Elliot Jay Stocks is a designer, speaker, and author. He is the Creative Director of Adobe Typekit, the founder of typography magazine 8 Faces, one half of Viewport Industries, and an electronic musician.

Web designers who can't code

Posted on 18 February 2010 392 comments

Article illustration for Web designers who can't code

Wow, what a day! It started with one little tweet and ended with a discussion that seemed to sweep across the whole web design community. It appears there are some very strong opinions held on the subject of whether web designers should be able to code.

Because Twitter isn’t really the best place to have a thorough, in-depth conversation about the industry, I thought it best to blog about it. I’ll try my best to represent the various different points of view by quoting tweets directly.

Disclaimer #1: this is a loooooong post.

The tweet

So, before we get into this, allow me to quickly recap what I said on this morning on Twitter:

Honestly, I’m shocked that in 2010 I’m still coming across ‘web designers’ who can’t code their own designs. No excuse.

~ Me

Admittedly the short character limit prevented me from putting across my point with much elegance and it was certainly misunderstood by some, but regardless of the exact meaning, it seemed to cause quite a stir. The majority of those who replied seemed to be in agreement — that basic front-end knowledge should be possessed by anyone who calls themselves a web designer — but it certainly got a few peoples’ knickers in a twist as well.

Disclaimer #2: If you disagree with my opinion, please feel free to let me know in the comments, but kindly read this whole post before doing so.

Some clarification

I should’ve been a little more specific in my tweet. I was talking about designers who don’t have even the most basic HTML and CSS skills to turn a flat design into an actual site. Not people who intentionally choose not to code; those who can’t. And I’m also referring only to front-end code here; of course it’s ridiculous to think that designers should also be amazing back-end programmers (although there are exceptions).

I’m not even saying that it’s always a bad thing. As Mark said in response to today’s Twitter conversation, “it depends.” Of course, there are plenty of horror stories, and this still seems to be sadly familiar:

We get ‘web’ designs sent in Illustrator, 300dpi, impossible to code, no consistency / usability.

~ Amy Mahon

Of course, I realise that’s an extreme; many no-code designers are well versed in the web and produce great work. But wouldn’t a little more knowledge go one step further?

Can’t vs. won’t

There’s a very significant difference between designers who can’t code and those who choose not to do so. Because I don’t always code my own work, I do occasionally fall into the ‘choose not to’ camp. In fact this is happening more and more as time goes on: I’m focusing more on design and even occasionally stepping even further back into an Art Director role, where someone else fills in the smaller design details. This is commonplace among designers and is certainly the case in larger agencies, where the career-progressing designer has less involvement in the nitty gritty work and teams are made up by specialists. But having that knowledge and choosing not to code (whatever the reason) is entirely different to lacking that knowledge in the first place, which — I believe — has the potential to unintentionally distance the designer from the end product.

Andy Budd pointed out that,

if you’re designing fairly large scale sites it’s often not desirable, possible or practical to do the coding, especially if the complexity of the various components (e.g. complex JS functionality) outweighs your technical ability.

~ Andy Budd

I couldn’t agree more, and I didn’t mean to sound like I was attacking the benefit of working in teams. But a decent working knowledge of your team members’ skills is a huge bonus: even if you’re not making nightmarish mistakes that fill your developers with dread, there may still be aspects of your non-code-aware design process that makes the lives of your teammates unnecessarily hard.

‘But an architect doesn’t have to know how to build buildings’

This is the analogy being used as the counter-argument and is, on the face of it, fairly sound. But can’t we apply that to any walk of life? I don’t know how to plumb, so I hire a plumber. A dentist doesn’t know how to build a mechanical chair, so he buys one from someone who does. This is the way society works: none of us are able to do everything, so we work together, each person using their own specialisation.

So have I just proven myself wrong? No, because web design is not separated on the same level as architect / builder. Actually, let me rephrase that: web design certainly does have its specialisations (I’d be crazy to suggest otherwise), but we’re talking specifically about front-end skills here; I’m by no means saying that we should all be able to handle all of the complex tasks required to make a large-scale (or even small-scale) website. But front-end code (just HTML and CSS; let’s forget Javascript for now) is intrinsically linked to the design process. It’s a design tool just as much as Photoshop.

Designing in the browser

However you feel about the concept of designing in the browser, the reality is that more and more designers are adopting this as part of their workflow. Some, like Andy Clarke, treat it as the biggest part of the design process, allowing the client to see flexible layouts, type, and rendering engine treatments on the fly as a design comes together; others, like me or Mike Kus, use it as an extension of our Photoshop work: initial design is done offline and is completed by filling in the gaps while in the browser. It’s certainly not my intention to write about the merits and pitfalls of designing in the browser here, but the key point is that if you don’t know how to write HTML and CSS, it’s an avenue that’s completely closed off to you. The design process can begin and end entirely in your graphics app, but because websites will not (and should not) look the same in every browser, the design will not actually be complete until it’s coded.

What about developers?

Many people raised a good point: they said that if a designer should have some basic development skills, surely a developer should have some basic design skills? Well, yes, I believe that should be the case, but of course I realise that it rarely is. So how do developers get let off the hook so easily?

Because it’s easier to work design around code than it is to work code around design.

But actually there’s no excuse

There are some great designers out there who don’t know how to code and some of them produce amazing things for the web. But whatever excuse is given basically falls down when you look at one simple fact:

It’s easy.

That’s right: writing HTML and CSS is so easy, that there’s actually no excuse not to learn how. There’s no obligation to use them — you could carry on just staying in Photoshop — but they’re so simple that they might as well be a part of your design vocabulary. If you’re a web designer, you could liken HTML and CSS knowledge to a few other fundamental skills, like:

  • knowing how to cook a basic meal,
  • dealing with your bills,
  • or knowing how to connect your TV to your DVD player.

I didn’t enjoy learning to drive; I passed my test before uni but didn’t drive for years, so had to go through the whole process of driving lessons once again as a refresh. But I learned to drive because I knew it would allow me to do so much more, and because it seemed silly not to do it for such a relatively small period of learning time.

Liberate yourself

As Mike said, learning front-end code was extremely liberating for him. I was exactly the same: the unknown was holding me back; I didn’t appreciate how things worked and it scared me away from producing my best work. But with a little bit of technical knowledge (and I’d really like to emphasise the ‘little’ there — I’m not much of a coder beyond HTML, CSS, and the odd bit of PHP for WordPress theming), I ‘got’ the medium in which we work. Sure, things like Python, Rails, Actionscript, and even (to an extent) Javascript scare the crap out of me, and I’ll happily employ others who are much better qualified than me to handle those things, but having a connection to the immediate link in the chain (i.e: front-end) is something I treat as invaluable.

Parting thoughts

It’s getting late, and I’ve got to wrap this up somehow. I know there will be many who disagree with me, and my intention is not to offend or upset anyone who can’t code, but I hope that some of what I’ve said reflects some of the points that always come up when delving into this debate.

At the end of the day, I don’t lose any sleep over who can code and who can’t. I’m just genuinely surprised to find so many designers that lack front-end skills, as I thought this was a thing of the past.

Does this matter? Perhaps not.

I’m sure this will require a ‘part two’ tomorrow…


  1. donamexa


    18 February 2010 @ 06:50AM #

    I just felt the need of being the first at commenting something. Greetings from Mexico. Now off to actually read what the entry is about.

  2. Marcell Purham

    Marcell Purham

    18 February 2010 @ 06:51AM #

    Great Post Elliot! I think with all the tools and free things offered to designers is what makes most people lazy. I do think its ok sometime to send your design off to be coded if you’re extremely busy but if not then you should just write the markup yourself. Those who don’t code will never improve in the development department and will soon find out what they’re missing out on.

  3. Chris Grant

    Chris Grant

    18 February 2010 @ 06:51AM #

    We could compare this with many professions / situations. Quite simply in a freelance state here in Belfast / Ireland, if a client saw an ad stating ‘Web Designer’, I severely doubt would just expect a .PSD template. They’d expect it break dancing on IE6 singing the national anthem of Facebook.

  4. Josh Cagwin

    Josh Cagwin

    18 February 2010 @ 06:56AM #

    This topic has been interesting for me. One thing is sure wether you code the sites you design or not, I strongly believe that if you are a designer not coding the site you designed, that you should have a very strong understanding of code and be able to work aside the developer coding the site to see the project through as it was planned.

    Then there is always the case of the developer who’s coding not knowing a lick about the design aspect of the site, so what’s to say then?

    Regardless I would say that I am somewhere in between this issue, but a firm understanding of how a site is coded and built is a must.

  5. Ian Patrick Buss

    Ian Patrick Buss

    18 February 2010 @ 06:57AM #

    I have been coding since I was 10 years old, and started with the crappiest materials. I still use Notepad++ and Paint.NET in all of my projects because I can control everything. Great post btw and I love the comment forms. The animation binded with them is great!

  6. Kim Bruning

    Kim Bruning

    18 February 2010 @ 06:59AM #

    Coders actually call HTML “Markup”, the difference between HTML markup and an actual programming langauge like python is very large. You can use HTML to describe a webpage, while you can use python to theoretically describe anything in the known universe (provided you spend enough time on it). It’s excusable for people not to know python, or perl or php very well; after all, you can spend a lifetime learning about them, and you’ll never be done, and some people actually do that.

    But HTML is somewhat more finite. If I hire a typist, I expect them to know HTM, it’s a no-brainer.

    A designer who doesn’t know HTML or CSS? That’s just crazy! ;-)

  7. Design Informer

    Design Informer

    18 February 2010 @ 07:01AM #

    @donamexa – I think you should have read the article first and then commented.

    Anyway, this was a very well-written follow-up to your tweet. I completely agree with everything that I have read in this article. As a web designer, clients and even most employers expect us to know how to code. I’ve been employed in many different companies and most of them required me to do the design and the actual front-end coding. Sure, I’ve also done freelance work for some agencies who just expected a .PSD from me but I think the point to be made here is that learning HTML/CSS will only help us and it couldn’t possibly hurt us.

    Again, great job, and I can’t wait for part II (if there is a part II).

  8. Nathan Staines

    Nathan Staines

    18 February 2010 @ 07:02AM #

    Well you weren’t joking when you said this was going to be a long post.

    I guess it’s pretty safe to say you covered everything and I can’t find myself disagreeing with any of what was said.

    Sure people have their own opinions on the subject but at the end of the day it can’t hurt for any designer to have understanding HTML & CSS if only for their own development and growth.

    Love the article and look forward to part two.

  9. Ian G. Lang

    Ian G. Lang

    18 February 2010 @ 07:02AM #

    Designers who can’t code (or don’t know spec on appropriate format for intended usage) need only learn one more important thing to succeed..

    “Would you like fries with that?”

  10. Gary Stanton

    Gary Stanton

    18 February 2010 @ 07:02AM #

    Firstly, I agree completely. My feeling is that unless a web designer has a fundamental undertstanding of front end coding, they’ll be missing out on a lot that the medium has to offer.

    I’m a developer and I very often code up other people’s designs, but I find myself having to tweak designs to bring them inline with what’s possible in the browser, or bloat my code to get a design pixel perfect.

    My only concern with this debate, is that designers who can’t code will now attempt to do so, and do it badly. Good front end code is as much down to experience as knowledge, as there’s so many different ways to achieve the same result.

