Wanted: A designer that can design and write code? Really?

In this modern age of the internet, website design and social media, I am what some people might call an ‘old skool’ designer. I’m probably not quite as cool as some designers, and certainly not as young. When I started out at college our main tools weren’t a mouse, a keyboard and a computer. Our tools were markers, scalpels and cutting mats.

In the IT room, there were these space age, beige coloured boxes with keyboards as thick as scooby snacks that we were occasionally allowed to sit in front of and wonder what to do with. They were called Macintosh computers and the software on them was called Photoshop and Pagemaker. To be honest, I don’t think even the lecturers knew what to do with them. A middle aged lecturer (probably my age now and even more old skool than I) was assigned the task of learning how to use these things and then teaching us.

Soon enough we were carted off back to our studio where in between sketching rude caricatures of each other, we might actually get some designs down on paper based on the latest Neville Brody typography. This was in 1990, fast forward 25 years and several jobs in back street print shops, ad agencies and design houses and we arrive at a different world entirely. This new world has the internet.

Now, I know you have to move with the times, so at this time I realised along with the rest of the world that websites were the way forward. By now I knew how to design, how to focus on the project at hand, the target market, typography, colour blah, blah, blah. But how the hell do you actually produce a website? Apparently it is through something called code. And so begins the awkward relationship between designer and coder, because let’s face it, the designer can’t code and the coder can’t design. And each thinks the others profession is beneath them, right? I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the amount of times I have become frustrated with a website developer that has either ignored or doesn’t understand the instructions that have been given to them by myself or a colleague. Or perhaps they simply chose to do it their way because they think they can design better (good design is subjective after all). Either way, it was never a happy marriage.

Perhaps the answer to this unhappy marriage is to learn code? Some designers have been able to do this, and I am sure that these days most graduate designers arrive in the working world with at least some knowledge of HTML and CSS. Trouble is, it takes time, and when you’re a freelance designer time isn’t something you have a huge amount of. Or if you do have time, this means you have little work on and so little money to pay somebody to teach you. Then, slowly, something began to happen.

I’m not sure if this was conscious or just software developers just playing around with stuff. Nearly all my working life I had software such as Photoshop, Illustrator, Quark and then InDesign. But never anything to build websites. I discovered fleetingly Dreamweaver, Flash and then WordPress. Another 10 years on and abundance of online website builders appeared, jostling for position for the business of people who wanted to build their own sites. Most recently, and for me the most functional for my needs at the moment, Adobe Muse has appeared alongside it’s trusted contemporaries Photoshop and Illustrator. So do I really need to learn code?

I have used some of the above tools to create several websites from scratch on my own – no developer, no code, no frustrations. On the whole, the clients have been happy, the jobs have been quick and I have made a living without selling out my design soul. I’ve cut out the middle man (nothing personal, it’s business) which has saved time, money and a little bit of friction along the way. I know the way I now design and build my websites has some limits, but so far I haven’t had too many issues that I couldn’t solve – perhaps my type of customer just doesn’t need a website with all the knobs and whistles a ‘back end’ developer can provide. And if a customer like that comes along I’m sure my renewed relationship with coders will be all the better for our little break.

Maybe the answer is designers stick to design, coders stick to code. I’m wondering if this is what has happened, evolution. Have developers turned their attention to creating better software for the likes of me to use? Is it all an attempt by website developers to get rid of those arty farty types? And how far can such software go? At current rates the sky is the limit as far as I can see and the shackles of limitation I currently have in building websites are slowly loosening. Thanks to the tremendous work of coders and developers I can more or less place my layout how I like. My sites look good and work well, they are reasonably responsive on all devices, and I can create movement and add interest. Now my biggest headache is actually getting the work in the first place, but that’s a whole other story…

So, do I really need to learn to write code?

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