Good design is more than just boxes and arrows

I get asked “should designers code?” more often than I feel like I should. The answer is yes. If you are an interaction designer, you should make interactive things. And if you design for the web, you should know web technology: html, css, and basic javascript. No one expects a designer to make a fully-functioning application, but you should be able to make a prototype that you can click through and evaluate. Learning basic markup and HTML is not as complicated as you think ┬áit is, and there are countless support materials for designers who want to learn how to use basic javascript.

Visual Interaction Prototyper?

Martymoo of All Trades

I don’t think this means that specialization is a bad thing, but being well versed in interaction design / HCI skills, basic graphic design, and basic prototyping will make you a better designer regardless of where your full-time focus is.

The follow-up question I always get after giving this response is “how do I get better at x?” The answer to this is deceptively simple: you get better at something by doing it over and over. My experience running the NYC marathon is the best practical example of this: if you run a little more every week, you’ll eventually run a marathon. You have to make time to pursue personal projects, and in that act as lead designer, visual designer, and implementer (my current project du jour is Stepchart, which is ever so slowly advancing). Even if you don’t finish you’ll learn far more than just trying out tutorials, and it will be fun because you’re actually doing something rather than just learning about it.

So designers: go forth and code! It will make you a better designer, and it’s not SO hard.

5 comments

Making time to learn extra stuff is hard but it’s so worth it.

I keep hearing that designers who learn about code and understand it are less likely to create the “best UX there is” because they’re too worried about the limitations of what is possible. I even heard it in the context of glass blowing, that this art studio asked people to contribute designs and the best designs came from kids because they didn’t think about the limitations of glass, they just came up with stuff they wanted. I think the message there really is that you shouldn’t limit your designs based on what you know is possible, because anything is possible.

With that said, I don’t necessarily think that designers who understand code are creating limitations on their designs because of it. Designers usually hear back from developers that stuff isn’t possible to do anyway, so why not cut to the chase? :)

Much more elegant than my resent post on the subject -> http://thesalmonfarm.org/blog/p/2992

too often I see designs that can not be implemented (and I’m not necessarily talking about just software).

You’re being way too modest with the amount of overlap in that Venn diagram :-)

I’m all for cross-functionality. I came across this in a book last night:

“It is also safe to say that a Web designer is a mixed and intricate breed of professional: an individual who must understand business, be able to read customers, stay creative and fresh with visual solutions, and be technical enough to understand Web technology limitations and best practices.”

That first part doesn’t seem to be as important in a large corporation environment, or is it? I think that’s just a difference between freelance and salaried web design.

Woah, what time zone is martymoo on? Also, where did my paragraph breaks go?