Andrew Whittle
Independent Digital Graphic Designer

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Feb 1, 2015

Should Graphic Designers be able to code? Yes

There is a lot of talk in the web industry about wether or not a Graphic Designer should be able to code. In short my answer is an absolute yes, read on and find out why.

?I for one started in the web industry nearly 20 years ago and back then it was a natural progression, after all I just saw it as Graphic Design online, communicating a message, just digitally. 20 years on and nothing has changed, when I design a website I am tasked with solving a problem through design, managing content, making decisions on images, colour, typography, composition, grid systems, the bedrock of Graphic Design. So for me as a trained Graphic Designer, I see web design as another delivery medium if it solves the problem.

So what does this have to do with coding as a Graphic Designer?

Well its quite simple, you can not design something if you do not know how it is built. That would be like an Architect designing a house without understanding how the house will be built or knowledge of materials and available resources.

What I come across all too often are designs that have been approved by a client then passed over to a frontend coder or developer to build without any understanding of what is possible. The problem in this workflow is showing the client the final design without even involving the coder, it then becomes the coders worse nightmare, trust me I have been there.

Designer working with a developer

If you are a Graphic Designer (and I am first and foremost), learn to code. Yes I know it is a big undertaking and trust me if I was asked to learn to code now I would probably shudder at the thought because there is just so much to learn, not just the software (any monkey can learn software, thats why there are so many people saying the can build a website for peanuts) but how websites are used, how elements will stack up from desktop to tablet to mobile, how fonts are rendered and what impact this may have on your offline branding, how logos display on a site, not to mention colour, that Pantone colour may look great in print but what about screen? Then you need to understand your ems from your rems and your SVG's from your PNG's.

You also need to consider if the website is best suited to a particular CMS, e-Commerce solution or is it a custom build because this may to some degree effect the design.

Before you even start designing a website, have you worked up a wireframe? Will this be done using pen and paper, static layouts (not advisable) or HTML wireframes. When you do start on the design should you use Photoshop, Illustrator or work directly in the browser, do you hack a WordPress Theme (never a good mover).

What I am saying is not meant to scare you as a Graphic Designer but to give you some insight as to what you need to be thinking about as well as presenting visuals to a client.

Generally speaking though, it is my opinion that if you are a traditional Graphic Designer asked to design a website, without any experience in coding at all, then pass it on, do not take the project on. The only time this is acceptable is when you are working very closely with a coder or developer from the beginning and get the coder to check through the design before any visuals are presented to the client. You then need to decide how best to present the visuals (please don't just e-mail jpgs or send print outs! without any narrative to the design).

This leads me onto building complete websites. For me as a Graphic Designer you should really be able to code up your design, even better, build the whole website out and if possible hook it up into a CMS. This is what I do, I take a website project from start to finish including setting up hosting, domain names, databases etc... as well as the design. Because I still produce print work and branding the final design, online and offline is consistent.

I know this is generally out of most peoples comfort zone but by understanding the technology and how to code, will make you a better designer and ultimately a better solution for your client.

There is a flip-side to this however in that if you do not expand your skills and learn to code then it will be harder to gain employment. So go on get cracking, there are loads of resources online to get you going.

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