    Since the battle is raging today, and since the overwhelming majority seems to be in complete agreement, it’d be nice if there were some links to articles for designers getting started, on how to code the right way.

  11. Anne


    18 February 2010 @ 07:03AM #

    I couldn’t agree more. And let me say that I fought making a transition to CSS for a long time and it was Andy’s book that helped me do it. The book helped me to “see” the CSS and so it made it much easier for me, before I found it, I was really struggling. However, that said I also know of schools here in the US where the Visual Communications (design) students are taught that they can use just Dreamweaver and do not really have to code. Sad, but true.

  12. Michal Kozak

    Michal Kozak

    18 February 2010 @ 07:09AM #

    In my opinion designers should know how to code, but let make that clear – I would require some really basic knowledge.

    Argument behind it is that when they don’t know anything about HTML/CSS – they very often produce design that are just treat for the eyes, but it’s hard to code them and are nowhere near to user-friendly.

    So yeah, they should have basic HTML/CSS knowledge just so they KNOW how to make design easy-codeable and well structured.

  13. Spicer Matthews

    Spicer Matthews

    18 February 2010 @ 07:10AM #

    I am a programer, I have zero design skills, as a matter of fact, I for the most part out right refuse to open photoshop. This is just a case of using apps like photoshop is not in my DNA. I really am unhappy in that world. I want to be deep into code not layers, and images…….

    With that say I think it is very important for me to know all about the design process, because I am in the web industry. If I had to design or work with a design tool to get something done I should not be afraid and I should jump into. So I am in the camp of It is ok to refuse to do some aspect of web development but you should know how to if your arm is twisted. I think it would be a little odd for a designer to not know how to build html/css (and even some javascript), but I think it is their right to say no they do not want to work with code.

  14. Stan Grabowski

    Stan Grabowski

    18 February 2010 @ 07:23AM #

    Great article and an interesting debate today. I’ve been in situations where working with a designer that can’t code has worked. Communication between the coder and the designer is very important. If you work closely enough then the coder can advise what can or can’t be done.

    Also if the coder is good enough they can make just about anything happen. Maybe what is needed more than HTML/CSS ability is for the designer to know how websites should/can look, how they should be set up. Having a designer that knows good design trends in web design will allow them to give you a Photoshop file that will turn into a usable, well laid out website.

    I do know good designers that just can’t wrap their minds around code at all. It’s just a very different skill set.

    Now if they know (even the basics of) HTML/CSS so much the better. It does save time. But having a team that is flexible and can work together can produce great work as well.

  15. Eric E. Anderson

    Eric E. Anderson

    18 February 2010 @ 07:25AM #

    It just seems so obvious to me… I don’t quite understand why this is a debate at all.

    Should a web designer be able to code a web page? YES

    Done. Now, that’s not so difficult is it?

    Love, Eric

  16. @AllenW528


    18 February 2010 @ 07:32AM #

    My two cents:

    Graphic design occurs in Photoshop/Illustrator or whatever image editing program is available. Web design occurs in the browser. You can mock up web designs in Photoshop until you’re blue in the face, but Elliot is right: there’s a fundamental disconnect between the designer and the final product if that designer does not have some hand in transforming the design into a usable website, or at the very least, the knowledge and experience to anticipate the final outcome.

    It’s not so much the process that’s important, it’s understanding enough about HTML and CSS to know that your design is possible and/or reasonable. I’ll return briefly to the architect analogy. I’m sure that I’d be more than capable of drawing up some blueprints for my future home. I know what I want my home to look like, the layout and sqf of my rooms, and so my plans might look pretty good. But, if I design these blueprints without any basic knowledge of structural integrity, my “plans” will result in a house that collapses before it’s even finished. It might not be a perfect analogy, but I’m sure you get the point.

    As Elliot said, HTML and CSS are not difficult to learn. I think it’s an important part of being successful web designer.

  17. Popgum


    18 February 2010 @ 07:32AM #

    I’m with you! Designers should have basic HTML and CSS

  18. donamexa


    18 February 2010 @ 07:32AM #

    @Design Informer You wanted to be the first one, huh? Hahaha, I’m just kidding! I’m sorry for those 1800ish px I wasted. Couldn’t help it.

    Talking about the article, here’s my small share. I, not being a web designer or a developer, have studied the basic elements of web design and know basic HTML and CSS so I won’t pay millions for a crappy website (it happens quite more often than you can imagine here in Mexico). Or like my engineer friend says … the more you can know the better. I don’t know why this became such a fuzz.

  19. kye


    18 February 2010 @ 07:44AM #

    I have to admit I outsource all my coding to one guy. He has never let me down, and Ive been routine with him for so long now that Ive never really thought about learning to do it all myself.

    Looking forward to reading more comments here, I love the debate.

    Great post Elliot!

  20. Ben


    18 February 2010 @ 07:46AM #

    I agree with the point where there is a difference between designers who can’t code and designers who can but choose not to.

    When a designer who can’t code sends their PSDs to someone who can write the markups, they’re pretty much screwed when it comes to future urgent changes needed by their client. If you can’t code, you’d need to send the site back to the company you outsourced to to make those changes. What if they can’t turn around quick enough? You’ll be losing more time and money than you think you’d save.

    On the contrary there are also benefits of not knowing how to code.

    I am both a designer and coder myself. When I’m working on a project that only needs the design done, I feel pretty blissful as I don’t have to dwell into code. I design whatever I want and break a little bit lose. This will help in the design and your sanity.

    The point is, it’s good to know a bit of each so that you have more control over whatever you want to do. You have no fear of design or code and trust me this makes you a more confident person.

  21. Jessica Hische

    Jessica Hische

    18 February 2010 @ 07:47AM #

    Here here! This is exactly the reason why I (an illustrator, print designer, typographer, etc) REFUSE to do any web design at all. I am constantly approached by clients wanting “psd templates” from me and I think it is ridiculous that they think any graphic designer can and should be able to design for web. I think all web designers should be able to do at least some front end coding because so much of the tweaking / experimenting can happen in that stage and if you can’t do that or don’t have the interest in learning css you probably don’t have an interest in making cleanly coded and smooth running sites.

  22. Chris Robinson

    Chris Robinson

    18 February 2010 @ 07:54AM #

    I completely agree designers should atleast have a basic knowledge of HTML & CSS, otherwise they have no idea what they’re designing for. It’s like a print designer having no knowledge of the printing process.

  23. Keith


    18 February 2010 @ 08:00AM #

    If I designed a car in Photoshop can I call myself a mechanic? If I designed a garden in Photoshop can I call myself a landscape gardener? If I designed a kitchen in Photoshop can I call myself an interior designer?

    If you don’t understand the fundamentals of how web sites works, then surely you can’t call yourself a web designer.

  24. Paul


    18 February 2010 @ 08:04AM #

    I’m almost offended that you let developers off the hook so easily. Design is a much deeper area than html/css but understanding it is essential to high quality front end work.

  25. Edgar Andres Zorrilla

    Edgar Andres Zorrilla

    18 February 2010 @ 08:08AM #

    i don’t even consider someone a web designer if they don’t know html and css. Knowing HTML and CSS (being mostly self taught) it has opened career opportunities and my mind. With a little more hunger for more knowledge and understanding technology and how it works, I am able to collaborate with other web developers and even help estimate hours for certain projects.

    Awesome article!!!!!

  26. Josh Cagwin

    Josh Cagwin

    18 February 2010 @ 08:13AM #

    Ok, One more comment, Some of you that are arguing this debate that call yourselves developers, It would probably good that your sites work cross browser before you chime in.


  27. Laneth Sffarlenn

    Laneth Sffarlenn

    18 February 2010 @ 08:13AM #

    As someone who’s just really breaking into the web design field, I really can’t understand how people could possibly refuse to learn / know HTML & CSS.

    I can respect the fact that some people would find it frustrating to learn the few properties and selectors used in HTML & CSS, as some people just cannot remember that type of information.
    However, to refuse to understand how their design ends up as a finished and working site is, in my opinion, a little wacky.

    I’ve not entertained the idea of designing something in photoshop and sending it away to get coded up because I simply couldn’t stand “my” site coming back with strange naming conventions in ID’s / Classes, strange comments in the code, etc. The worst part would be that I wouldn’t know which area to tweak / fix if there was a problem once the developer had “finished” their work…I wouldn’t want to pay to have slight errors fixed by someone else.

    I’m rambling now, but my main point is: I’m a n00b designer. I started out with a working knowledge of HTML and CSS and am now retroactively implementing that knowledge into my slowly building graphic skill. I will “design” a site in photoshop, but I pretty much know each step of the way how I’m going to code each element that I introduce into a design – I won’t add something to a design if I know it’ll cause me headaches in the code.

  28. Jay Fanelli

    Jay Fanelli

    18 February 2010 @ 08:14AM #

    The problem with this argument is that there’s a ton of grey area between “designers who know to code” and “designers who have no idea about code,” and it’s often unclear as to whether you hard-liners are lumping all of that grey area into the latter group. I’ll tell you what I am: a designer who has a deep understanding of what’s possible with HTML/CSS/JS, a designer who creates usable, accessible web designs, but would be nearly helpless to code most of the things I design.

    Does that make me a poor web designer?

    If Elliot’s post isn’t long enough for you, I wrote one of my own from the competing perspective: http://www.fullstopinteractive.com/blog/2010/02/its-time-to-grow-up/

  29. Laneth Sffarlenn

    Laneth Sffarlenn

    18 February 2010 @ 08:17AM #

    Sorry for the second comment – Awesome post and discussion Elliot, thanks!

    @Ian G. Lang – LOL!

    @Gary Stanton – I totally agree with you.

  30. Lasha


    18 February 2010 @ 08:26AM #

    I find that it’s ESSENTIAL to know at least the basics HTML and CSS.

    I can speak from first hand experience that people who don’t know HTML/CSS often design websites without proper structure, alignment, and flow.

    At my workplace, I often have to design websites and give it to someone else to code since they take of the backend coding, etc. If it was up to me, I would certainly do the HTML/CSS coding myself.

    It’s true, web designers aren’t JUST designers anymore. They’re now responsible for creating the Front End experience, plus/minus Javascript interactivity.

    I am a Web Designer at heart, but I know HTML/CSS very well, and comfortable with dabbling in jQuery. Because I want to learn as much as possible, I am even taking a PHP programming class. I feel VERY COMFORTABLE with the web and I’m glad I can do the job of many.

  31. Ray Stone

    Ray Stone

    18 February 2010 @ 08:44AM #

    I think perhaps of more concern is designers who fail to understand the way people use websites, and fail to consider the design problems beyond the graphical.

    But there’s no denying that an understanding of the front end building blocks makes one better at designing a graphical layout for the web, less so intended interaction. Knowing what can be achieved and what can’t. Especially as more and more of the graphic detail can be handled with CSS every day.

  32. Mitch McLeod

    Mitch McLeod

    18 February 2010 @ 08:47AM #

    I have always enjoyed designing more then coding a website. But I feel I know more about html and css then I do about design because of my current job role.

    Our designer here works in InDesign and does provide us PSDs that are 4000px wide and 300dpi. Purely because if she creates something on the website and the client says to us “we want that printed”. Then we can rip it out of the design instead of redrawing it.

