlessly with what the coding platform had to offer. (The ‘telling them’ part used to be very tricky in the junior years when they’d just assume I’m trying to teach them in their trade.)

    But it’s this communication bridge which enabled us to make really good applications really smoothly, which gave excellent quality/time ratios, it saved a lot of money for my employers too…

    But sadly, to be recognized and valued for that ability, it did not happen to me until much later in my career, so I don’t really believe hiring managers are very aware of how this kind of a person can actually benefit their organizations.

  52. UXanonD Says:

    I do think it’s funny that it’s always the ones who do strictly programming try to discredit design… even when an article that only states that it is difficult to find someone who is exceptional in both fields. Design, most commonly is something that may come natural and programming may also to some, but generally comes from research and learning of the skill… so maybe that is the reason for the negative outlook. But, I think there are a lot of programmers as well that could enter this category if they didn’t look at design as being ‘beneath them’ and ventured to acquire this skill-set. Anyway, I have respect for both and skill will never be discredited when push comes to shove. I would personally love to be able to find not only a qualified designer, but a ‘unicorn’ to join my team.

  53. cesar Says:

    I have a degree in design, working mainly on editorial I have move to web. I think it is almost a natural step for a designer to learn to code, it is basically the application of design. Now of you want to program, you definitely need another person.

  54. Ravinder Tulsiani - Corporate Trainer Says:

    Ravinder Tulsiani – Corporate Trainer…

    […]Why The Valley Wants Designers That Can Code » UIE Brain Sparks[…]…

  55. Four reasons why I don’t think a ‘designer’s gotta code’ | Jessica Vallance – User Experience Designer Says:

    […] spool started off this debate last summer, but recently his tweet, ‘The ugly truth: Designers who can code will squash designers who […]

  56. Fernando Val Says:

    I must be that some one of you consider a “Super Designer”, I name to myself like “Designer & Front-end Samurai”, but terminology aside, Lately I’m finding this profile is to seeking by startups specially. And this article is a sample of this.
    I haven’t come to current situation in a premeditated way. Really what happens is I’m an old rock star… :)
    Happens to me like Mike Rundle says in this article: http://flyosity.com/application-design/if-you-can-think-design-code-you-win.php
    An I’m so curious and I had time to learn to many stuff, An I reaches a point that only design was bored to me, and needed to learn new skills. At first markup code, next interaction code and last back-end.
    All of this has given me a background and a knowledge so important to tackling a project.
    Finally, I think a Interaction designer must to know almost HTML and CSS to bring an holistic good work in opposite a nice look and feel.

  57. Think, Design & Code: Do It All, Win It All | Seeqnce Blog Says:

    […] M. Spool, a software developer and programmer, has a great article too, “Why The Valley Wants Designers That Can Code”, explaining why a great designer who gets good at coding over time, or a  coder who learns a […]

  58. Anu Ramaswamy Says:

    I was shy of taking a stand on this issue, but, I am now quite convinced that combining designer and UI developer into one means something’s got to give. I am a big fan of Jared Spool, and have to disagree on this one. Looks to me that people’s opinion on this have been formed by varied experiences. I wrote a blog post to share mine.


  59. “We don’t hire designers who can’t code.” Says:

    […] times there have been articles popping up all over the web with persons advocating the benefits of designers who can also code as well as the need for designers to learn to code. Some even go as far as calling them […]

  60. The best project (process) ever! | Lying Awake Dreaming Says:

    […] 2011 · Add Comment · In Agile, Design, Process I was talking at work recently about Jared Spools comments about designers coding and it sort of spawned this post about how I used coding to my advantage in a really small project. […]

  61. Steve Says:

    I think it’s important to elaborate on “code”. Front end coding? C#, PHP? There’s a huge difference between a person who’s great at design and HTML (I’ve met many) great at design and javascript ( I’ve met some) and who’s great at design, javascript and C# (I’ve met one and heard of another) Article is too general. Even designer is too general when thinking of UX and Usability. Do you mean visual designer? None of the aforementioned people had ever run usability tests, written personas, run stats, created ux storyboards, experience maps, etc.

  62. Not Just Unicorns: A Designer Bestiary | Designcult Says:

    […] describe interaction designers who are also talented visual designers. Others carry news of the rare designer who can also code. And the wildest tales of all describe a designer who is supernaturally capable of anything. These […]

  63. Josh Nimoy Says:

    To those who say the unicorn is unstable and bound to fail – for those who cannot fathom that two disciplines would possibly fold into one: you are mistaken to assume this collection of professions are skill-sets so mutually esoteric, and so partitioned, that diving deep into one necessarily thins the other.

    If you ever meet someone claiming to be great programmer as well as a great designer at the same time, then you measure for yourself and see that one of these two sides is lacking relative to the competition, then you have not met a real unicorn. Not yet. Keep looking.

    ps. I agree with “not just unicorns”. There exists a universal artistic grit allowing a designer to flow freely between architecture, science, engineering, politics, maths, and raw creativity, thumbing noses at every preconception we have about left versus right brained “types”. I wouldn’t call these people “unicorns”. I think “wizard” is a better title. Furthermore, I would not assign “designer” as their home-discipline just because it’s their profession or educational background.

  64. Pavel Says:

    Well, hiring managers and business owners might want it, but that does not make it any more plausible. It sounds to me like a management daydream: let’s hire the great pianist, and make him to build his piano himself.
    Of course, graphic design takes lots of practice to hone one’s talent, and coding is very time consuming to do the research and learning, and everything.
    So the jack-of-all-trades effect kicks in. I suspect that in real life, most coders use Photoshop and other graphic software so they are technically able to do the job, without the artistic mastery behind it, and hiring managers start telling to graphic designers, how it would be great if they could code. I don’t think so.

  65. Patrick Breslin Says:

    Hi, some great debate going on here. I work as a traditional print designer, and am hoping to re-skill into UX / Web design. I feel programming is much less subjective than design, while there are good and bad programmers its still a very specialist skill. The general public never uses a website and says I don’t like how its coded. However they often look at a site and comment on how its designed.
    Visual design is also a specialist skill. In 15 years in design I’ve seen the value of good design increasingly eroded. Software now allows anyone to create their own ‘artwork’ in Word, Powerpoint etc. However being able to select fonts/colours/layout is not the same as being able to create a good design. The same advances also affect programming, current technology allows anyone to create their website, but not necessarily the best code for it.

    I’d like to be a good designer who understand the possibilities of code.

    Or a good programmer who understands the principles of design. To be both is possible, but to give all you time to doing both jobs properly is difficult.
    Our head of design in College always said “good or bad design is not the same as what I like or don’t like”.

  66. Designers que codificam: prós e contras #ISA13 | Arquitetura de Informação Says:

    […] muita polêmica. Fui direto ao ponto. Falei da minha inspiração no artigo do Jared Spool, “Why The Valley Wants Designers That Can Code“. Fiz uma contextualização do cenário atual de UX, Startups e o conceito tão comentado de […]

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