Web designers: To Code or Not to Code?

The questions that many web designers have asked themselves – at least, I do: what kind of web designer am I? Where is my web design power? In the wireframes, the workflows, the interaction? Am I going to learn how to code? Do I have to be able to convert my designs to front-end code? Alternatively, do I continue to create layered Photoshop designs that are then converted (by someone else) to front-end code? It all boils down to.. Is that an efficient workflow, or can it be different, perhaps better?

Just back in time.

Web design as a field has existed since the publication of Netscape 1.0 (Mosaic) in 1995. The design and building of an internet site has matured in the last 20 years. Back then, you made your own web pages with, for example, Microsoft FrontPage and TextEdit. DreamWeaver came later. It was pioneering… You did everything yourself; from the idea, design, to HTML.

Mature field

Now? The possibilities to design and code a website have been expanded and improved, and many different web disciplines have emerged; it is no longer the case that a website is provided by one person. Especially not with the complex, professional websites. From Visual design, UX, to CSS, from content to SEO – there is a specialist out there for every component. We also have better programs at our disposal and best practices are readily available.

Designing and building internet solutions has indeed become a mature field, but has not yet outgrown.

Many web disciplines have emerged in which the specialism is apparent from their title. The term ‘web designer’, on the other hand, is open for multiple interpretations. For one person a web designer is someone who only focuses on shaping the front-end (look-and-feel), for the other someone who also converts his designs to HTML / CSS, or even the complete front-end and back-end takes care of.

Coding: yes or no?

I have often tried to make coding my own, but I can not separate the terms like class, tag, container, div and span; let alone which parameters belong to it. I always trip over the steep learning curve to provide neat and correct code. Of course I can quickly and quite easily put together something with some HTML and CSS. Then, hope that it works on different devices… For a presentation it’s  fine, but I will probably never be able (I think most designers do not) to deliver quality coding work. It is already a big challenge for a designer to stand out from the competition.

[su_pullquote]I am the type of web designer who has decided not to want to code, because I want to focus on visual presentation and / or user-friendliness of a site.[/su_pullquote]


I am the type of web designer who has decided not to want to code, because I want to focus on visual presentation and / or user-friendliness of a site. There is nothing wrong with that. This is called ‘specialization’. Honestly, from a technical perspective, programming is much more difficult; a design is beautiful or not beautiful, a typing error in the code is ‘killing’ … So you have to choose.

If you want to be a professional designer, you will have to bring out the best design skills in yourself. Finally, design trends change continuously and technical progress never stands still. A lot of you are asked to keep up. More than enough to test your design qualities to the limit. Let alone if you want to (continue to) encode.

The ‘Rare guy’

Confusion of concepts and prejudices have long played a major role in the discussion of whether a web designer should be able to code, or not. A designer is often seen as a ‘strange guy’ who talks in vague terms about the importance of ‘colors’ and ‘fonts’. And he is certainly not considered “whole”, as soon as it turns out that he can not code.

Is there a light on the horizon for designers like me? Will front-end encoding be completely WYSIWYG for a long time? As Postscript programming has long since been replaced by WYSIWYG working with Adobe Illustrator (did you know that Adobe’s Illustrator was originally developed as a viewer to view your handwritten Postscript code ?! And that you first worked in outline and could only preview ?!)) . In the past you could not go around coding (doing it yourself or hiring yourself). It was a necessary evil. But this is no longer necessary – professional drag-and-drop applications are available. As a web designer you do not need extensive knowledge of coding anymore. With the right software you can create beautiful, functional and responsive websites.


As a designer, you are no longer bound to manufacture static wireframes and mockups. You can produce front-end code through drag-and-drop. You can use desktop programs like Adobe Muse and the ‘extract’ tool within Adobe Dreamweaver to take care of many front-end coding tasks. In addition, there are several initiatives that offer online solutions, such as Elegant Themes with their drag and drop site builder. And if you stay within a template for WordPress, for example, the code is largely hidden from you.

And web developers do not have to complain, because it creates clean, W3C compliant HTML / CSS that is certainly not inferior to what many developers write themselves. It is based on Twitter’s Bootstrap framework. And no, you are not stuck within a certain application. Because the code generated by Webflow, Macaw or Webydo can be exported and used as required within an external development platform.

No more code!

I know it: a daring statement… But what I really want as a designer is understanding the website. Not necessarily through coding. This is based on two basic ideas:

I want to offer my clients a predictable result and process. As a freelance designer, I do not always have the opportunity to hire an (expensive) developer for your project. And my client is not waiting to get in between two parties. As a designer, you want to be able to take care of the translation from design to code. That’s what it’s about – whether you can code or not. That is why professional applications are worth researching.
More control over my work. As a designer you want to keep control over your creations, right? Unfortunately, many changes are often lost in the translation from design to code. The translation from PSD to responsive HTML / CSS is not 1-2. If you build the site yourself, you will of course also have control over the quality of the entire project (course), and you will be better able to anticipate changes.

Look deeper than your screen

Working entirely without a notion of code – as we now encode Postscript with Adobe Illustrator unnoticed – we are not yet that far. The (semi) manual translation from design to (front-end) code will still be necessary. The WYSIWYG applications are now composed of two views: a ‘code view’ and the ‘drag-and-drop view’. But the development is going fast. Soon we will know that something works or does not work, but not so much why. And it will certainly not last 20 years. Or is that wishful thinking? Or is that bad?

[su_pullquote]Learn the right concepts, so that you can put your design ideas well to developers.[/su_pullquote]

Until then, as a web designer, you will at least have to remain open to other indispensable disciplines. If you completely ignore the technical concept of the internet, ignoring the building blocks of web development, it will go badly with you. You will need to have your basic knowledge of coding your own to understand how developers think and what they need. Learn the right concepts, so that you can put your design ideas well to developers.

Basic knowledge of the development process

Basic knowledge of the development process, use of different programming languages ​​and which restrictions this imposes on your design, makes you a better designer. The better you can estimate what is technically realistic, the less time you have, and then you are not at the mercy of a developer.

Moreover, as a professional in the creative sector, you are eager to learn. Because if your curiosity dries up, you will be caught up.


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