    I feel some knowledge of html and design is needed for both. Designers need to know how web works and there are some limitations compared to print designs.

    Also Developers need to know something about design so when they code it they don’t completely ruin the design.

  33. TheDodgyLodger


    18 February 2010 @ 08:58AM #

    What I find equally infuriating are code monkeys who will market themselves on the side as website designers. Having a hammer does not make you a carpenter, and definitely not an architect.

  34. Naomi


    18 February 2010 @ 09:00AM #

    I am a graphic designer of 15 years and have designed many, many websites but always having the luxury of a programmer on site where ever I have worked. I must admit I did get my backup at first reading this but kept reading and I realise that this is something that I actually would like a better understanding of. I am able to very basically modify existing code through CMS but I think Im at the point of going a little further I just need to work out where to start. Thanks for a great article. PS. I always design my sites in Illustrator!!

  35. Kevin Kwa

    Kevin Kwa

    18 February 2010 @ 09:01AM #

    The architect/engineer analogy works here as well.

    The architect does not design a 200-storey building, because he knows that it is near to impossible for the engineer to build. He needs to have some knowledge of what is feasible/not feasible. In the same way, the web designer does not design something which he knows the web developer (or coder) would have difficulty in putting together. To achieve this, the designer would need to have an in-depth knowledge of the limitations of HTML/CSS/Javascript, and not be “designing” in his own little world.

    The designer does not need to code the website himself, but he shoul be familiar with how the code will affect his design. As @Paul says, “understanding [HTML/CSS] is essential to high quality front end work”.

    Ultimately, both parties would have to work together to produce a product (the web experience) which best satisfies the client’s requirements.

  36. Jason O'Brien

    Jason O'Brien

    18 February 2010 @ 09:10AM #

    I can’t believe there’s even arguments about this. As someone else here already pointed out, it’s like saying you’re a print designer who doesn’t know what embossing or trapping is.

    At the VERY LEAST, a WEB designer understands what’s possible through WEB technology to achieve a design and how browsers render elements. Does a web designer HAVE to be writing HTML/CSS every day? Of course not. But if they don’t even understand how it works, then how is it web design?

    If you’re just pushing out PSDs, you’re making a picture of a website. It’s not actual web design until it’s being rendered by a browser, interactivity and all.

  37. Joel Turner

    Joel Turner

    18 February 2010 @ 09:17AM #

    Great article! Since basic HTML/CSS is simple enough to learn I don’t see why designers wouldn’t try to attempt it. I don’t think they need to know how to make an AT-AT Walker move in CSS3 but they should understand the basics of layout. It can only help in the design process when they can make the better choice between a great design that hard to code and a great design that codes smoothly.

    Disclaimer: I’m not saying I’m a great designer/coder but I do know the worth of each skill, especially when combined.

  38. Henrik Lissner

    Henrik Lissner

    18 February 2010 @ 09:58AM #

    It’s been said: a fair understanding of all parts to the process should be a requirement for any professional in this industry.

    I began as a designer (at first completely appalled by even the notion of programming), a little more than 11 years later, I had become very proficient at a multitude of scripting and programming languages, tools and software… and ever still retaining my skills as a designer.

    Coming from that background, I cannot say I’m sympathetic for designers who don’t understand technical limitations, or developer’s that have poor design sense.

  39. Ben Sekulowicz-Barclay

    Ben Sekulowicz-Barclay

    18 February 2010 @ 10:12AM #

    I agree completely with the focus of your tweet/post – It is very frustrating work with a true graphic designer who has never worked with the tools and so has little knowledge of what can or should be done.

    What I would also counter is that, to count yourself as a front-end developer, you should have a firm understanding of design and the underlying principles – colour, layout and type. There is no point being able to display content in a myriad different ways in a browser if you cannot understand why you are doing it, and what relevance the designers decisions have. I don’t necessarily mean they should be full blown designers, (I;m certainly not), but I do believe that, if given a design, they should understand the rules it follows and the choices made.

    It’s also very easy for a designer to lose consistency over versions, especially if working outside of the browser, so it is very important that you can spot these inconsistencies easily and correct/enforce them in your code.

    I would certainly never hire an HTML/CSS/JS developer who didn’t have some understanding of what looks good and why.

  40. ESN


    18 February 2010 @ 10:52AM #

    Couldn’t agree more. If someone is designing for the web, they should have some basic understanding of how web works and coding for the web.

  41. Garrett


    18 February 2010 @ 11:02AM #

    As a designer, learning how to cut and code helped me to fully understand ui issues that may not be apparent in a psd until you actually start interacting with the design in browser.

    I’ve shared my new skill set to help other designers code their work. What I’ve found is that there is always a few aspects of the design left unaccounted for. It is the little things that can really be improved, like larger hit areas on anchors and or the nuances of font rendering in different browsers.

  42. Amber Weinberg

    Amber Weinberg

    18 February 2010 @ 11:25AM #

    Designers who can’t code (especially print designers first coming to the web) are terrible to code for. I can do both design and code, but I choose not to design because I don’t enjoy it. I enjoy CSS, PHP and WordPress. 90% of my clients are web agencies or other freelancers.

    Most of the freelancers I work for know how to code, but like me, don’t enjoy it, so they give it to me. One designer I love working with, has very limited knowledge of coding, so it’s tough to do some of his designs, but I’m slowly teaching him what can and should be done on the web…but I wouldn’t do that for any other client.

    I think if you choose to do both, great, if not, you should still have knowledge, even the basics of both sides. Knowing design theory and practices really help me in coding, and I know knowing how to code can really help designers.

  43. Matthew Pennell

    Matthew Pennell

    18 February 2010 @ 12:09PM #

    The architect analogy doesn’t hold up, IMO. An architect does need to know how to build buildings; s/he needs to have a deep understanding of the different properties of the materials they will use, know how stresses and the environment and day-to-day usage will affect the building, and make sure they incorporate all the features – plumbing, lighting, heating, etc. – that the building will need when complete.

    That is exactly analogous to how a professional web designer should approach a Photoshop mock – using their knowledge of how markup, CSS and JavaScript can be used; building in solid IA and UI so that people can actually use the site efficiently; and making sure that areas like accessibility are not omitted.

  44. Bogdan Pop

    Bogdan Pop

    18 February 2010 @ 12:25PM #

    Apart from getting better results if both designers and developers know a bit of css / xhtml coding, one designer who can also code can really benefit from the fact that he or she can easily change daily tasks and routine.

    I can make quite good designs and UI, I know how to code xhtml, css, js whatever. Moreover, my BSc is in computer programming, so yeah… I know how to program properly from pythons and phps to javas and God knows what.

    Having such a wide range of skills allows me to design for easier programming, jump from design to programming and back all the time. That’s useful when something doesn’t work out and I can’t find a solution quick, when I get bored of doing same things for many days in a row etc.

    And by having so many skills it has always been a painless process to adopt or learn any new technology I wanted to use in a project.

  45. Brendan Falkowski

    Brendan Falkowski

    18 February 2010 @ 12:29PM #

    The medium infers certain skills. Consider how a web designer, by title, would not normally perform offset printing. Whereas a graphic designer is expected to understand the printing processes, even if he does not print himself. A web designer should understand, leastways at its simplest form, the markup/presentation of web content.

    HTML/CSS is easy. Design is hard. I have friends that graduated from Interactive Design / Media programs who frequently complain of hating CSS and being totally lost in PHP. I think they missed crucial education and their abilities don’t match their pedigree. The baseline knowledge is free – especially on topic.

    The it depends note also hinges on working solo or in a team. Your position may allow you to skate without technical ability but that’s rather limiting. You will miss opportunities.

    The can’t code argument should apply to Art Directors as well. Look at every major auto company’s website for the obvious truth of decision makers misunderstanding the medium. Everyone from executives to juniors should know their field, then specialize by choice.

  46. Veerle Pieters

    Veerle Pieters

    18 February 2010 @ 01:02PM #


    I wouldn’t trust an architect that doesn’t know how to build a house. You obviously never build one ;) I am in total agreement with Matthew Pennell here. He or she does need to know how, what materials, what can and can’t be done. The architect is the one who follows up the building process on site! In fact they are liable for any damages due to faults for 10 years! He checks up on the builders. That’s how a good designer should work too, he or she should have an understanding of what they are building.

  47. Federica Sibella

    Federica Sibella

    18 February 2010 @ 01:10PM #

    Very interesting discussion. I think there is not right and wrong in this case. I try to explain my point of view: let’s suppose that there’s a designer whose duty is only graphics and he/she has to pass his/her design to a developer whose duty is only to code it.

    If the designer has knowledge of the developing process it would be only a big advantage both for him/her and for the developer, because he/she would know how to style things in a comfortable way for the developer.

    On the other side, a developer with some design knowledge would know how to deal with PS and vector illustration, without going crazy if he/she has to go for little design adjustments.

    Most of the time, this is not the case. Most of the time, especially if you are a freelancer, you are required to be a mix of designer and developer; thus I agree with Amber Weinberg if you are a great designer and you can but you don’t like coding, better to find a partnership with a developer and vice versa.

  48. Jake


    18 February 2010 @ 01:17PM #

    I disagree. But he/she better be a good designer!

    Our Creative Director at JP74 doesn’t know how to write HTML or CSS, but comes from a solid design background. Those principles he brings to our work far out weigh any need for him to be able to create the page himself.

    Fair enough, he has continuously asked me questions like “can we do that?”, “is that Flash?”, “how is that moving?” and “what’s the font replacement thing?” over the last eight years, so his understanding of the internet and principles is pretty sound. This understanding of the internet is what is crucial to a web designer, not the fact that he can build it himself.

    He also rallies pretty hard about “web designers” who have no formal design training, yet are producing thousands upon thousands of pages that are all a identikit fit to a Smashing Magazine article, they are not designers in the traditional sense, yet are designing, probably self-taught and probably learnt coding first. I am not saying that all web designers do this, far from it, I know loads of web designers who produce superb work, but more that the internet champions a theme nearly every 3 months, and a lot of designers willingly oblige it.

    So if you tried to label him a web designer, I think he’d chin you. I simply call him Angry Designer in any twitter references. He’s even got his own bingo game. http://systemerror.co.uk/bingo

    But like a good designer, no, an excellent designer, his concerns go far beyond what’s happening in a browser. He cares about copy, tyrannic about type, irate with awful imagery, convulsed by crap colour choices. All these attributes make a better designer, and I’d rather he worried about these things, than doing a bit of HTML.

    In a way, not knowing HTML and CSS has unencumbered him to get on with design, and constant dialogue with our front-end devs and coders results in very attractive and functional designs. I think some designers who know HTML and CSS will then only play ball within the confines of what they know they can code, so it’s a refreshing challenge when Angry Designer produces work that’s going to push what I can do as a front end dev.

    So no Elliot, I don’t agree with you, but nice beard.

  49. Tim Millwood

    Tim Millwood

    18 February 2010 @ 01:18PM #

    Just my 2¢ as a developer.

    “Should a web designer need to know HTML? Yes.” – http://twitter.com/timmillwood/status/9255452008

    “Architects should know what materials to use to build a house. Therefore a web designer should know what HTML tags to use.” – http://twitter.com/timmillwood/status/9274964542

    As a web developer I look towards web designers for design, IA, layout, UX, and HTML / CSS markup.

