Are you a designer, a coder or a bit of both?

The digital world was built, pixel by pixel, by designers and coders. Designers come up with the graphics and layout and the coders put it together and make it work. Things have worked like this for ages, until now. Recently there have been more and more designers learning to code, everything from CSS to PHP. Is this new breed of hybrids the future of the digital sphere or are they just a bunch of wanna be coders?

I’ve heard many designers say that a designer who knows how to code will always be more sought after than one who doesn’t. Numerous others believe the opposite, that specialisation in a certain area of design or development is a more effective way to go. So, is it better to be a designer/coder hybrid or a specialist in a certain area? Let’s look at this issue from a few different angles.

My personal story

I recently designed my own portfolio website and in doing so I really needed to have a think about my skill set and interests to define what job role I fit into best. I enjoy both design and coding and like the variety and flexibility gained in knowing a bit of both. So I decided to label myself as a designer/coder hybrid and received great feedback on my website. I liked being able to build my site in its entirety which also saved me the hassle of outsourcing the coding component. So in my case knowing a bit of code went a long way.

Jack of all trades, master of none

It’s hard to be great at everything, no matter how hard we try. We can either know a little about a lot or a lot about a little. If you’re a freelancer with your own clients then it definitely helps to be a bit of a hybrid. In my experience most clients will be looking for a logo design, business card design and a website. This requires skills in branding, graphic design, print design, web design, CSS, HTML and possibly a bit of PHP and JavaScript. If on the other hand you’re working in an agency with dedicated design and development teams then you’ll find that specialisation is the way to go.

Right brain, left brain, both brain?

Designers and coders are generally two very different types of people. Right brain designers are known to love colours, typography, layout and pretty pictures while left brain coders are more into logic, problem solving and making stuff work. So how could one person be both? Furthermore, how could one person be good at both? What do you think?

My two cents

I believe that it’s preferable for a web designer to have at least some front-end coding knowledge, especially in CSS and HTML. Mainly because I think that if you understand how websites work, then you’ll be better equipped to design them. I guess that in the end, it’s ultimately all about doing what you enjoy and what you’re good at, whether it be web design, PHP, CSS, Flash, UI design, branding, JavaScript or a combination of things.

I’m sure you all have your own opinions too and I’d love to hear them in the comments below. Please also let me know whether you are a designer, a coder or a bit of both. Thanks.

Related Article: Nobody Knows Everything

Adham Dannaway

Web Designer and Front End Developer with a passion for web design, coding, blogging, WordPress and chewing gum. Check out my web design portfolio and follow me on Twitter and Facebook!

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  1. Andy Flaster on September 5, 2010

    Couldn’t agree more. Most designers that I have worked with that can’t even read html/css were extremely difficult to work with. I have always thought that making a website is a bit like creating a print project by writing the postscript code in a text editor.

    Ok that might be a bit of an exaggeration but its so easy to design yourself into a corner if you don’t understand the basic principles of how a web page is put together. I personally believe web designers should write their own html/css. There are many times that a compromise needs to be made especially with cross browser issues. The designer of a page/site can easily make choices about these compromises.

  2. jamEs on September 5, 2010

    When I was going to college I decided I would do graphic design instead of specialized multimedia or web design courses out there. I learned fundamentals to design, which built on what I already knew web design-wise. I had taught myself html coding in the 90′s, then later picked up CSS coding. I find the biggest asset I have in my skill set is the ability to design and visualize within the constraints of what actually can be coded and implemented. I’ve found I’ve been tasked with implementing pie in the sky designs made by graphic designers who really have no clue what is actually plausible with web design.

  3. Phil_M on September 5, 2010

    “If you understand how websites work, then you’ll be better equipped to design them.”

    I absolutely agree. I’m “a bit of both”. Being a designer helps me finding a style for a website. Knowing some code helps me making things work!
    I work for an agency and my hybrid role helps a lot finding a best solution for a client.

    Your website is great. I’m still working on mine.
    Thanks for your blog Adham.

  4. sheena on September 5, 2010

    Great article Adham!!!

