Design insights & tutorials.

An Open Letter to Design Students: Learn to Code (Part 1 of 2)

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Please listen when we say this:

Learn to code.

But wait, you say, your heart pounding out of your chest: I am a designer.

I draw; I create.

I need not code.

Well my friends, listen here and listen good.

We receive resumes every day from students just like you who do what you do: Branding! Print! Illustration! Typography, too.

And, we know, we know.

Sure, it’s your portfolio that stands above the rest.

But in reality, here’s what you have to realize:

Print/Brand designers are a dime a dozen.

Even if you did a brand refresh for Apple and hand-lettered your thesis in chalk on the Great Wall, don’t be naive enough to think that code is better left to programmers.

Why learn?

One of the biggest mistakes we see in young designers is their sacrifice of design decisions simply due to a lack of understanding of code.

They’ll come to us with one design and deliver quite another. The reason, we ask as they sweat and stammer, is quite apparent.

When it comes time to code the web page, making rounded corners on your boxes is far more difficult than just having sharp 90 degree corners… so, instead of honoring their design, they just scrapped the rounded corners because they don’t know the code.

Do not fear the mystical world of unicorns and rainbows.

Embrace the concept: if you can design it, you can code it. The sky really is the limit.

Now don’t get too programmer on us. When we say code, stay true to your design self, but do get some solid training in HTML/CSS and Javascript.

This will assure that you are well-rounded and competitive in a fierce job market.

Having all of these skills in your backpocket will make you a better, more well-rounded, capable designer.  And that’s what we love to see here at Go Media.

Love, me

P.S. Read on for Part 2: Learn to Code: Tips for Designers


About the Author, Heather Sakai

Heather Sakai is the Community Manager here at Go Media. She helps designers prevent design disaster over at, where she serves as the Product Manager. She's proud to work for the most passionate creative agency in the universe, the best in Cleveland Web Design, custom branding and print.
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We want to hear what you have to say. Do you agree? Do you have a better way to approach the topic? Let the community know by joining the discussion.

  • Acewebacademy

    You said it. solid knowledge in HTML/CSS. Jave Script is necessary to become a
    professional designer. Unfortunately most of the youngsters stop with
    Photoshop/flash etc.

    • Heather Sakai

      So true! Thanks for stopping by! – Heather

  • dinabarbosa

    I have one question/advice to ask. I’m a graphic designer and illustrator. I started by focusing my career on graphic design (print and web) and learned the very basics of HTML/CSS. Due to lack of time and my urge to get more space to illustration in my career, I recently started focusing only on visuals regarding web design and started working with a programmer for the code. I’m not very talented on coding, I only enjoy HTML/CSS and try to keep up with webdesign news/trends. I would like to focus on what I’m best at but without “loosing the train” of technology. On the other hand, I wouldn’t like to try to learn all at once and not evolve properly at anything. Any thoughts on this small dilemma? Thanks in advance!

    • Jeff Finley

      When you are faced with this type of paralyzing decision, such as “should I learn code even though I don’t love it very much and I love illustration” or “should I focus on illustration and risk fallinng behind the technology curve.”

      My answer to this is focus on your love. You’re going to fall behind the tech curve eventually, it’s inevitable. It’s exhausting to constantly be on the bleeding edge. But it’s fun if you love it. But if you’re true love is illustration I would focus on that. I am seeing a difference from illustrators and designers. I think you could get away with being an illustrator, look at Jacqui Oakley or Von Glitschka – both I would assume aren’t spending their days coding.

      You can rely on themes and templates if all the web design you’re doing is for yourself. But if you’re doing web design at all for clients, you should learn how to at least do proper HTML/CSS.

      • dinabarbosa

        Thank you very much for you advices Jeff! :) Yes, I am working on layouts for client’s websites, but I’m very lucky, because all of them separate the designers and developers tasks. I let them know in advance that my expertise are the graphics, so my only concern at this point is to make the visuals the best I can in Photoshop. I think I will follow my passion as you mentioned and focus on what I’m good at. Nonetheless learning proper HTML/CSS is a good idea. It’s something I can work on as a complementary skill, without going into the depths of coding.