    The last thing I would want is for a designer to build the site, but they need to provide me with the HTML / CSS markup if they want to ensure the site looks how the intend.

  50. Jay Greasley

    Jay Greasley

    18 February 2010 @ 01:25PM #

    Good Morning all,

    Firstly, feel free to disagree, ignore or maybe even find some of what I say relevant.
    Firstly, I am a server side developer who does an element of front end coding, especially in Javascript.
    But my favourite non-fiction book last year was Designing for the Web by Mark Boulton.

    My initial thought when I read this was yes, a ‘web’ designer should know what is and what isn’t possible with html, css and javascript. If they don’t know the boundaries then they either design something that is unachievable or they don’t push those boundaries.
    But then I thought what is wrong with, sometimes, sitting within the boundary – if it is client work then as long as it fulfils the brief and achieves it’s purpose it is a ‘good’ design.
    But if you take the pure art perspective, boundaries by definition bind or confine you. Maybe it is good to design with no knowledge of the constraints.
    I came to the conclusion that it is pure semantics. A ‘web’ designer knows all the tools and technologies of the web (to varying degrees). Someone who designs something that may be adapted for use on the web is a designer or an illustrator.
    And these are just titles. Titles don’t matter, what matters is doing the best work you can do and enjoying it. Which is why I read Mark’s book – so I can understand the design process and where the friction between designers and developers comes from. You could argue that friciton is only there between ‘print’ designers and developers as web designers understand browser differences etc.
    I suggest you ignore my waffle and go expand your knowledge, whatever your title.

  51. Nick Thorley

    Nick Thorley

    18 February 2010 @ 01:34PM #

    I agree that a designer should know how to write html and css and therefore know the limits of what can and cannot be done. I also disagree with the statement that architects dont have to know how to build – surely they should have an understanding that the fancy curved roof they have designed can actually be constructed or else their design remains a pretty picture which is unusable – isnt this exactly the same as a web designer who doesnt know if their design is implementable?

    In summary designers – get learning the basics instead of relying on a coder to turn your badly designed picture into something that is usable.

  52. Max B.

    Max B.

    18 February 2010 @ 01:48PM #

    I strongly disagree with the architect analogy!
    Obviously designers don’t know much about architects!
    Architects know heaps about Maths and Statics and all this stuff.
    Which would be the proper analogy to html & css! The “build buildings” better fits the rendering process the browser uses. Front-end coding is the engineering between design (architecture) and rendering (the actual building)!

    I totally agree with you. The knowledge of CSS & HTML is absolutely necessary for designers! The communication is never going to work unless both parties do have some knowledge of the others profession.
    I’d use the analogy of language. Unless both speak the same language – to some extend – they’ll obviously never get along.

    I personally do design and front-end coding. My co-worker does the back-end stuff. I still know how to do back-end coding and he knows front-end coding, which drastically improves communication!

  53. Mark McCorkell

    Mark McCorkell

    18 February 2010 @ 01:53PM #

    Designer’s who can’t code anything will find it really hard to get employed in this tough economic era – employers want more for their money. Fact

  54. Alex Ball

    Alex Ball

    18 February 2010 @ 02:07PM #

    I totally agree with the original post. I see no reason that designs can’t spend 2 hours learning the basiscs. I fail to see how a designer can put anything forward as a complete design, without knowing how much of it is possible, or what could have been achieved (in stuff they perhaps held back).

    Glad to see I’m not the only one with the opinion.


  55. Philip Morton

    Philip Morton

    18 February 2010 @ 02:09PM #

    Agreed. HTML+CSS is where designers and developers should meet.

    If you’re given a PSD to develop into an interface, you run the risk of the client having the false expectation that you can make the website appear exactly like the image in Photoshop.

  56. Chris Mahon

    Chris Mahon

    18 February 2010 @ 02:12PM #

    I guess it depends on what the designer is actually working on. If it’s a marketing type site with little to no interaction then I’m of the mind that it doesn’t matter too much.

    However, if you’re a designer for anything that requires quite a bit of interaction I think it is a MUST to learn not only HTML & CSS but to some extent javascript. jQuery is so easy to pick up, and it really does make a massive difference knowing what is technically possible in the browser when designing in photoshop or whatever program you are using. I would also say using HTML/CSS makes it much easier to conceptualise ideas very quickly, so if you’re working in an agile environment I think you’ll benefit big time.

    Mark McCorkell made a good point, lots of companies these days are looking to hire one person who can fill more than one role, so if you’re specialist in only one thing and there is a guy next to you who can design just as well but knows HTML/CSS and some Javascript then I’m almost certain the second guy is going to get the job.

  57. Simon Willans

    Simon Willans

    18 February 2010 @ 02:15PM #

    I must agree with you and say you hit the nail on the head here. When I started at my current web agency, I was basically in charge of doing the Photoshop work. But then when I realised that the developers weren’t that great at following the design guides to make it function like it was supposed to – I also began to code my designs (I already knew all the HTML and CSS, it just wasn’t my role).

    Depending on the project, I can often find myself taking the same approach as Mike Kus – Designing a few of the elements in Photoshop, then going straight to the code.

    I like to know my designs will work, and I have trust in my HTML and CSS skills – so I’ll do it myself.

  58. Paul Ashton

    Paul Ashton

    18 February 2010 @ 02:16PM #

    I saw a comment yesterday from a girl saying that she couldn’t code and had found it really hard to get a job. No one was interested. That kind of sums it up for me. What use are you to anyone if you can just sketch out a design? Just cos you’re designing a web page in Photoshop doesn’t mean you’re a Web Designer. It just means you’re a designer designing a web page. Boss: “OK, that’s lovely, what am I supposed to do with that?”

    Also, if you are only designing in Photoshop, there’s only so much you can convey when presenting a design. There’ll be all kinds of mouse-over interativity that you’ll have to describe to someone but ultimately they’ll just have to use their imagination. A mini prototype showing what you’re trying to describe will work 1000x better. “All this cool stuff happens when you move your mouse around,,,, I can’t show you that on this 2D print out, but it’s gonna look… well good.”

  59. Dave Sparks

    Dave Sparks

    18 February 2010 @ 02:20PM #

    I love these arguments raging across Twitter.
    My personal two penneth:
    I’ve had some great web designs from designer who can’t code but the better ones are generally from people who have an understanding, sometimes only a little, of the web and the website building process.
    My analogy would be that it’s like sports management, if you can manage a sports team effectively you can do so in any sport but if you want to manage a football team it helps if you can play a little football, or if you want to manage a rugby team then helps if you can play a little rugby. BUT… it’s not essential and you don’t need to be a world beater on the pitch, you just need to understand what goes on.

  60. Matt Simon

    Matt Simon

    18 February 2010 @ 02:21PM #

    I really can’t understand how there is an argument against this. HTML/CSS is the foundation of a website. Without it all the other stuff is useless.

    I’d be embarrassed to call myself a ‘web designer’ and then say ‘…but I don’t know HTML or CSS’.

    You don’t have to be a great coder but any­one who works with creating web­sites, in my opin­ion, has to under­stand how html affects what a web­site can do…its rudimentary.

  61. Brendan Dawes

    Brendan Dawes

    18 February 2010 @ 02:22PM #

    Personally I don’t think it’s about knowing how to code but knowing about the possibilities. It’s about knowledge. For instance at mN we work in a very inclusive way and we share stuff. So one of the team might be playing with some canvas stuff which then feeds into the graphic designer. Suddenly new possibilties are opened up for that designer, but they don’t need to know how to code it. In fact in a team that’s just not how it works.

    Oh and as an aside the notion of building in the browser is complete bullshit. Would andy suggest I sack our graphic designers who’s main tool is Photoshop or turn down calls from the BBC asking us to deliver PSDs for the visual look and feel of a site? Hello, the real world is on line one.

  62. Neil Sweeney

    Neil Sweeney

    18 February 2010 @ 02:22PM #

    Do you buy a car and not know how to put fuel in, check the oil, check the screen wash, fill the coolant and check your tries? No, it’s a legal requirement you know basic car care (UK any way since I learned to drive 4/5 years ago). Would you learn it if you didn’t have to? You should because you can do these things easily and it will save your ass at times.

    Web design is the same really. You should know how to write some basic HTML/CSS to at least prototype a site in code; there is no reason not to know other than ignorance. If you can learn Photoshop to create some great looking designs then you should be able to learn simple HTML/CSS.

  63. Todd Halfpenny

    Todd Halfpenny

    18 February 2010 @ 02:24PM #

    First off… nice post and an interesting read.
    Oh, and that goes for the comments too.

    Secondly my ‘apennies worth… On the whole I would say that having knowledge (at least at a basic level) can aid in getting a design together which isn’t going to cause the developers a whole host of issues. Saying that don’t we want to designers to try and break convention rather than thinking “ah yes, right that can be div’ied up here” and “I know that this is possible thanks to my basic CSS knowledge”, etc.

    I suppose I’m saying that I’m worried that the design process won’t be as “free” or push the boundaries of what can be done in the browser. Of course saying all this I suppose that if a designer is up-to-speed on what is available via the use of things such as jQuery and the latest CSS then perhaps their designs can “move on” to places that they hadn’t even given a thought to.

    So now I’ve written this I find that I actually haven’t set my sleeping bag down in either camp :)

  64. Dave Shedd

    Dave Shedd

    18 February 2010 @ 02:26PM #

    Hey, Elliot, your index page doesn’t validate…

  65. Kean


    18 February 2010 @ 02:33PM #

    It’s not really about whether a web designer should or should not learn code its that they’ll be better at their job and possibly more employable if they do.

    If you have a designer who is really great at web design and they don’t know how to code by learning HTML and CSS they can only improve their abilities and be even better at their job. On the other hand a designer that can code doesn’t automatically become fantastic designer.

    To be a good designer you have to consider so many factors such as users, colour, typography etc but also implementation and how certain features of a website might work and be built as the constraints must affect what you do in the design. Knowing and understanding the limitations of HTML and CSS won’t make you a worse designer but it should make you a better designer.

  66. holeycoww


    18 February 2010 @ 02:36PM #

    I couldn’t agree more with the whole post. I don’t think web designers should know everything there is to know about HTML and CSS, but knowing the basics will help so much more compared to not knowing a thing.

    An architect doesn’t need to know how to build a house, but he/she needs to know the basics of how the bricks go together and the structure is created. A man who runs a company making gearboxes doesn’t need to know how to build a whole car, but he needs to know the basics of how one works. I feel it’s the same for web design; you don’t need to know how to build a all singing, all dancing super dynamic website, but, you should know the basics of how one is put together!


  67. Christoph Zillgens

    Christoph Zillgens

    18 February 2010 @ 02:38PM #


    When I started studying Architecture it was required that you had worked in a construction firm (as a brick layer for example) for a few month. And right from the beginning of studies we had to learn the basics of construction engineering with all that mathematical stuff. The argument was: “You can’t design a pillar if you have no idea of the minimal dimensions required to bear the roof”

    As a web designer you have to know at least some basic HTML and CSS to get more sensible for what will happen later on in the development process. You don’t need to know the latest tricks but as it is really easy to learn some basics there should be no reason for not doing it.

