Ask DN: What is it like to be a product designer who doesn't program, or a front end developer who doesn't design?

almost 5 years ago from , ✍ ◐ < ◑ ☞

What is it like to be a product designer who doesn't program, or a front end developer who doesn't design? Are you one or the other?

I do both. I'm curious what it is like to be constrained by not knowing one or the other. The more I know about one, the better I get at the other.

Edit 08/16/2015:

Realized from the response that I've just rephrased that silly question: "But like, should designers code?" ¯_(ツ)_/¯


  • Matt CastilloMatt Castillo, almost 5 years ago

    I'm a product designer who rarely programs at work. My team's design sprints have me laser-focused on usability and visual design, and I'm bouncing around a lot on web, iOS, and Android projects. So most of the time, the full-time devs do the heavy lifting and I really only code when I need to demonstrate a complex interaction.

    However, in my free time, I tinker a lot with front-end programming and some mobile dev. Having development knowledge is definitely important for me to do my job, but diving into code at work just wouldn't be efficient for my team.

    8 points
    • Ian WilliamsIan Williams, almost 5 years ago

      That's an interesting distinction to make. I would agree that having a working knowledge makes more of a difference than being heavily seasoned.

      0 points
    • Michael GluzmanMichael Gluzman, almost 5 years ago

      i only design; by schooling i am an industrial designer. by practice i am a brand designer/packaging designer. by night i am a product designer. i don't know code. everyone i work with on the startup is a developer and sometimes i do wish i could code interactions but realistically, by staying focused on design and having a good dev partner has been efficient for me. i can focus on our brand, our visual language, our UX (because the dev don't have interest in that) so it's a bit much to learn yet another thing. besides, having a curious mind, asking good questions, and observant eyes, recognizing patterns, seems to be more important than being a one-man show. just my POV

      1 point
  • Zethus SuenZethus Suen, almost 5 years ago (edited almost 5 years ago )

    "I do both. I'm curious what it is like to be constrained by not knowing one or the other."

    top kek

    4 points
    • Ian Williams, almost 5 years ago

      Yeah, I guess that was a little pompous. I practice both. I am a master of neither.

      2 points
      • Crampa ...Crampa ..., almost 5 years ago

        I don't think it was, man. Full-stack development is a real thing.

        2 points
      • Paul TrottPaul Trott, almost 5 years ago

        I feel that you've partially answered the question - with your response. When you do one thing very well, to the exclusion of all else, you master that skill. What's that like? People come to you for advice on that one thing. When there's a job on the go, about that one thing, people will likely come to you and pay you more, to do that one job. If you've mastered that one thing, you probably enjoy doing it. So doing that one thing feels good.

        0 points
  • Bruno BarrosBruno Barros, almost 5 years ago

    Old question. New way to put it. Well, I started as a designer and I used to feel the pressure of this whole "real designers should know how to code" thing. So, I decided to learn. I spent almost two years obsessed about learning all front end stuff I could.

    All I can say is: now I'm a designer that knows how to code, but that doesn't make much difference. I still don't trust myself to code professionally just like I wouldn't trust a coder to design professionally. In the end, I'm a designer that still prefer to focus on design and I feel much more secure working with coders that prefer to focus on code.

    Knowing code eventually helps me discuss stuff with coders that work for me, but I usually force myself just to trust them. Sincerely think it's just obnoxious to annoy real coders with my designer-who-knows-how-to-code opinion.

    2 points
  • Jordan BJordan B, almost 5 years ago

    I'm a designer with some coding knowledge (html,css,javaScript) but my focus is on design. Every shop is different and I've worked at agencies, small shops and large corporations. I think to use the word "constrained" implies that there is some fault to be had in focusing on either design or dev. In my daily work as a digital art director I jump around between sketching, Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, Codepen, as well as various other programs and disciplines. There are only 2 devs and they have to keep up with an ever-evolving world of new languages to stay relevant. Combined, I think we make better work than we ever could alone. To be able to do both dev and design is a great talent and a valuable trait as a freelancer, but I'm sure that if you were able to dedicate the time you spend split between both on one or the other then you would see the value in specializing.

    1 point
    • Ian WilliamsIan Williams, almost 5 years ago

      Very, very well put. Thanks for your input, Jordan. The "keeping up with tech" is one of the most challenging things, and can definitely put a damper on how much I can grow strictly as a designer.

      0 points
  • Ning T, almost 5 years ago

    Honestly, I felt limited as I couldn't develop the products I was designing, it's almost like missing some limbs so I started learning a lot of coding after-hours.

    0 points
  • Nick Perich, almost 5 years ago

    I truly can't imagine being a UI dev and not having design skills since even perceiving the subtleties of a quality design for implementation requires a sensitivity most folks don't bother acquiring. Most UI devs I know are actually decent designers, but they lack creative confidence and the designer self-identity.

    And I personally can't imagine working as an app product designer and having no programming skills. Speaking from my own experience, a few years back I couldn't do more than HTML, CSS, and show-a-modal-with-jquery-plugin and in fact I was constrained as an app designer. Even if I could imagine some cool transition, say, I could only actually show some plugin I found or what I spent 3 days tediously hacking together with imperative, fragile jQuery code.

    Interaction design tools are better now, but they're still not as fast and flexible as my current post-Sketch prototyping stack of React, Redux, Firebase, React-Motion, and a custom layout abstraction. And when you don't have the luxury of a team of developers to pass a design off to, using not-quite-production-ready code while prototyping is a huge win.

    (That said, as someone who does both I'm acutely aware of how my designing suffers when I focus on development and how my code suffers when I focus on design. There seems a clear advantage to the pair model of a design and dev specialist collaborating in tandem, but I've never personally worked in that environment.)

    0 points
  • Supratim ChakrabortySupratim Chakraborty, almost 5 years ago

    Well i am on that side of the fence that believes in having a good balance of both design and development . It becomes a big challenge if you come with design descriptions that dont fall in place with the dev teams skill set

    0 points
  • Crampa ...Crampa ..., almost 5 years ago

    I don't understand how you can be a successful font-end developer and not know a lot about design.

    0 points