Web Designers Code

When I moved to San Francisco in 2012 I knew I wanted to get a job as a designer at a startup, but had never before dealt with the issue of needing to categorize myself into a certain role. In architecture there might be different types of designers (architect, landscape, etc), but they all overlap into a mesh of interdisciplinary collaboration that requires each person to be knowledgeable in the other person's fields, regardless of their day-to-day responsibilities.

Despite the oddity of having these arbitrary categories (especially at small startups), I applied to a few jobs as UI/UX designer and surprisingly got interviews within a week at all but one company (who interviewed me ~9 months later), got a lot of questions about whether or not I could do X or Y type of design, and landed a full time position at couple year old startup. At the time I didn't know why I was having such a great response rate, but looking back I realized it was due to one thing:

I was a designer who could accurately code my designs.

As a self taught designer/developer who never had anybody telling me what to learn or not to learn, this only seemed like common sense. If I'm passionate about my designs then why would I hand them off to someone who's passion is in programming, not the tedious time-sink of HTML/CSS?

Unfortunately the CTO at the time didn't share this passion and I watched as designs were hackily assembled by a group of "full stack" developers, most of which who neither enjoyed nor cared about frontend presentation development, all with a hodge-podge of Bootstrap CSS and an over-abundance of bloated legacy CSS. While I pushed for media queries to be used to create a unified UI/UX across all devices, they were instead used to create an entirely different "mobile experience" and as an excuse to to throw "mobile app" and "responsive" onto the long list of marketing buzzwords.

Let's be honest, HTML/CSS is rarely fun and coding out your own designs probably isn't that exciting to you, but as a designer you're likely the one who most cares your designs being built accurately in their final medium, and as such you need to be able to take control of their execution. In some cases this means translating designs from PSD to HTML yourself or as is the case more and more often at Atomi Design - designing directly in the browser1.

Regardless of how you setup your own workflow, the important thing is being able to take control of your designs from conceptualization through implementation. Even if aren't coding frontend designs yourself, you need to have that knowledge as it helps inform the way you work and enables to start that discussion with the person who is coding it.

TL;DR: If you call yourself web designer and you aren't coding your designs, you better start.


Shameless Plug: I've started a Meetup community called Designers Who Code that focuses on the intersection of design and development. We're having a Designer Drinkup on Wednesday, March 12th at Bloodhound in SoMa, and will be announcing upcoming workshops at our office in SoMa soon. If you're in the San Francisco area and enjoy good beer and good company be sure to come check it out!


1. This is likely a topic for a larger discussion, but after having just finished our first project sans-Photoshop we'd like to think it still has a place in our workflow as a place for "digital sketches". Full page PSD mockups are out, but working in different analog and digital mediums always helps shake up the old design thinking.