Ask DN: If you don't like or don't want to code can you help me understand why?

over 5 years ago from

As we know there are designers who code and designers who don't, and some who are in-between.

For those who don't code, or really do not like it, I'm curious to know why. Like what specific aspect of coding irks you? There are plenty of possible reasons! The goal is not to judge but to understand.

For web designers I can imagine a few different possibilities:

  • Typing the code is enormously tedious and the slightest typo causes thing to break.
  • CSS and HTML (the languages themselves) are too unwieldy to be able to actually design with (is this a flexbox? what align-self? or is it a float?... )
  • You feel you can only really design if you can do direct manipulation of your design as it is on the screen (as in use a regular design tool)

I suppose there are other possible problems, like the ever-increasing complexity of tools that surround code (build tools, pre-processors, post-processors, ...) feel free add more in the comments.

I am asking this because I am a developer and I am playing around with some ideas for web design/development tools, but I realize I never really understood why many designers don't like to code. Thanks for your answers.


  • Maiken v V., over 5 years ago

    I'm a designer that codes in their free time (HTML, CSS, JS), but not at work. The level of coding just isn't sufficient.

    The stack is constantly changing, and I've given up on trying to keep up. So as a hobby: nice. Professional: I would rather focus on becoming a better designer.

    22 points
    • Olivier F, over 5 years ago

      I completely understand that. This seems to be the recurring theme.

      0 points
    • Alex FloresAlex Flores, over 5 years ago


      0 points
    • Andy MerskinAndy Merskin, over 5 years ago

      I think with the stack changing so much, it's wiser to pick a technology and run with it for a while, even if it's considered "outdated". So if you want to pick up Vue.js right now, and for some reason in 2-3 years it loses its popularity... eh ¯_(ツ)_/¯ keep using it!

      0 points
      • Johan Ronsse, over 5 years ago

        I don't know. I think you can do a lot of useful things when you know any programming language. So learning to program is the key, not the tech stack or its newness. If you know Python and Unix type stuff which is not particularly modern (this stuff dates back 20+ years) you can do so many useful things.

        1 point
        • Andy MerskinAndy Merskin, over 5 years ago

          Oh absolutely, I'd agree. But assuming the OP is getting into the web stack, the broader frameworks and way of working changes frequently, which has a significant effect on working in teams and the way developers approach and reason about their code.

          A baseline knowledge of HTML / CSS / JS is absolutely necessary to navigate the changing climate with confidence, though. :)

          0 points
    • Andrew Richardson, over 5 years ago

      I've transitioned out of the front end coding world but I still have a side project where I dip my toes back in.

      It's a whole different world when I'm like "I want to make this thing" as opposed to "This manager wants me to make this thing". I prefer getting my hands "dirty" with code when it's something I'm personally interested in.

      0 points
      • Maiken v V., over 5 years ago

        Yeah, I agree. And as a hobby for me, it totally works. I'm even trying to learn Swift. It's just not usable for work in my case.

        0 points
    • Ryan MiglavsRyan Miglavs, over 5 years ago

      I hear you. Making web stuff didn't used to be so complex, but that's the reality now.

      And especially in a team, it totally works to specialize and go deep on design.

      That said, sometimes you'd be surprised what you can accomplish with simple code when you let go of what the cool kids say, especially on the web. I love this article from Jeffrey Zeldman calling for less complexity.

      0 points
  • sean lionin, over 5 years ago

    I really like what tools like Webflow & Zeplin are doing - bridging the gap between developers and designers.

    I think as the industry progresses this is going to become less of a can and shouldn't question - I think everyone should be able to code to some base/foundation level. However, I do think that designers should spend most of their time on design.

    13 points
    • Germaine Milovan, over 5 years ago

      That's the key there: designers need to spend most of their time doing design of course. Unless designing can be done with code itself it's never going to be useful enough to code designs, it's too much of a bother. And the constant debate it's a bit tiresome.

      There is also hadron.app too, I haven't try it yet though

      2 points
    • Olivier F, over 5 years ago

      I agree that this is the right direction for tools. In fact the more a design tool can behave like a design tool while creating an output that is as close to what the developers need, the better. I think we can still do better, particularly on the web design side of things.

      0 points
  • Mitch Malone, over 5 years ago

    Coding doesn't irk me. I enjoy coding.

    But I think designers are better positioned to impact a business, project, experience, etc in other areas. Specifically in understanding who the user is, what they're goals and scenarios are, aligning with business needs, collaborating on prototypes, and user testing.