    This left brain/right brain idea fascinates me and for a lot of people it is often a case of one or the other. I mean, how common is it to find someone who is a mathematician by day and surrealist artist by night? :)

    Saying that though, I think it is possible to lie somewhere in the middle of the spectrum… I for one could be classed as one of those in-between people. Being a Graphic & Website Designer like yourself we are required to think both creatively and technically in order to do our jobs well. I like to think i’m a logical and rational type of person. I like order, structure and organisation but at the same time I can think outside the box, see the bigger picture and I like to express myself creatively. I often see the beauty in things that others just never even notice :)

    I definitely agree with you on the “hybrid” idea – is the way to go :)

  5. imran khan on September 5, 2010

    Good one Adham!!!

    i believe in the design part there are 2 more sub categories… one is a web designers (who works on the mocks, web banners and maybe on logos), you can say works on raster based tools… and the other is a print media designer (who have full knowledge of his complete stuff on vector based tools)… as you said we designers both of each category (but if i am a web designer, i can’t say i am so good in print media too)…

    Coming to web design, i really do not think so its a just working on Photoshop job, do you think so? Web designers must know how to deliver a design on a browser… but i know many many designer who just work on the mock ups and stuff, never touched the coding part!!!

    i believe Design + XHTML = Web Designer

    Do you think a person works on the coding part (not talking about php) is a coder ???

    i work in a web development company who works on their own products, so i directly deals with the Development team, working on the front end on the php pages and stuff??? So am i a coder??

  6. Chris Bontas on September 5, 2010

    It’s hard in the beginning to specialize in only one direction, be it designer or coder, that’s why many start-up web designers feel tempted to try just a little of both, not to mention that many employers wants you to know a little of everything.

    I do both now but wanting to specialize in design in the near future.

  7. Cre8ive Commando on September 5, 2010

    Thanks for the feedback guys!

    Looks like we have a bunch of hybrids here with some great points. What happened to all the pure designers out there? I know there are some real advantages to being a specialist, would be great to hear from some specialists too. :-)

    @Imran – HTML/CSS is considered to be front-end coding which I consider to be pretty important for web designers to know. Back-end coding involving PHP and ASP is more the realm of the coder/developer.

    But definitely, in my books, front-end coding is still a type of coding.

  8. imran khan on September 5, 2010

    Yep, this is my point!!! Web designers must know the front end development … and i also really want to hear from some specialist too! LoL!!! :D

  9. Libby on September 6, 2010

    I am a web designer and I am a bit of both myself I guess….but I am definitely more of a left brainer – my favorite part of web design is code writing and editing!! I started out just doing design, but I’ve been learning coding as I go and I really prefer it. I feel like coding is easier to learn on your own than design, since you can try things and see how they work, and if they don’t its pretty easy to undo…but maybe that’s just me! :) anyways, great post!!

  10. Luis Rivera on September 7, 2010

    Man, I’m definitely a younger version of you. Like you said, at least talking about web designers, if you don’t know the basics of how a website works, you will just be designing stuff on a page.

    Personally, I LOVE BEING A HYBRID! I’m not just trying to be a CODE MASTER … but I do love to learn as much as i can.

    By the way… I’m taking some inspiration from your Freelance Site, hope you don’t mind. :-)

  11. caroline on September 7, 2010

    Personally, I thought the way that you showed both skill sets, in a visual way, for your portfolio site is just beautiful.

    I’m a designer with just a bit of coding experience. No problem with HTML and CSS, I can use ASP to make a web form or some minor pages, I even made a basic database driven page. But I’m not a web dev. Yet more and more, I’m finding job openings that want you to have experience in “Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, HTML, CSS, AJAX, Javascript, etc. etc.”

    To me, there seems like a line somewhere that separates a web developer from a web designer. I’m not entirely sure where that line is, but it certainly seems to be blurring.

  12. Cre8ive Commando on September 9, 2010

    Thanks for the interesting feedback guys.

    @Caroline – You’re definitely right about there being more and more job openings for people with a list of different skills longer than my arm! Most of the time though, I find those web design roles require front end coding skills. Front end coding is definitely in the realm of web designers. Once you get into setting up full on database driven web applications that’s where the line is usually drawn between designers and developers.

    You’re right though, the line is definitely blurring. :-)

  13. Liliana Gaete on September 10, 2010

    Hi there :)

    In my case I’ve always been both. It’s weird because most people I know started as designers and then got a bit into coding, or the other way around. But, I’ve always worked with the two skills for web design.

