The debate rages on. To what extent should a designer be able to implement their own designs? Does it depend on the platform? Does it depend on the team makeup? Does it depend on the company, the job description, or the degree? Are the junior designers fresh out of school going to push us old dogs aside with their coding prowess, or are educational institutions already stretched thin trying to prepare students with the skills required for professional practice?
Shake, shake, shake. Reply hazy, try again.
Follow me, if you will, on a quest for the legendary unicorn. We’ll begin with a post by Wayne Greenwood, VP of Product Design & UX at Striiv: Unicorn, Shmunicorn—Be A Pegasus.
Wayne puts the smack-down on the legend right from the start, warning that “aspiring to be a unicorn could be the biggest mistake of your career.” And why is that? He provides a couple reasons, the same ones I’ve read and refuted in the past.
Conflict of Interest
It’s a trap! This is the argument that finds the designer enslaved to his technical know-how, unable to see past the known limitations of the technology to new possibilities. I’m rather tired of this almost denigrating point of view. As a designer that does do front end development, I dare anyone to accuse me of losing sight of the user trying to satisfy ease of implementation or other technical constraints. There is a balance, and I’m quite comfortable making informed trade-offs when necessary, but when I’m sketching, I don’t concern myself with the “hows” of implementation. Unless you are a lazy designer that doesn’t care about the integrity of your design, I expect you can keep yourself from falling into the conflict of interest trap.
Checking the UX Box
Here we find the designer forced to code instead of designing because their coding skills are perceived as more valuable and there isn’t enough time to do both. i’m not going to try to claim that this doesn’t happen. Certainly it does, and it is unfortunate. However, the problem here isn’t a multiplicity of skills. The problem is that the leadership of the company at which this occurs is either uninformed or uncaring. If the former, there is a chance of improving the situation through education. It may not be easy, but it can be done if you care enough to stick around and go to the effort. If you are dealing with the latter situation, you should probably just get out of Dodge. There are a lot of opportunities out there right now unicorns. Don’t put up with a management team that disrespects you.
Be a Pegasus
Wayne concludes by encouraging us to think more strategically about our careers. Rather than spending our time learning to code, we should aspire to management roles, learning the business. I won’t argue against such proselytizing, because I agree that this is an important area for designers to be moving and shaking. That said, I don’t consider it to be an either/or proposition. Thinking about code doesn’t preclude thinking strategically. There is nothing to stop a designer that works on production code from becoming a product or project manager, and I would argue they would be all the better prepared for such a position.