  68. Bostjan


    18 February 2010 @ 02:38PM #

    I’m sorry for not reading all of the comments, but I disagree with your post. In my opinion professionals should stick with what they do best. I’m not saying you can’t be a great designer/coder, but you really shouldn’t write frontend/backend code unless you exactly know what you’re doing.

    To prove my point let’s get a bit more technical and look at your website (don’t get me wrong, it looks GREAT).

    - Unwritten industry rule is that a webpage should look the same in all popular browsers: IE6+, FF 2.0+, Opera, Chrome and Safari. IE6 and IE7 don’t even load the page without an annoying JS error, no transparency in IE6, IE6,7,8 have misplaced elements,
    - Creating rounded corners using -moz-border-radius is a cheap trick that will result only in an invalid CSS. There are valid techniques that are working in pretty much in every browser known and used today.
    - No minified CSS and JS. By doing this your site will create unnecessary requests to the server. Same goes for not using CSS sprites.
    - Your JS code doesn’t use namespaces, isn’t compressed and merged.

    You can argue about how IE6 is obsolete, how there aren’t so many files to be merged, minifed, but in my opinion perfection and attention to detail is what makes a good frontend developer a great frontend developer.

    Web designers should avoid frontend coding and do what they do best, but they should UNDERSTAND how HTML, CSS and JavaScript work.

  69. PoLR


    18 February 2010 @ 03:02PM #

    I saw this article from a Tweet (thanks @dsparks83!) and I thought I’d get my two cents in too.

    In the past I have had designs sent over from ‘web designers’ (their words) who have had no concept of the usability (or indeed the build) of the design they created. On one particular project, every page had a completely different layout (menu positioning etc which would have been very confusing for the target audience!) They were more concenred with getting the perfect ‘green’ than whether the user would be able to find pricing/timetable information! I thought of them more as Graphic Designers who decided to design a ebsite without really considering how the site would be used. The actual look of the site was stunning, it’s just that it wasn’t a good website.

    On the other hand, I went to uni with people who have made a business out of solely providing designs that are then passed onto a coder. They have a history of building the sites aswell as designing them so their designs are usable and work amazing well.

    I agree with Chris Grant, if we were advertising a Web Designer role we would fully expect that any applicants could build the sites they were designing.

  70. Marco


    18 February 2010 @ 03:12PM #

    Even though I don’t consider myself a ‘real’ webdesigner (yet), I really agree with you. HTML and CSS are simply too easy to not learn, everyone can learn to make a basic site in one day, so there’s no excuse not to. And it forces you to think about the practical limits of the design.

  71. Todd Halfpenny

    Todd Halfpenny

    18 February 2010 @ 03:15PM #

    @PoLR It sounds like these “designers” who are sending you stuff which would be a usability nightmare are simply not “web designers”… whether or not they could write the markup for such dribble is a completely separate matter in my opinion.

  72. Ryan Percival

    Ryan Percival

    18 February 2010 @ 03:18PM #

    I ‘kinda’ agree but I also disagree.

    This all seems to be a bit of a war of semantics to me. It boils down to good designers vs poor designers.

    A good designer knows and understands the environment they are desiging for or they aquire that knowledge as quickly as they can. The environment informs the design.

    I don’t think this necessarily translates to the designer being able to actually script up the site. They need to understand the attributes of developing for the environment, what the gotchas are and the formats needed etc.

    Code knowledge is almost (and I stress almost) irrelevant. Some people are just incabable of learning to code (and more semantic fun: HTML/CSS is generally considered markup or scripting at best) they just are incabable of forming the correct mental model (this is more relevant to what I term ‘coding’ – yay semantics – but still relevant http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2006/07/separating-programming-sheep-from-non-programming-goats.html ) That doesn’t mean they can’t understand the enviroment and design for it.

    I can know what a browser is capable of without knowing how to create it from scratch. Your claim is that the minimum knowledge of what I call environmental awareness is HTML/CSS, I disagree. I think they need to know what is possible and what is not. They need to know the standards and the formats and be across what is new and what is coming down the track.

    If they sell themselves as a one man band that can build your site for you, then sure they need to know HTML/CSS/Javascript plus whatever else you are using at the backend (I’d want them to have good SQL and database design skills for a db driven site for example)but then anything else would be lying. If anyone sells themselves as being able to do a job then they need to match the skillset required for the job. Common sense I think.

    Most job descriptions come with a title and a healthy list of the expected skillset of the applicant. This is because titles are open to interpretation. “Web Designer” designs for the web. I’ve seen so many interpretations of what that actually means that I’m now unsure of my own definition. Personally I’d be more interested in them being fluent in interaction design, information architecture and that they can understand and work with requirments documents. That’s because I’d want a professional developer handling all the code and script. Jack of all trades is fine but if I want my site to sing then I want specialists.

  73. Alex Kilgour

    Alex Kilgour

    18 February 2010 @ 03:20PM #

    Elliot, I think a distinction needs to made here, it is something that you didn’t touch on, and that is, are you advocating that we don’t need front-end developers anymore? that designers should be able to handle everything on the front-end?

    I am a front-end developer, but agree that designers should be able to handle HTML and CSS, as a knowledge of this can only improve the way that they design.

    My problem with your post is that I think companies could look at what you’re saying and think they can save themselves some money by not employing a front-end developer, and I think this is a dangerous road to go down as front-end development is so much more than knowing HTML and CSS.
    For a start HTML and CSS are basic to learn, but nothing can beat years of experience learning the nuances of what works and what doesn’t on the web.
    I would also extend your post by saying that designers should know HTML and CSS, but front-end developers should know back-end code as well. While knowing HTML and CSS can help you design better, I know that in my job knowing how our backend is going to work greatly influences how the front-end is written.

    I think that in conclusion a good knowledge of how HTML and CSS works is very important to how a designer creates a website design, even if they never do any ACTUAL coding, and if they do I think there are not many who have the depth of knowledge to do it really well, there is still a great need for an excellent front-end coder.
    The danger is that we lose all specialisation and end up with a jack of all trades who can do everything but hasn’t got the time to learn one thing really well.

  74. Grant


    18 February 2010 @ 03:24PM #

    If you don’t know HTML and CSS, then you cannot be a web designer. You are a digital artist. Simple as that.

    I cannot comprehend the idea of working with someone who claims to be a web designer, but doesn’t know the code, and therefore can’t design for the web. It is easy to learn the basics. The Javascript and PHP etc can be left to coders, who I believe, should know a bit about design too (but then I am speaking as a web “devigner” here, so I like the idea of being able to do both sides.

    Plus, would you hire an architect who knew NOTHING about building at all? How reliable would the final building be?

  75. Rick Stead

    Rick Stead

    18 February 2010 @ 03:29PM #

    I agree with this for the most part but it’s worth pointing out that I’ve often found it quite librating at times to work with designers who don’t do front end code because they often try things that I would sub-conciously avoid because I know in the back of my mind it would be a nightmare to style.

    This makes me sound lazy but I think anyone who does both design and front end does forward-think to some extent about how things are going to be positioned etc during the build. I fall victim to this and it’s something I’m trying to separate myself from in order to experiment more and worry about how it will be styled later.

    I personally take a similar appraoach to Mike Kus where I will tweak or ‘fill in the gaps’ in the browser and I don’t think it’s a new approach; it’s something I’ve been doing ever since I first learnt CSS.

  76. BeCreative Magazine

    BeCreative Magazine

    18 February 2010 @ 03:30PM #

    Hey Elliot, great article. I think you’ve really show that designers should have at least a basic understanding of HTML & CSS to actually know what features will work what features won’t.

    I get the old saying ‘Designers make things pretty, not functional!’ but c’mon it’s 2010 so I think some basic knowledge could go a long way design wise. :-)

  77. bram


    18 February 2010 @ 03:30PM #

    As the famous philosopher footballplayer (or ’soccerplayer ’ for you Yanks) Johan Cruiyff mentioned a many years ago: “Elk voordeel heb ze nadeel”, in English: Every advantage has its disadvantage"

    In other words: Knowing how to code will have a certain power over you and constrains your freedom in designing unconsciously. (f.e. You take in account the work that lays ahead in coding your design work) But then around, knowing how to code expands your freedom in designing for given you more tools and possibilities to finish your own work in the way you like.

  78. Nitish


    18 February 2010 @ 03:32PM #

    Andy Rutledge’s article (link below) answered all the questions I had for years about making a career as someone who creates websites.


    The definition of a “Web Designer” is too loose in my opinion. There are so many sets of skills that are needed to create and run a “successful” website. In my world, if I could [re]define some terms for people who have anything to do with websites, they would be things like “Interaction Designer”, ‘Visual Web Designer" (or maybe “Web Layout Designer”), “Web Coder”, “Web Programmer”, “Web Usability Analyst”, “Web Analyst (analytics)”, “Web Marketer”, “Web Editor”, etc. The term “Web Designer” would not exist. And then there’d be no argument. You could be a Web Layout Designer, and/or a Web Coder if you wished or if your job required it.

    Those are just my humble thoughts among the otherwise great minds here.

  79. Simon


    18 February 2010 @ 03:39PM #


    Let’s put this to bed now, once and for all. This cliché is unmitigated horse crap! An architect absolutely must know how to build a building. I have worked in architecture for over 10 years, and I have yet to meet a fully qualified architect that doesn’t know how to build buildings! All the technical drawings that are produced throughout a project provide intricate details of how the building goes together; the HTML if you will. They also have an in depth knowledge of building materials; the CSS, JavaScript and other technologies, as well as building regulations and construction law; accessibility issues et c. The same is true of industrial/product designers. They don’t actually make the product, but must understand have an understanding of the manufacturing methods and materials available to help them make informed decisions during the design process.

    Someone that designs websites must know HTML/CSS otherwise they are someone that designs for the web. It is a subtle but important distinction to make. Their is nothing wrong with this; that individual is no lesser a person because of this! But they are charlatans to call themselves a “web designer”. It’s equally important to point out that, as Elliot points out; not coding and not knowing how to code are two entirely different things. Back to the architects; it is illegal (and can carry a custodial sentence) in the UK to call yourself an architect and practice without holding the correct qualifications and registration…

  80. Matt Berridge

    Matt Berridge

    18 February 2010 @ 03:41PM #

    Stick to what you’re best at and if you think more skills will make you better, learn them.

  81. Keith Clark

    Keith Clark

    18 February 2010 @ 03:43PM #

    It’s my understanding that we (those that can replicate a design in HTML/CSS) are in the minority.

    Most web designers I speak to are not programmers. They to have evolved from a print background and they approach web design in the same way they would if they were designing a brochure.

    Many don’t have the first idea (or really care) about the technical issues of designing for the web and focus entirely on brand identity and what they think “looks cool”. I guess they look at getting a site built as the equivalent of sending a job to print.

    Convincing these people to learn HTML / CSS will be a struggle – but I think there is a compromise, they don’t need to learn how to code markup, they need to learn what is and isn’t possible on the web.

    I remember listening to Sarah Parmenter on Boagworld 200. She made a great point that really stuck in my head – Do what your good at. Find people that are good at the things your not. Play to your strengths.

  82. Jim Peel

    Jim Peel

    18 February 2010 @ 03:59PM #

    Couple of disagreements here. Firstly HTML is Mark Up and not code. Javascript is code, PHP is Code, ASP is code – you see where i’m going here. The fact this has been overlooked in your article only highlights the fact that the reason MOST designers will never be good front end developers is specialism.