    It’s fun to be a little bit of an hybrid. Specially because you can look a design done in Photoshop and know what you’d need to code it. But also, you can look at raw code and know how it renders on the screen!

    That’s why I love so much the concept of your website, because it’s exactly how I feel about myself. So, good thinking on that one!

    :D

  14. Abdelrahman Osama on September 12, 2010

    I believe the designer/ coder combination is best for small projects, but bigger projects like social network or a big organization portal needs an expert in every field.

    By the way I like to know how do I fit in this designer/coder thing. I’m more a UX, IA,UI person, am I more a designer or a coder? I also have some other skills visual design 2/5 HTML5/CSS3 5/5 branding 3/5

  15. Olaf Verweij on September 13, 2010

    Hey Adham,

    First of all i would like to say that i like your work. I started my interest in web design a few months ago. Because i like your design skills so much i would like to ask you for some useful tips. If possible i would like to know how you started from scratch. Used books/ tutorials? etc..

    Thanks,
    Olaf

  16. Cre8ive Commando on September 17, 2010

    @Abdelrahman – Well, it sounds like you are a bit of a hybrid yourself as you are a UI Designer with other skills. UI Design is important in every project and there are more and more opportunities for this type of work opening up in the larger web portals.

    @Olaf – I basically started out studying computer science and then digital media at university. I learned a lot through freelancing and working on a number of different projects with different clients. With those skills I then started working on web applications on a full time basis. I think that blogs are a great way to learn but getting as much experience as you can is definitely the best way to go. Hope that helped and best of luck with your design career. :-)

  17. haggiesm on September 22, 2010

    I studied multimedia design at a university first. That course defined multimedia as app development, which I wasn’t wasn’t good at or interested in. The one thing I did enjoy was the html and css I learnt. I switched to a college where multimedia was defined as design with some actionscript in it. surprisingly we did very little html or css. I discovered new interests such as animation and traditional graphic design.

    Having spent most of the second phase of my studies on the creative side of things, these days I’m trying to update my knowledge of the technical side. I enjoy the html css part, but fo bigger projects I need a programmer to either guide me or take over part of the coding.

    I would definitely say I’m 75% designer 25% coder. Dunno what that makes me exactly :)

  18. Lee Fuller on September 24, 2010

    I feel my design skills far outweigh my coding skills, but I enjoy doing both…

    I am confident at coding HTML and CSS and I have a dab at PHP.. But I am a designer by heart…

  19. Jaclyn Hawtin on September 28, 2010

    I am definitely a hybrid and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Without at least dabbling in your surrounding fields you cannot and will not understand how to effectively engineer your part of the puzzle. By understanding a bit of what your peers have to do you can do things in a way that will maximize efficiency thus preventing hours of wasted time in the future.

    I have experience in coding, design, marketing, software, hardware….. etc. And somehow at every company I work at I tend to move to the top pretty quickly, this is because I am extremely well rounded and I can understand everyone’s needs and from their perspectives.

    More and more schools are moving toward interdisciplinary degrees, this is the only way to go in a world moving this fast.

    and Adham your site seriously rocks!!! If you don’t mind I am going to steal that “technical skills” presentation idea from your resume!

    cheers,

    Jaclyn

  20. Cre8ive Commando on September 29, 2010

    Thanks for the feedback guys. It looks like most of you think that it’s better to be a bit of a hybrid rather than a specialist in a specific area, which is interesting to hear. :-)

    I think it also depends on your level of experience and position. Generally, the higher up you are on the corporate ladder, the less technical skills you have. Organizational and management skills then become more important.

  21. Hannah on October 30, 2010

    Great article. I really appreciated your thoughts (and I like how your website illustrates these)! I linked here:
    http://hjconti.com/blog/?p=231

  22. Clare Seldon on November 3, 2010

    Hi,
    I’m a hybrid but with Cartography rather than with Graphic Design. I have a degree in Cartography – one of a dying breed, but have since learnt html and jsp a bit to help build maps into websites, but are now finding a whole new language is needed surrouding API’s and database driven data. I work day-to-day using my right brain for designing my maps and outputting them, but constantly need my left brain to deal with projection and data and GIS software.
    I think Cartography is a good match for a person who excels at mechanical problems in mathematics but also has an eye for design and the arts – although I’m no artist! Give me Adobe Illustrator anyday, rather than a pencil or brush!

