Do I need to write code to be a UX designer? UX Question #18

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Kathryn from Bloomington, Indiana, asks, do I need to write code to be a UX designer?

I love that question. Thanks for asking, Kathryn. This is UX Question number 18 and I am Ben Judy.

Do I need to write code to be a UX designer? A very common question, very hotly debated.

If you confuse UX and UI design, then you might give a hard yes. But tell me why you need to write code to conduct user research and design a user journey map or user flow diagram.

My opinion is no, you do not. With an asterisk.

Making UX design choices requires a different set of skills and a different headspace than writing computer code. UX decision making is predicated on human empathy, whereas writing code is just getting a computer to work the way it was designed to work. Empathy is not needed.

So my answer is no, but my asterisk is that often organizations—especially small companies—need generalists who can do both. If you don’t have enough budget to hire a designer and a programmer, you have to hire one person to do both jobs.

Even if that’s not the case, though, it will really help if you know some things about the technology you’re designing for. This will enhance your collaboration with the people who write code and you can avoid making a fool of yourself.

I remember arguing with a graphic designer who clearly had no idea how websites were built. And he drew little graphic elements that looked like acorns to function as radio buttons. Not only ignorant of interaction patterns and usability affordances, but also how hard it would be to code a functional web form with radio buttons that looked like acorns. This was in the early days of CSS when browsers were not very capable.

Years later I designed some components for the US Web Design System. And I absolutely had to know some things about HTML and CSS and the technical aspects of accessibility, in order to collaborate effectively with the developers for that web design system.

So it depends on the kind of work you’re doing as well. If you’re creating content web pages, meh. If you’re creating a robust design system, maybe some knowledge of UI code is necessary.

But my basic answer remains: no, you don’t need to learn to code. UX is a different skill set. You need to learn how to collaborate effectively with the people who write code, and it helps to be curious and learn as much as you can about everything, especially the technology in which your designs will be built.

Keep asking your questions about UX. Next time, I’ll answer the question: How can I recession-proof my UX career?

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