    The prototyping can be done in code. Some times it is required but mostly it isn't.

    If it suits your work style—carry on. But I wonder if it should be a requirement for designers.

    9 points
    • Duke CavinskiDuke Cavinski, over 5 years ago

      Agreed. I quickly got into a career realm where companies didn’t want any designers to write production code, so naturally you just tilt the other way into product strategy.

      1 point
  • Tyson KingsburyTyson Kingsbury, over 5 years ago

    ok, here's goes.

    i 'get' code... I'm pretty immersed in it at my office....I'm surrounded by engineers etc... I'm just not that 'good' at it.

    I'm 46.

    I've been at this a LONG time now. I got started in design working at Ad-agencies back in the early 90's, and jumped over to web around 1999.

    When I first started in web design at a consulting firm, I told my boss at the time, hey...i'm totally down with learning to code if you need me to. his response 'that's cool, i appreciate that....but we have approx 50 dudes here with comp-sci and engineering degrees that do that all day long...thing is though, they SUCK at design....that's what i need YOU doing....'

    which was cool at the time, and i appreciated the humour of it...

    flash forward to now. I'm CD at a software company

    I've taken html/css courses, and I've done a very limited amount of coding....enough to to know that I'm not very fucking good at it. ...but...

    I'm pretty fucking good at design now.

    and my position is, i have the tools at this point to get what i want done pretty quickly..and if there's something beyond that?....i pass it off to one of the devs here to handle (because they're super fast, and crazy good at what THEY do...)

    • we handle out marketing site (for our software) on wordpress (easy enough to handle...i can do most of that with my marketing team) • SVG animations i can create on SVGator • all my UI/UX work i do on Figma, which is great for Dev handoff, as it has all the code they need...css/etc... • any html/web stuff i need to do, i generally use Blocsapp which does pretty much everything I need it to do....

    TL/DR between Figma, SVGator, Blocsapp, Wordpress (and my 25+ years or so doing photoshop) I'm pretty much able to do all i need to do with out busting out the code....

    5 points
  • Phil RauPhil Rau, over 5 years ago

    Sometimes I do enjoy the detailed problem-solving of coding. There is something satisfying there. However, I just get more satisfaction from solving bigger problems.

    I'm more of a big picture person: I know how something should work, what it should look like, and what the workflow might be. I'm far faster at creating my vision with design tools than I am with code tools. I don't like to get bogged down with CSS class specificity, div layouts, and fonts that won't load. Its just faster to create with dedicated tools.

    5 points
  • iterati designiterati design, over 5 years ago

    I used to do html/css awhile back, but dropped it completely.

    Two reasons why. First, there's a small chance you'll be a great designer and front-end dev, you can most probably be average doing both.

    Second, coding isn't just front-end. Since I'm designing for the web, iOS and Android, should I be able to code? I wish I could, that's for sure. I have an understanding of how it's done, that helps a lot.

    Looking back, focusing on business and going deeper into design wasn't a bad decision.

    4 points
  • Oliver Swig, over 5 years ago

    I specialize in branding design and would rather focus on the overall concept and visuals. Let a web professional deal with how it works and comes to life. I'm happy to collaborate with them.

    I'm also a visual person who doesn't like to spend my time behind the scenes fixing and debugging shit constantly. It stifles my creativity.

    I like to DESIGN not code.

    3 points
  • Cristian MoiseiCristian Moisei, over 5 years ago

    I actually enjoy coding - I learned some HTML/CSS and the very basics of JS to be able to work better with developers, and I'm not properly learning Swift so I can be able to make stuff on Apple's ecosystem. I find it enjoyable and I think the problems you have to solve - the mindset that is, is not that different from the one required to be a good UX designer.

    What I am strongly against is companies expecting designers to code to save a buck. I would never do both fields professionally, because then I could master neither, so I could never do more than build simple static sites with pretty average design.

    3 points
  • Benjamin Berger, over 5 years ago

    Personally, I'm not opposed to code and I've coded my portfolio or small websites for clients when I was freelancing. But here are a few things that keeps me away from coding: - I never got a proper education to code. I had HTML / CSS class in my design school but never learnt JS and programming, which has always felt like such a big thing to learn by myself.

    • Code stack is always changing so even though I know how to write HTML/CSS, I missed the LASS/SASS train and so many others, because I was busy doing something else. And once again, it just feels like so many big things to learn by myself that I just don't bother.