    I’m really intereted in mapping on the web and for apps but it’s a fiarly specialised field so any help out there or recomended URL’s to find out more would be greatly appreciated!

    Clare

  23. A.nelia on December 14, 2010

    Hello there ! I will repeat everybody else but yes -> being a hybrid definately helps.

    From my experience – it is never enough what you know about your task, you always win if you know more. I mean, when we were kids, the sraight “A”s, they knew what they were supposed to, but in the real life if you only know what you are supposed to, it’ is not enough. So, learn learn learn… it’s the only way to get better.

  24. Cre8ive Commando on December 14, 2010

    @Clare – Wow, Cartography sounds interesting. Can’t say that I know much about it, definitely a niche area that requires logic and creativity.

    @A.Nelia – Learn and learn some more, couldn’t agree more. :-)

  25. meghan on December 15, 2010

    I am also one of those hybrid web designer developers. I come from a background in art and design, but I find developing to be the perfect problem solving activity. I agree with your earlier statement “I’ve heard many designers say that a designer who knows how to code will always be more sought after than one who doesn’t” in this day and age if you don’t know how to design a website for your context then you will be unhireable and possibly make other’s roles much more difficult. What I wonder is if u can define yourself as both web designer and developer, is the term hybrid enough? – is it possible to really master each design and development, so should we begin to learn java ruby on rails is that maybe what the future holds to call oursevles a hybrid?

  26. Enes Fazli on December 15, 2010

    Great article.

    I am a trained “Informatiker Multimedia”, which should be roughly computer science with the specialization in multimedia.

    The focus in my education was on programming.
    Frontend: HTML, CSS, JS and ActionScript/Flash
    Backend: Java, PHP
    Misc: C#, XML, Databases (Oracle, MySQL), Software Engineering

    But I also had classes in Photoshop, Freehand, Flash Animation, Design.

    So even my education was a hybrid one with a stronger focus on development. Until now I also primarily worked as a developer, but still I love everything design and want to do more in this field.

    Being a hybrid has many advantages not only can you take on smaller projects yourself, you also have a great advantage of leading a team of designers and developers. And most important to me, it is really fun to be able to code and design.

    Enes

  27. Tess on December 18, 2010

    Hybrid here…with graphic design tossed in too. I think you have to be a hybrid to get the best of the web…I don’t think you can design a website and not know code.

    For me, I still do my sites the old fashioned way – hand coded on Notepad (or NP++). The exception is wordpress platform sites but beyond that, I am an old school coder, never have used a WYSIWYG editor. Using wordpress pushes me to learn better php skillz too.

    Hybrid…age of the geek, baby!

  28. Cre8ive Commando on December 18, 2010

    @Meghan – Is it really possible to master both design and development? I’m not sure but I will never say never. I’m content for now to concentrate on the front end side of things as I still have a lot to learn on this side and I still find it fun.

    @Enes – Looks like you have skills in quite a few different areas. It definitely helps when managing a team as you know what’s happening from a higher level perspective.

    @Tess – I use Notepad++ too, it keeps you on your toes. =)

  29. Jeff Adams on July 13, 2011

    Weirdly this was one of my first posts a few weeks ago. I wish I’d read this before I wrote it lol.

    In you want to read it – http://jeffadams.co.uk/2011/06/21/nobody-knows-everything/

    I’ll be editing mine to include a link back here.

    Cheers

    Jeff

  30. Al-jerreau on July 17, 2011

    Great post, I found myself designing while studyingprogramming at uni. Got a job as a designer now, but help out the front-end developer almost every day with jQuery and HTML/CSS stuff, and if you give me something to do in php I can do that also, so I would say I’m a designer coder, and developer.

    That said it does make you focus on a lot of areas most of the time, and I don’t always have time to improve my skills on all of the titles I wish to call myself.
    I think it’s good to know a bit of everything, but concentrate on one thing that you use the most and let the others just be extras you carry around, because if you wonder around trying to know everything you want be as good as the complete designer, or developer.

    Love your portfolio site, keep up the good work .

  31. tony on March 21, 2014

    Wonderful post Adham. I started out in print and publishing and am trying to make the transition to web and responsive design. I’m curious if you’re self-taught (coding skills)? Your site’s kick-ass btw.

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