    There is an argument for having client side designers able to do more than one role, but I doubt you’d find many quality agencies, other than very small one’s who would actively advertise a for this.

    Why? Because agencies are built around skill-sets, specialisms and workflow. No question having designers who are able to understand how a website is built is a good thing. But whether you’d trust them to do it is another matter. Projects, regardless of the methodology you use, need teams who are focused on doing their role very well. They can’t afford the time or cost of having people not delivering in one part of their role, let alone two.

    Like most things in this industry it is about context. Client side / small business – having your designers able to lend a hand is a good thing. Beyond that scope though I don’t see a huge argument for it.

    Focus. Do your thing and do it well.

  83. Elliot Ross

    Elliot Ross

    18 February 2010 @ 03:59PM #

    it’s early and I haven’t had coffee yet, so sorry if this turns into a rant!

    I think the challenge is more around knowledge of how the web works, how to design for the medium and not just how to code HTML.

    Even given basic knowledge of HTML, designers (and some coders!) can still be perfectly capable of producing a completely un-useable mess of a site! Worryingly, some of the biggest culprits aren’t even small time outfits – some of the big brand name design houses are still turning out work that’s visually beautiful but completely inappropriate for the web.

    The “Web” component of the job title should denote a skillset that probably includes rudimentary HTML/CSS, but as part of a solid understanding and appreciation of the user experience and how it can change both client and server side. Of course the “Design” part is the solid background and understanding of design principles that should be held by a designer in any medium.

  84. Daniel Groves

    Daniel Groves

    18 February 2010 @ 04:01PM #

    In my opinion you do need to know how. If you can’t build your design your not really a designer. Product Designers build prototypes and HTML/CSS is our way of building prototypes.

  85. K.Bak


    18 February 2010 @ 04:06PM #

    I do feel some of the sweeping statements that have been banded about in this debate are somewhat ridiculous. Some are defending their position, some i think ‘get it’ and some i feel are pathetically ignorant.

    I understand that some ‘designers’ who claim to be so, havent the first idea about what they’re doing and do deliver they artwork to their coding teams in 300dpi, CMYK, in Adobe Indesign and then get upset because the work looks crap compared to the delivered vector artwork… this is not the issue.. the issue is not are some idiots calling themselves web designers or web creatives when they clearly have more idea baking a cake then delivering an intelligent and well thought-out web design.

    I have many coder colleagues who haven’t the faintest idea about the of visual communication, I.A, U.E, wire-framing or any of the day-to-day issues that face any of the aesthetic parts of designing for the web.

    I am visual communicator that designs for the web. I have been doing so for many years and I don’t code. I understand the boundaries of code, what one can and cant do with it, moreso what one should and shouldn’t do with it.

    The word designer, come from ‘Designation of space’. Referring to the allocation of positive and negative space to create a ‘design’. I have two degrees in design, and interactive design. I still believe that my chosen skillset is better suited understanding code, designing for it, but not getting involved in it.

    This is not an elitist view at all, I am sheer awe of good coders, front end and backenders. I believe what they do is an art form. Sincerely. I work in large interactive team of them everyday, and i learn from them, as they learn from me. The cycle is symbiant, for lack of a better word.

  86. Janko


    18 February 2010 @ 04:13PM #

    We’re discussing the obvious here. I would go even further and say that one should have a broad knowledge of many (related) disciplines. Something like this: http://is.gd/63×9k

  87. Robert O'Rourke

    Robert O'Rourke

    18 February 2010 @ 04:18PM #


    I thought I could share some practical experience relating to the matter. Where I work we hire design agencies to provide us with designs for sites and it’s incredibly frustrating because often their background is in print design.

    The result is designs that are very difficult to code but on top of that there is little to no consideration of interaction, accessiblity or usability as it applies to the web.

    I’ve spent time with the designers before now explaining what works best and what considerations they should be making – simple things such as not knowing how much text might be in a certain box, that people can change their font size or might not have a particular font installed. Beyond that they have stated flatly that they’re “not interested” in learning any HTML or CSS, they just want to design and sadly – to me at least – it shows.

    Personally I’m in agreement with you Elliot but it’s just not the world we live in. All I can do is keep going back to the designers with revisions and suggestions and reasons why but often it’s too late or a certain decision was down to the client. Someone with my knowledge should have been included in the entire design process but the current workflow I deal with excludes me from it until it’s time to write code.

  88. Cerven


    18 February 2010 @ 04:19PM #

    ‘Designer’ is such a broad category, and at some point we all find our niche – and each niche has it’s own set of rules and principles.

    Doubt you could be a car designer if you had no concept of how aerodynamics worked no matter how create your Illustrator or Photoshop skills were?

    …great debate, even if it it a fairly pointless one, ha ha.

  89. kevadamson


    18 February 2010 @ 04:33PM #

    Hey Elliot

    As you are aware, I disagreed with your tweet(s) yesterday (and got the wrong end of the stick to some degree, my apologies for that).

    You raise many points above that I agree with, although I think that you can sum it up with “it is better to be absolutely amazing at all areas of the web design process, than just some”.

    Man, if I could write JavaScript and PHP I would be laughing, but it has taken diplomas and degrees to mould me into a professional designer, years to understand the web design process, years to, not only learn, but master the HTML and CSS language (which we’re all still learning as it is ever changing).

    Now in terms of PHP, I’ve worked alongside a PHP programmer for 6 years, and over that period he has taught me many principles and things to consider when supplying him with the ingredients he needs to make his process easier, and so it all tessellates. I do not understand a single line of PHP, yet I understand enough of how it works to make me a ‘programmer friendly’ developer.

    Another thing to consider is that a lot of CSS does involve maths (more so now with some of the CSS3 selectors) and I do have a design friend who has a mild form of dyscalculia (the dyslexia of numbers). They are hugely conceptually talented, and through time and dedication can produce very consider UI designs. But they would certainly find some of the maths involved in modern CSS coding a little difficult. A tenuous point perhaps, but one that re-enforces my point on ‘generalising’ (which I actually haven’t made yet – piggledy-higgledy :)).

    I would also like to point out that I have friends and family who are highly skilled and have built successful careers in areas of web design without having to write one line of code. Skilled enough to be head-hunted by companies, and also to stay at a company for many years and get promoted to Director status.

    One thing that does concern me out of all of this, which is slightly separate to the debate, is how we all seem to be generalising people. We’ve had a bit of that recently with “Sazzygate” (heh, I quite like that), where people immediately judged someone based on their looks.

    A couple of questions:

    If a person says to me “I’m a web designer but I don’t code”, am I immediately to think of them as a lesser web designer? Or should I judge them by their work rather than making this general assumption? I know you’re not doing that, but people could do so, based on this ‘black and white’ stance.

    Do you think that comparing HTML & CSS coding (which I believe is easy to learn, difficult to master) to ‘plugging a DVD into a TV’ is the right signal to be sending out to people?

    It’s a good debate this, and I’ve certainly learnt a lot about possible changing attitudes to it all. I’ve also learnt not to jump the gun based on 140 char tweets :P This is all good stuff Elliot, keep it up big guy :)

    Oh, and here’s my comment on Mark’s post: http://www.markboulton.co.uk/journal/comments/on-designers-writing-html#comment-4143

  90. shutdown


    18 February 2010 @ 04:43PM #

    well… i can agree that designers should have at least a little knowledge about code… its required to work with the programmers anyway…

    as @Cerven said… “Doubt you could be a car designer if you had no concept of how aerodynamics worked no matter how create your Illustrator or Photoshop skills were?”

    a little knowledge of a certain aspect on the developer work will help a designer to extend there field of vision toward design.

  91. Charlotte


    18 February 2010 @ 04:43PM #

    Basic HTML/CSS knowledge is a requirement for Web Designers. HTML/CSS is like a “merged layer” of your design. A working prototype.

    Besides, calling oneself as a “Web” Designer, certainly specifies you’re aiming to design for browsers and such. If you can’t code, you’re not designing for the web, you’re just designing a canvas. Then that would make you a print/graphic designer instead.

    Though I do understand circumstances that you’re not the one who will implement your designs, just cases happen. And most of the time ends ups horribly.

    I wouldn’t like my designs coded by another person, since there are details that might be changed or omitted in the process.

  92. Tom Hermans

    Tom Hermans

    18 February 2010 @ 04:57PM #

    I agree 100% with Elliott. If you design beautiful PSD’s, aimed to the web, but do not code it, you are a hell of a designer. But you

  93. Tony


    18 February 2010 @ 05:02PM #

    Yes, I remember seeing how the debate grew like wild fire.

    My personal opinion is that web designer should know the fundamental of how Web sites and pages work—not only in the way that we interact with them, but how they are put together.

    Whether the designer then takes on the responsibility to code the design, depends on the scale of the project, team, and budget.

    It’s the designers who think they can get by with a 300dpi Illustrator file that makes the industry as stagnant and difficult as it is now to grow.

  94. Tom Hermans

    Tom Hermans

    18 February 2010 @ 05:09PM #

    damn.. that went wrong (no ability to edit apparently)
    .. (continuing)

    damn.. that went wrong (no ability to edit apparently)
    .. (continuing)But you are not a webdesigner. That is someone who actually designs a webpage, and a webpage consists of HTML.

    damn.. that went wrong (no ability to edit apparently)
    .. (continuing)But you are not a webdesigner. That is someone who actually designs a webpage, and a webpage consists of HTML.I’ve been unfortunate enough to never have worked in a team with all kinds of specialists, so I HAD TO learn it all myself. Graphics, Photoshop, User Interfacing, HTML, Javascript, PHP, MySQL db requests, Flash, Actionscript, etc.. etc..

    damn.. that went wrong (no ability to edit apparently)
    .. (continuing)But you are not a webdesigner. That is someone who actually designs a webpage, and a webpage consists of HTML.I’ve been unfortunate enough to never have worked in a team with all kinds of specialists, so I HAD TO learn it all myself. Graphics, Photoshop, User Interfacing, HTML, Javascript, PHP, MySQL db requests, Flash, Actionscript, etc.. etc..I now work in an environment with a few graphic designers (for print) and they don’t have a clue howto deliver material if needed, or what UX means etc.
    I feel it in their designs too, or in their remarks about my designs ("Space that text, align that vertically). They have experience as designer for print, but designing for web is, although the tools are similar, a whole other thing. They can’t grasp the idea of db-generated content and the impact on the design or structure. They want to make pretty pictures, which they’re very good at.

    damn.. that went wrong (no ability to edit apparently)
    .. (continuing)But you are not a webdesigner. That is someone who actually designs a webpage, and a webpage consists of HTML.I’ve been unfortunate enough to never have worked in a team with all kinds of specialists, so I HAD TO learn it all myself. Graphics, Photoshop, User Interfacing, HTML, Javascript, PHP, MySQL db requests, Flash, Actionscript, etc.. etc..I now work in an environment with a few graphic designers (for print) and they don’t have a clue howto deliver material if needed, or what UX means etc.
    I feel it in their designs too, or in their remarks about my designs ("Space that text, align that vertically). They have experience as designer for print, but designing for web is, although the tools are similar, a whole other thing. They can’t grasp the idea of db-generated content and the impact on the design or structure. They want to make pretty pictures, which they’re very good at.If they should build a site in code, with markup, with css styles, they learn that there are other things that need attention than let’s say, some widows or a justified line of text. On the other hand, their insights make that not all sites look like they were built by engineers, like it was 1999 all over again.