    • I've been mainly working in big companies and coding is not my job. Yes it's important to understand the medium, but it might not be important to understand all the aspects of developing an app. The same way the developer I work with don't bother learning every aspects of graphic design / cognitive biases / user research methodology / workshop facilitation / UX metrics / Experimentation / etc. Because it's not their job.

    • With all those reasons, I have absolutely no confidence in my coding skills for company level work. So I mainly stay away from it and it gives me free time to actually focus on learning design and improving my skills.

    Hope that helps you understand another point of view :)

    3 points
    • Olivier F, over 5 years ago

      Yes that does help, thank-you. Designers focusing on design, not code, is sensible given the complexities of real-world code.

      1 point
  • Megan CleggMegan Clegg, over 5 years ago

    "CSS and HTML (the languages themselves) are too unwieldy to be able to actually design with (is this a flexbox? what align-self? or is it a float?... )"

    This comes closest to my reasoning. I learned how to code in HTML 5/CSS 3 years ago and have fully coded client's websites in the past. But I'm not good at languages in general (trying to learn Spanish did not go well for me) so being fluent in code is extremely difficult. Even the basic stuff. When I'm coding, I have to fully immerse myself in it (it's not like riding a bike, not at ALL) and that ends up overtaking my time as a designer - which is really the priority here.

    Like others in this thread, I understand the concepts behind coding enough to work well with developers and understand how they are building my designs, and that feels like a better way of working.

    2 points
    • Olivier F, over 5 years ago

      "This comes closest to my reasoning."

      Thank-you for chiming in. I'm surprised at how few people related to that point. I'm primarily a dev, but when I immerse my head in code I lose the sense of creativity that I can have in front of a free-form canvas. What little design ability I have suffers when I get tangled in z-index and myriad other gotchas of CSS.

      CSS to me quickly becomes a constraint instead of an enabler of creativity.

      0 points
  • Account deleted over 5 years ago

    I am a designer who codes, or used to code. Why I wanted to stop doing such tasks? Three things: 1. I had to choose paths to improve and they are not coding, these are Design Thinking, User Experience Design, User Interface Design. They are broad themselves and about design so I ceased to take coding responsibilities both at main job and freelancing. 2. Its boring. In the beginning, when I was learning it and learning Bootstrap, it was fun but as time moved on, it turned out it's boring. And... 3. There's this LESS/SASS etc. and I decided not to learn all that (instead, I chose things from #1). And if I don't develop something, I guess I'm not that good and professional at it anyway so just knowing it on the lower-intermediate level will help me be a good designer but not a good coder. Plus I just don't want to be a coder. I want to be a full stack designer. Full stack designer in terms of the way from preliminary concept to final handoff project, not full stack designer in a way that I design and code (this is the idiocy of contemporary job ads).

    2 points
    • Rhys MerrittRhys Merritt, over 5 years ago

      Whenever I see you on here, all I can think of is this glorious comment you left:

      FB has designers? I doubt. It's an ugly and poor UX crap, always has been.

      8 points
  • Marcel van Werkhoven, over 5 years ago

    A good designer can pretty much use any tool to create a design. With that said, coding comes with its benefits. Having the option to build HTML/CSS and some javascript yourself means that you can better create the design the way that you want it. Also designers that know a bit of code understand which sort of designs are easy or hard to build and are better at handing specs to other developers.

    Having no coding experience whatsoever as a designer is like writing a piece of music without being able to play it yourself. You don't have to play it yourself because there are better musicians for specific instruments but it helps when you understand 'how' the piece is going to be played.

    One example is font rendering. Every time I work with an external designer with little to no coding experience they will use one of the 900 font weights in their designs. Edge / FireFox and Chrome each have their own way of handling 'bold' styles and in most cases the difference between font-weight 300 or 400 is barely visible.

    2 points
    • Account deleted over 5 years ago

      There's a bit of a difference between having code experience and actually building stuff yourself from HTML+CSS+JS. You wouldn't want a builder to design the block of flats you will be living in, right? Let people do what they are supposed to do.

      1 point
    • Leonardo LanzingerLeonardo Lanzinger, over 5 years ago

      Also designers that know a bit of code understand which sort of designs are easy or hard to build and are better at handing specs to other developers.

      As a "designer who codes" or a "coder who designs" (funny how we never mention developers who are familiar with the design process, but that's another story) I agree to that only to a very little extent, mostly when engineering UI elements for the web.

      But let's say that you are designing for an Android or iOS app: the 'bit' of HTML/CSS/JS code you know won't be very helpful to understand whether a component can be developed in Java or Swift.

