It’s the debate that is seemingly neverending: should designers learn to code?

But why is that particular skill the only one that seems to garner attention? As with every blog post, tweet or podcast episode that has gone before the writing of this, the pros and cons are weighed up, and regardless of whether the ultimate answer is either yes or no, the answer always comes with a caveat.

No, but it would be a great skill to have.
Yes, but you can still be a designer without that knowledge.

UX Design is a broad discipline. Not only does it contain numerous and specific skills and disciplines under its figurative umbrella, but it also overlaps with Computer Science, Industrial Design, Architecture, and Human Factors, which themselves can be broken into specific areas of expertise.

Here’s how that looks in a Venn diagram created by Thomas Gläser, based on Dan Saffer’s original.

The Disciplines of User Experience Design by Thomas Gläser, based on Dan Saffer’s original

Down in the bottom left of the diagram we can see the larger circle of Computer Science overlapping with User Experience Design, the largest area being Software Development. This is that overlap that covers the designers who learn to code.

In the grand scheme of things, we can see it is just one element of User Experience Design.

For the last 7 years I’ve been a professional UX Designer - by which I mean I’ve had the moniker of UX Designer in my job title. I specialise in Interaction Design (as a job title), but my role doesn’t include everything within that yellow circle of the diagram above.

As I work predominantly on digital products and services a lot of my work involves User Interface Design, Human-Computer Interaction, and Usability Engineering. Not so much for Media Installations or Interactive Environments.

Then there are specific areas that exist within the larger User Experience Design circle; Navigation Design, Information Architecture, Motion Design, Writing, and Software Development (mostly in the form of prototypes). These are things that I can directly apply in my role as an Interaction or UX Designer.

Reaching beyond the sphere of User Experience Design, there are 2 little circles that have a huge impact on the work I do; Cognitive Science, and Psychology.

Every one of those areas that I’ve mentioned - whether they fall under Interaction Design, User Experience Design, or are tangentially related - are skills and knowledge that would benefit you as a designer. Depending on your role, you may find other areas far more valuable that I personally don’t have an interest in or that aren’t directly related to my role.

The argument isn’t whether learning to code or not is good for you as a designer, it’s whether it will help you understand more about what you’re designing.

Will the knowledge and skills you acquire help you understand the wider context that surrounds your work? If so, they’ll reveal the hows and whys that would otherwise remain undiscovered. You will gain a better understanding of your discipline and how it relates to others.

It’s this understanding of adjacent areas of knowledge and skills which will make you a better designer, not knowing what can and can’t be done with code.