  95. Al Stevens

    Al Stevens

    18 February 2010 @ 05:30PM #

    I enjoyed reading your post – thanks!

    I am also somewhat surprised to hear that there are indeed people out there who may have opposed views to the majority of the discussion here.

    And like others I agree with Matthew Pennell that your analogy of the Architect is the only flawed area of your arguement in that the Archirtect needs to fully understand the building materials, building methods he or she is using in order to evaluate loads, stresses and strains on the building and wear and weathering.

    This of-course only goes to boulster the arguement in your favour – and hey – we can forgive you of that since it was late when you wrote this :)

  96. Jason O'Brien

    Jason O'Brien

    18 February 2010 @ 05:36PM #


    “Unwritten industry rule is that a webpage should look the same in all popular browsers: IE6+, FF 2.0+, Opera, Chrome and Safari.”

    Ahahahahaha….. I have tears coming out of my eyes. Bostjan, you are fucking funny! What segment of the industry do you work in? You do realize that most firms have dropped IE6 support, right? And do you also realize it’s IMPOSSIBLE to achieve pixel perfect precision of a design between all the browsers?

    “Creating rounded corners using -moz-border-radius is a cheap trick that will result only in an invalid CSS. There are valid techniques that are working in pretty much in every browser known and used today.”

    Cheap trick?? Is this a joke post? Because if you’re for real, why don’t we have a look at some of YOUR work to see the brilliant way you handle rounded corners and how well the page renders in IE6 vs. Chrome. I’m sure we’re going to be BLOWN AWAY….

    Holy crap… can’t believe there are people like this who are so full of it.

  97. Paul Winslow

    Paul Winslow

    18 February 2010 @ 05:51PM #

    Be familiar with? Yes, definitely. Be expected to do? Not so much. But looking at the majority of job ads lately we seem to be expected to do the work of a team of 15 all by our tired selves.

    I for one have recently been feeling rediculously burnt out trying to study and keep up with the endless line of aspects that go into designing for the web. I’m practising IA, UX design, I write front-end code, I design visuals in Photoshop, I’m studying back-end technologies and it’s all becoming too much.

    We need to be in teams.

  98. Guilherme Rambo

    Guilherme Rambo

    18 February 2010 @ 05:59PM #

    I totally agree with you, designers should at least KNOW how to code basic html and css.

    greetings from Brazil

  99. Marko


    18 February 2010 @ 06:00PM #

    Well, if you’re completly clueless about how something that you have to make is produced, you’re missing knowledge that is crucial for the process you’re part of.

    Knowing what your stuff has to go through, and how it gets made, and at the end, how it gets used, is key to doing a decent job.

    There are many ways of learning the process from start to finish, and it gets easier if you can get your hands dirty, go through trials and errors and try it all for yourself, or if you spend time along somebody who’s involved in parts of the process you’re trying to learn about.

    I’m generalizing here on purpose, because I think this applies to any profession. Knowledge about materials, costs, ways of implementation, time consumption of certain processes, etc. – in architecture, is the same as knowledge about possibilities of css, html, what’s good or bad for an efficient UI, quirks of the system you have to base it all on, how long does it take to implement everything, etc. – in web design.

    You can design 20 different UI buttons that you have to slice all up as PNGs and kill the server at peak time, or you can make it all through a few css backgrounds and html text over it, that will look just as tasty, and spare your visitors of any problems.

    You’re part of a production system. The better you know it, the better you will do your part in it.

    Good debate, but I wouldn’t say it’s pointless, it’s good to repeat things every now and then.

  100. Paul Winslow

    Paul Winslow

    18 February 2010 @ 06:01PM #

    To pull my point from that mini-rant.. you obviously shouldn’t always be expected to carry out the front-end development but a grasp of the basics can only improve your work, surely?

  101. Paul Winslow

    Paul Winslow

    18 February 2010 @ 06:07PM #

    AAAAAND… if you don’t understand the technologies the web is built on, your visual designs are just graphic design. The web is its own medium!

  102. mase


    18 February 2010 @ 06:40PM #

    ‘But an architect doesn’t have to know how to build buildings’

    Actually, they do. They have to have a solid understanding of the materials and the physics involved, they spend 7 years learning, because unlike using a in the wrong place a building could actually collapse and kill someone.

  103. kate


    18 February 2010 @ 06:54PM #

    And what about designers who know how to code but don’t do it? For many years I coded my own designs but finally I realised that someone else would do this better. Outsourcing coding helped me to save a lot of time and manage more tasks. After I send my project to a coder I can switch to another (waiting) project.

  104. Jason Pamental

    Jason Pamental

    18 February 2010 @ 06:58PM #

    Elliot -

    Really well-written and lucid post. I couldn’t agree more. I think that much of the dissent in the comments actually misses an important distinction that you and others have made: that web designers should be ABLE to produce their own design in HTML/CSS – not that they MUST in all cases do so. Really important distinction. Without that knowledge there is often far more wrong with what that designer will produce than just what can/should be designed visually, but often a lack of clear understanding of the interaction. The web is not static. It’s a poorly conceived fantasy that a web page should look exactly the same from Photoshop to every browser version and platform. Sometimes it can, but most of the time it needlessly sucks up budget and time, and lessens the experience for the larger audience unnecessarily.

    It’s true that you can’t know everything, and you should focus on what you’re great at (or want to be great at) – but to ignore the immediate adjacency to your core is to limit your ability to communicate the spirit of your design to your client and to your team members. The design process can certainly start in Photoshop or Illustrator, but it MUST make that transition to the browser before you can fully realize the design in action.

    As for constraints – I think that the argument that ‘knowing HTML/CSS will limit your thinking’ is ridiculous. Try designing an annual report or a print ad without knowing how 4-color printing works. Design and any other art endeavor is always about constraints. The marble and the tools, the size of the canvas, the cost of die cuts and foil stamping, budget dollars available are all constraints that artists have dealt with for thousands of years. Design is no different. And truly, without constraints you have nothing against which to push. You can’t break boundaries in design if there are no boundaries to break. A good designer learns the constraints and uses them to inform their design and push their ideas in new and interesting ways. On the web it’s even more complex. It’s not just about visual design but also interaction and usability. Without understanding all the ways HTML/CSS renders, how it looks on different monitors, platforms and browsers, knowing how screen readers work and how many people have low vision and therefore miss too-subtle color transitions for links – you’re not a web designer. Period.

    I worked with a designer who refused to factor any of this into his work. He would restyle links 6 or 7 different ways in a single site based on his own aesthetic preference, insisting that ‘users will learn this very quickly’. That’s complete BS. The second you make choices that start forcing the users to conform to your whim rather than design for their ease of use you have absolutely failed as a designer. You don’t have to write your own HTML and CSS all the time, but without understanding it and how it renders and affects interaction and usability, you may as well learn the phrase Ian Lang pointed out above (loved that): ‘would you like fries with that?’



  105. Valentin


    18 February 2010 @ 07:02PM #

    Scuse my English please. :)

    Let say I’m a business man and I want a website for my business. I have some idea about how it should look like and about how it should work. Now, would I be happy to talk to one guy (designer for layout) an then to another for functionality (the coder) ? No, I want to talk only once so it is one guy who knows both or there are both guy and I do not care how they make the team – I am interested in which alternative is reliable and cheaper.

    It is not very easy to be “one man team”. Will be a lot of guys knowing Photoshop better than you and a lot of guys knowing coding better than you.
    So must be a real team with, both knowing almost everything from coworker’s skills.

    I am not very sure what means “basic knowledge” in both areas … because “basic” is almost nothing.

    I think that ideal is one who knows to draw and to code as close as possible of “excellent” and the second one who knows excellent SEO. Because (in my opinion) drawing and coding on web is not very much without optimization.

  106. cchana


    18 February 2010 @ 07:05PM #

    for the longest time, the term web designer was used to describe someone who coded on-line. even though for a few years, web designers are actual designers, for many the overlap is still there.

    I myself started out as a bit of both, but now specialise in the programming side, but i call myself a developer. that term instantly implies that i am a coder.

    I’m 50/50 with you here, because they should be able to at least code up a simple page BUT sometimes their designs push things further than their ability. floats, positions and columns can become extremely complex.

    I’m doing a brown bag session next week, internally at work, on HTML5 and I hope it will give the designers I’ve invited a chance to see the considerations we have to make as developers for them to consider in their designs.

  107. JD Hobbs

    JD Hobbs

    18 February 2010 @ 07:05PM #

    As a 2009 graduate from Leeds Uni and currently looking for employment as a Web Designer, I’ve seen A LOT of job postings. It seems, at least from a employers perspective, HTML/CSS is a major requirement.

    From a short stint at employment in a professional web environment, I’ve learnt two things:
    1. You CAN’T learn anything to a competent, employable level…specialise in one field and have a basic understanding of others.
    2. In most cases, someone has your back on the stuff you know nothing / little about.

    BUT…the way I’ve always seen it, the job role of the Web Designer is to design it, and be able to do the front-end development. Knowing HTML / CSS, and how it will be built allows you to design with it in mind; producing stuff that will look good, work well and have longevity.

    Just learn it, after-all I do believe it is the easier of the coding technologies…and it just makes you more useful to the company (less likely to get fired?) and more employable (if you do).

    But I will note…
    I am getting VERY worried about how wide a net a Web Designer is meant to know. I found one just today, a “Web Designer” knowing: HTML /CSS, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, PHP, JavaScript, Flash, MySQL, InDesign, Illustrator

    How the fuck is anyone meant to be good at ALL those? And apart from the first 3, I don’t see any of those as Web Designer traits!

  108. Dani Kelley

    Dani Kelley

    18 February 2010 @ 07:19PM #

    Couldn’t agree with you more.

    I originally majored in print design. For my internship, however, the only position available at the time was with a web design company. I knew a little bit of html and css, but not much, making me a bit reluctant to enter into the internship. The company assured me that they realized they would need to teach me some things along the way. I was lucky enough that my first web design was highly applauded by the client – then I was told to code the site. I took what little knowledge I had and tried my hardest…couldn’t do it. Then passed the site off to the head of development. He couldn’t even get it to work. The file literally went around the entire firm until I had to go back and tweak the design to get it to work.

    It was largely because of this frustration, along with the joy of finally seeing my design coded and live online, that made me passionate about learning how to work on (at least) front-end development. Learning the tools that needed to be used to make my design come to life has helped me immensely even in the design stage.

  109. Vero Pepperrell

    Vero Pepperrell

    18 February 2010 @ 08:13PM #

    I’m neither a web designer or developer, but have to agree with you, Elliot.

    I’ve followed this conversation with much interest as, in parallel to what you’re saying, I’ve been advocating for social media consultants and other digital marketing advisors to understand the internal workings of the technology they use.

    Whether it’s recommending a blog platform that’ll fit the client’s needs, explaining how and why a monitoring dashboard will help them, I view it as essential for the consultant to understand how and why the technologies work. Sure, I can’t create my own WordPress templates and plugins from scratch, but I would never dream of recommending a tool whose inner workings I don’t intimately know. To me, that’d be like advising someone to buy a specific car based on its shiny paint, without looking if it has an engine in it.