      And what about UX design? Take a standard React app. You need a very deep understanding of React (and Javascript) to be able to judge whether a user flow you just designed is easy to implement or not.

      TL;DR just wanted to say that the benefit of coding as a designer are VERY VERY dependent on the context you work.

      2 points
  • Jim SilvermanJim Silverman, over 5 years ago

    i don't learn to code to write code. i learn to code to better communicate to developers and understand technical limitations and challenges.

    1 point
  • John PJohn P, over 5 years ago

    Don't feel like as a designer you should have to learn to code, this tweet thread sums it up well.


    Should designers learn to code? = how can we make developers jobs easier without expecting reciprocation while they make twice our salary

    I'm saying this as a designer who is a competent programmer too, but I only choose to use code when it augments my work.

    1 point
  • Mihai VladanMihai Vladan, over 5 years ago

    I started “coding” my own websites in macromedia flash back in the day and loved the simplicity of its tools and how easy it was to use action script.

    Made the transition to OOP in action script 3 and i was just starting to create more complex stuff when the iPhone hit the market and triggered the demise of the flash plugin.

    Since then i tried switching to html5, wordpress, php.. you name it. All of them had the same major issues :

    • rendering inconsistencies across browsers and Platforms. This one for me was the most baffling one. Why would you push for html5 when you know it’s fragmented as fuck on all platforms?

    • per browser custom codes and hacks for the really cool stuff to be supported

    • abismall animation tools. Almost 20 years ago, the creativity in web design was at an all time high with animations in flash and all its tools like : swift3d for vector animations. Swish Max for those crazy text . Beeing a flash designer meant you were doing : ui / ux / motion / sound / product / coding in a single job. Fast forward today and I see tools like Haiku that are trying to reinvent what existed back then.

    The closest I got to coding again is with Webflow. That tool is a godsend to designers like me, that dont want to debug console errors as to why in the fuck a flexbox column is not rendering correctly on Safari vs Chrome and other stuff like that.

    Did flash had its issues? Sure, nobody’s denying that, but even with all those issues it was way ahead of its time.

    1 point
  • Dexter W, over 5 years ago

    I code, but only to the extent a designer needs to carry the torch and show something real. It's not always a good idea to be solving logic problems and take time away from focusing on design problems.

    1 point
  • Tyler RenfroTyler Renfro, over 5 years ago

    I did front end UI, layout, and responsive design for a few years. Even landed a couple full time jobs at agencies for front end.

    Tried to understand and learn programming and dev ops along the way. Realized I'm not very good at coding at all. I struggled very much with JavaScript no matter how many video tutorials I watched. Other people were faster and better at code than me.

    Stepped back into design doing mock-ups and it's much better.

    1 point
  • Dau j., over 5 years ago

    I've been in between for like 5 years now - in between meaning that I currently work as a front end developer but started as a graphic design intern and I was always more interested in graphic design, UX theory and so on.

    I have nearly zero interest in tackling with some es6 or some build tools where you have to spend a day trying to set up the whole dev environment.

    What I like about my work is bringing static designs to life, improving them, adding motion, animations, some easing, etc. It's the visual part that I like about development.

    I assume that's what designers also like - visual part. And current state of front end development is much more complex than that.

    1 point
  • Andu PotoracAndu Potorac, over 5 years ago


    0 points
  • Xuan ZhangXuan Zhang, over 5 years ago

    Speaking for myself, it is more realistic to merely focus on one area instead of two. Being expert in both is just too much for me I guess ╮(╯_╰)╭

    But I do agree that basic coding knowledge is helpful. So it is more a question like how to be most cost-efficient to play with both code and design. AKA what are the minimum coding skills that I need to know in order to achieve a better digital design or communicate with devs more effectively.

    0 points
  • Daniel De LaneyDaniel De Laney, over 5 years ago

    It’s rarely the best way to accomplish what I want to do.

    Recently I was trying to describe some fairly sophisticated rules for dynamic sizing of an element depending on screen size, and I realized it would be quicker and clearer to provide a CodePen with the CSS already written than to try to describe the behavior in English. This almost never happens and I don’t know when I last wrote code at work before that. I’m not opposed to writing code. It’s just that a sketch or a mock-up or an animation or a clickable prototype in Marvel is almost always more efficient.

    0 points
  • Scott ThomasScott Thomas, over 5 years ago

    I understand HTML and CSS, but when SASS came out... I was like this is now above my head.

    0 points