Ask DN: Is there a downside to knowing too much code?

over 6 years ago from , Director of UX @ 2U

Hey DN,

We've all heard the argument that "UI designers should understand the limitations of their medium". And with the hype around Macaw, et al. designers creating (some) production code seems like a goal we're driving towards.

However, what about the other side? Can a person who calls themselves a designer know how to code too well?

Does it diminish your ability to come up with new interactions? Is time spent learning to code, time lost honing your design skills? Are there other benefits - team communication, development speed, employability?

Lately, I've found myself being asked to code more and more. Has anyone found any adverse effects to this?


  • John McDowallJohn McDowall, over 6 years ago

    The more you code, the less you think like a user, the bigger the battle to write software that does meaningful things for the user.

    5 points
    • Will MinerWill Miner, over 6 years ago

      This is interesting. I definitely feel more empathy for our engineers when I spec something difficult to build. Alternatively, I'm more likely (and equipped) to stand my ground on a feature because I can weigh the UX benefit vs development time.

      It's definitely a good idea to make sure you're designing to make your users happy and not your dev team.

      2 points
      • John McDowallJohn McDowall, over 6 years ago

        Being somewhat of a Graybeard in this industry, I've learned that if it's difficult to build, it's probably difficult for users to understand/use also. Something to think about.

        0 points
    • Jake ChapmanJake Chapman, over 6 years ago

      I might of misunderstood you but I feel the complete opposite. I feel the more I code the more I actually start to think like a user and the flows we take them on. Maybe you're talking backend?

      1 point
    • Owen WinklerOwen Winkler, over 6 years ago

      All I do is code -- not graphic design. But when I code, most of what I think about is how a user is expected to use what I code. What I worry most about is how much my reputation will suffer by having user-ignorant designers force me to implement their designs.

      That said, you can save yourself a lot of grief - whether your implementing the design yourself or with a team - by better understanding the capabilities and limitations of your medium, and balancing the time it would take you to implement a boundary-pushing design against its improvement on usability.

      All knowledge is worth having.

      0 points
  • Jim SilvermanJim Silverman, over 6 years ago

    no real drawback of coding too well. the only possible drawback is the time and effort investment of learning to code. when you're spending so much time coding that your design knowledge and skills atrophy, that's a problem.

    2 points
  • Jake ChapmanJake Chapman, over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

    I've noticed an upside and a downside to it.

    The upside is there is no limit to what I can build that I personally think up. If I have an idea, I can design, develop and iterate on that idea by myself.

    The downside is that I tend to take twice as long to design because I limit how imaginative I get with the design for interactions, or I think about the amount of time and code something is going to take to complete so I start to rethink that design decision over to see if there is a better solution which just keeps going in a circle. So shipping is much more difficult.

    I've gotten to a point with my development skills - Rails, JS, PHP, Objective-C that I am now taking a little time away from focusing primarily on code and going back to designing more and worrying less about how hard or extensive the code will be and making sure i'm being as creative as possible with my design decisions.

    Hard to balance for myself but you look at guys like Drew Wilson, he's a beast. Amazing design skills and can code like a beast as well. I'm trying to figure out how to manage both sides of it like he does so damn well.

    btw, drew if you're reading this, kudos to you man!

    1 point
  • Sven ReadSven Read, over 6 years ago

    No, there are no downsides. The more you can code, the more you can make happen on your own and make your own vision reality. The more people need to be involved, the more you spend time explaining your vision, fixing little insifficencies with developers and so on.

    I presume you are think the ability to code could cloud your mind or limit your creativity. But that's not the case. It only gives me more freedom.

    1 point
  • Ryan LeFevreRyan LeFevre, over 6 years ago

    There's no downside because it's not possible to know too much code. You'll always be an expert in a few languages, but the others that you took the time to learn will come back to you quickly if needed. I haven't touched Java in a couple of years, but given an hour or so, I could probably pick up where I left off.

    0 points