Diary of a Coding Novice

// By Aoife O'Connor

Why A Designer Needs To Know Coding

If you’re a recent Graphic Design graduate and find yourself lucky enough to have entered the design industry, you might have realised pretty quickly that the skills you learned and nurtured in college are not enough to fulfill your role, or at the very least, to its fullest potential.

Like any graduate, I expected a degree of training and adjustment in the beginning. However, even after I familiarised myself with the team, my role, the reporting structure and my design project, I felt my skills to be so far behind what’s required that immediate upskilling was necessary. While college curriculum can prepare you for design in a classical sense, entering into the digital industry is a completely different discipline.

Why learn to code?

My decision to learn to code was a joint one between my boss and me. He’s a developer himself and, considering it’s his business, he’s handled all aspects of web design from the early days of his company so he understands what it is to juggle many roles. He sent me an article he read in Wired about John Maeda’s 2017 Design in Tech Report:


Needless to say, I went on to read and watch a video of the entire report delivered by Maeda. In it, he makes the case that the most successful designers will be those who can work with intangible materials—code, words, and voice.

By the end, it wasn’t just a solid argument, it was fact.

He makes the distinction between “classic” designer, the makers of finite objects for a select group of people (think graphic designer, industrial designer, furniture designer) and “computational” designers, who deal mostly in code and build constantly evolving products that impact millions of people’s lives.

As much as I fancy myself as an artiste, I knew I fell into the second category.

Designing through the eyes of a developer

Even before reading this report, I saw first hand the advantage of front-end coding as a skill through my colleague and Senior Designer, Troy. He is the enviable ‘Hybrid’. Not only does he have an eye for beauty (and pointing out my mistakes) but also, the insight of a coder. It is this logic that allows him to think functionally. By that I mean, designing websites with the knowledge and ability to decide how it works. It offers so many more possibilities.

Having sat beside Troy while he’s at work, it is something to behold. It’s a much freer way to work. He’s not restricted by handing his design work to a developer. He has the flexibility to chop and change as he goes. He can even quickly write code to preview a page he’s designed so he can view it in the browser. After five more minutes of coding, he can see it on his phone. I want to be able to do this!

User experience

Imagine you only know how to create a web page layout using Adobe Photoshop / Illustrator. You’re not thinking of strategy, UX or UI. Your only focus is how pretty can I make this page look? The result can be nice but usually, it’s uninspired, flat and offers no idea of user experience features that can push the design the extra mile. It may tick your client’s boxes, it may be coded easily by another developer but is it designed with the end user in mind? Have you thought about what obstacles your users might face? Have you considered your users motivations? Probably not.

We are all website users. We go on websites daily, hourly or whenever we want to know, see or buy something. Without realising it, we’re engaging with numerous sites and making the decision as to whether we’ll visit again. It was through considering this interaction that I began to understand the importance of users.

To be able to the apply this concept into your own work, you must have a degree of HTML coding and CSS knowledge to experiment with.

Follow my progress

Two weeks ago, I began a course on the web learning resource, Treehouse, called ‘CSS Basics’. I will be summarising my progress so far in my next article. I won’t regurgitate what I’ve learned but put simply, tell you what I think are the key learning points, problems I encountered or areas I find difficult. I’ll also post resources as I find them. This will all be from my own perspective and I hope it will be of some value to any of my newbie counterparts!

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