Are you developing your design career?

By Tim Caynes @timcaynes

I’m feeling left out. There is a sudden, surprising upsurge in the number of designers extolling the value of code.

That’s not to say that designers are arbitrarily acknowledging the beauty of a well-formed operator overload in C++. No, they’re clamouring for courseware for front-end development. Designers want to be developers.

Serendipitous mythical alignment

I was in the room at the IA Summit when Jared Spool posited the notion the most valuable member of the team is now the designer who can code. The mythical UX unicorn who unto us is born with the divine skillset we never knew we didn’t have. Since that day, there has been a scrambling, iterative fine-tuning of that message into a 140 character CV that seemingly defines a new generation of designers. If you’re not signed up to or attending a bootcamp on JQuery, then, well, really, what kind of designer are you? You just design things?

This conflagration of seemingly impossible-to-combine skillsets comes at a most opportune moment. Times are tight. Resources are expensive. Why would clients pay for a designer and developer when there’s this pointy-headed horse over there that can do it all? You only need to look at the job boards and recruitment sites to know that the designer developer unicorn has become a reality, because you can get paid for it.

The benefit

There is always a good reason to further the understanding of technology and the sooner that can be embedded into the education system the better. Traditional ICT courses have always tended to focus on the appropriate use of others people’s product, such as, say, Microsoft. They’ve never really proposed a way you might think about building your own products. That understanding of the possibilities and constraints is also very handy for a designer to be pragmatic about implementation and build of a design solution – that’s to say, if you can empathise with the delivery partner, you can maybe bring that knowledge into your design activity and be more efficient or scalable or, well, nice, or whatever.

The problem

Being understanding of the build and development requirements of the design deployment, however, is one step short of having to do the build and development yourself. Because, as any developer will tell you, development is hard. You can’t walk out of a programming bootcamp and create an elastic list faceted search implementation for a retail site with 100% uptime, any more than a developer can walk out of a design bootcamp and interpret 120 sessions of user research and convert those insights into conceptual designs that provide a framework for extensible, platform independent, simple, elegant design solutions.

If you really want to be a developer, change your course. Bring a design sensibility to that career. But don’t feel you need to do both. And don’t pretend that being a developer can make you a better designer. Feel free to extend your knowledge and get a better understanding, but stop short of re-defining yourself.

Tim Caynes

I’m a Principal Designer at Foolproof which means I’m responsible for the integrity of the design thinking that shapes the work that we do.

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