    Whatever your industry, it’s important to know what happens under the hood – it’s that simple!

  110. Erwin Heiser

    Erwin Heiser

    18 February 2010 @ 08:35PM #

    Do you NEED to know HTML/CSS/JS to produce beautiful designs?


    Will it make you a better designer if you DO know HTML/CSS/JS?

    YES, obviously.

  111. Tuhin Kumar

    Tuhin Kumar

    18 February 2010 @ 08:37PM #

    I think @Ian G Lang says it in one line.
    If a burger store does not offer you Fries or ask for it, it does not mean that they do not know how to make burgers. But yes, if they ask and give you fries, it is always an added bonus.
    For me the CSS (with the fancy of CSS3, is many time such an important part of the layout and experience that I fear the developer might just not be able to do justice and hence I end up doing it. I am sure there are people who consider otherwise, but I think every point you have raised is valid and justified in my opinion.
    For the records, I am jealous of Shaun Inman for his immaculate skills at both design and development, to the extent that if I am able to be as good as him at just the design aspect, I would be happy.
    There NOW you know my secrets.

  112. Mark


    18 February 2010 @ 08:52PM #

    Let us not forget that design is just as important as coding and that a web designer who cannot design is just as disgusting. I have seen sites from non-designers and I ask myself “what was the point”. Yes, the site is cross-browser compatible, the XHTML and CSS has been validated and the functionality is in place but the clients brand has suffered because the non-designer only cared about coding and totally eliminated any depth to the image the corporation wanted to portray.

  113. Designspace


    18 February 2010 @ 09:07PM #

    I’m a designer with over 9 years experience in the industry. I studied Graphic Design for 3 years, but after college I just knew that I wanted to get into Web Design. The agency that first employed me, made me learn Dreamweaver and I would ‘code’ my own designs using DW. I know that Dreamweaver is like a swear word to some programmers but this gave me valuable experience in understanding usability and what is/isn’t possible to code.

    After 3 years of working at this company, I was then hired by Ogilvy Interactive, Cape Town – where there was a specialist for each field – I still believe that each person involved in a website, should specialise in their own field, instead of trying to be a jack of all trades.

    I work on top international clients and to date, I still pass my designs onto trusted CSS programmers, who code my site’s pixel perfect! I’ll stick to what I know best – Design, and someone else can stick to what they know best – Code.

  114. Designspace


    18 February 2010 @ 09:13PM #

    PS. Agencies that post job’s needing a web developer who designs & codes is just trying to save a buck if you ask me – They’d rather pay 1 person’s salary to do everything, than pay 2 salaries. Most award winning agencies have specialists who work together as a team to create a professional functional website for the client.

  115. Rick Lecoat

    Rick Lecoat

    18 February 2010 @ 09:31PM #

    Without wanting to rehash everything that has been said in the post and comments, I agree that web designers should possess the knowledge of how markup works, whether or not the actually write the markup themselves.

    I can say with certainty that as soon as I learned how to write my own markup my abilities as a web designer improved significantly. The reason was that having that knowledge opened up wider possibilities for me. An understanding of the tools at my disposal allowed me to think about how they might be applied creatively in problem-solving ways, as well as making me aware of their limitations.

    Somebody made the comment that you don’t need to know markup, you just need to know what is possible in markup (yes, I’m paraphrasing). I don’t quite see how you can have the latter without the former. If you understand HTML well enough to know precisely whether something is possible or not then you are probably ready to buckle down and write it yourself if needs be.

    I originally studied design for the printed medium (well, this was the late 80s). In order to practice that craft well I needed to have an understanding of the process by which the designs that I created would be produced — which in that case was printing plates, inks, presses and substrate. Understanding how those elements worked together (trap, overprinting, colour specs, differences in paper stock, etc) affected how I would build my artwork files, even though I wasn’t the one working the printing press.

    The same applies in web design. Instead of ink, printing presses and substrate we have CSS, HTML and browsers. But the principle remains: having an understanding of the medium you are designing for makes you a better designer.

    One further reason for having these skills: if you are part of a small team (or are a one man band) then you might find yourself responsible for checking the quality of outsourced tasks. If you pas your design on to somebody else to have the markup written but have no understanding of markup yourself, then how will you know if they’ve done a good job? One of the reasons that I am teaching myself javascript (aside being able to design from a stronger, more informed position, as outlined earlier) is so that when I need to outsource javascripting I will be in a position to judge the quality of what comes back.

    Oh, and lastly: yes, there definitely is a difference between coding and markup. For me the difference is simple: as soon as you’re using conditional statements, it’s coding. (And no, IE Conditional Comments don’t count).

  116. Lavelle Hurley

    Lavelle Hurley

    18 February 2010 @ 09:37PM #

    Firstly this is a good article. When you tell people that you are a Web Designer, people always seem to interpret that in one of two ways. Firstly, some people regard a Web Designer as someone who simply designs the way a website should look. Much in the same way that a car designer would, and not be involved in the actual build. The usual alternate view is that you are regarded as someone who does the entire thing i.e. the design, through to developing/building both the front and back ends of the web site.
    On a personal level, being able to both design and to code in HTML and CSS, provides endless benefits. For starters, it gives you more control of your designs. As you are not faced with the prospect of someone misinterpretting your design, especially in terms of missing/passing over subtle design intricacies that you may have spent hours designing. Being able to do both gives you a better insight into the varying degrees of time needed when implermenting certain types of designs. So for example if you just wanted to build a quick microsite, you would instinctively know how to design a website that won’t cause too many complications during the implementation phase – thereby speeding up the time taken to finish the site. There are also other benefits to doing both, one in particular is in the area of accessibility – you have a far better understanding of the importance of accessibilty and the various techniques used to improve it (practical experience, rather than just theory). Getting your hands dirty in HTML and CSS, extends your knowledge and opens up new possibilities, so no longer are you wondering what lies over the back of the garden fence.
    Back to the title of ‘Web Designer’. Because of the widespread confusion to the what the job Web Designer entails – I often just say to friends or anyone else I meet, that what I do for a living is: “I design and build websites” – which is what I do in a nutshell.

  117. chad


    18 February 2010 @ 10:00PM #

    I have always designed and coded my own sites. Professionally I do it out of necessity. I work at a University and I am responsable for the entire project from beginning to end. It’s a pretty daunting task. Currently working on redesigning the whole site… by my self. It’s like 173,000 pages. I’m glad I at least have a CMS, oh and by the way I responsible with parts of hooking everything into the backend. Talk about a slow process and being under paid on large scale projects.

  118. Felipe Rocha

    Felipe Rocha

    18 February 2010 @ 11:44PM #

    I gotta say I agree with you completely.
    Sure, architects don’t really need to know how to build a building. But the way I see it, Web design is more like being a Chef than an Architect-
    It’s impossible to be a chef without knowing how to cook. Same way, it’s impossible to be a good Web designer without being a good coder.

  119. Dave


    19 February 2010 @ 12:17AM #

    I suggest a different analogy:

    Architects don’t need to know how to create a blueprint. (Obviously this is false)

    Without knowledge and frequent practice with HTML and CSS, a web designer is going to consistently create a framework that coders will have to work around. The coders will have to work around the design, instead of within it (like a builder adding an extra wall to hide a conduit), and probably the end users will have to learn at least one counter-intuitive process as a result as well (like having to go down one level in order to find stairs that go up two levels).

  120. Jason Gross

    Jason Gross

    19 February 2010 @ 01:41AM #

    As a designer I feel like it would be hard to fully do my job without the ability to build my sites out in HTML and CSS. In addition I think it is important to at the bare minimum have an understanding of Javascript, AJAX, PHP, and maybe mySQL.

    I have benefited a lot from being able to code PHP with databases because I am comfortable building out sites with these elements in mind if future application is in the plans.

  121. Nick Toye

    Nick Toye

    19 February 2010 @ 01:47AM #

    Isn’t it a cool title to have? Web Designer? Does that not also show a willingness to want to learn how to code? I don’t think there are many designers I have met who claim to be something they are not, many want to be a web designer, and tell me what’s the best resources to learn.

    Those who call themselves Web Designers but can’t code are people who use buzzwords to sell themselves, instead of demonstrating an aptitude and a passion for the industry. They are just kidding themselves and are not going to land that top contract, or top job.

    A good topic, but not one that really needs too much of an afterthought.

  122. Tyce


    19 February 2010 @ 01:55AM #

    Look, I’m definitely not sure that a simple Tweet “swept across the whole web design community” at all.. yes it started some discussion, but that’s been going on for quite some time – I have a similar argument with my other half who’s a designer, me being the developer.

    However, I think the point that knowing some basic developing skills can help when designing sites, as it tends to leave less confusion when coding up a design. I don’t see what the big deal is..

  123. McBonio


    19 February 2010 @ 01:57AM #

    A “web designer” that can’t code isn’t a web designer, they are a graphic designer.

    Anyone can draw something nice in photoshop, but actually coding the thing for web is the basic function of this job title.

  124. JD Hobbs

    JD Hobbs

    19 February 2010 @ 01:59AM #

    @DesignSpace – I feel like your 2nd comment of yours was directed at me a little. It’s nice to know that there’s some companies out there that understand that casting the net wide isn’t the way to find quality employees.

    I graduated from Leeds University in June 2009…BA in New Media. Like a lot of modern courses, they teach you a little of everything. The problem with this approach was that with 3 modules to juggle per semester, even the best time management couldn’t allow you to properly explore an avenue; all because you had to allocate time to something else in order to pass.

    I’m now out in the real world, I’ve dabbled in Web Design, Front-End Development, Web Development (PHP), Interface Design (DVD & Web Apps), Graphic Design, Editorial Design and Flash (AS3). My problem now is, although I left uni with a 2:1, I’m now the personification of the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none”. I’m ashamed to say it…I’m unemployed.

    What’s even worse is that I feel my strength is in Web Design and Front-End Development, and it is the avenue I want to take; yet every freelance client I’ve picked up has required a full-build. It means my only that my passion for the web fizzles out once I break out of the design and front-end development phase.

  125. Andrew Wilson

    Andrew Wilson

    19 February 2010 @ 02:33AM #

    In principle, I agree with this. It’s close to impossible to succeed on any level in this industry as a designer without some comprehension of the foundation we build our design on, which is deeply tied to knowing what will and won’t work.

    That said, many of us are limited in either the left or right hemisphere, which is why we choose to become primarily a creative or number-cruncher in the first place. While my math and subsequently, my coding skills lack, I have a solid enough understanding of what goes on behind-the-scenes to appreciate the limitations of our craft — and in many cases, by keeping on top of the latest tech — push them as well.

    Finally, I think it’s important that while this understanding is critical to our roles, to not get too bunched up about knowing everything. I’ve made it a point to focus most of my energy on being the best creative I can possibly be and this has fortunately fueled my 10+ year career with success. Designers are plentiful. Good designers are not. Diluting your skills by trying to wear too many hats will only keep you from being your best. Know enough, but focus on one thing and do it very, very well.

  126. Rick Hurst

    Rick Hurst

    19 February 2010 @ 03:21AM #

    I just want to log into facebook! give me the old facebook back!

    Seriously though, it’s been an interesting discussion – I think my past agency background has made me used to dealing with a seperate design/ build resource, and now as a freelancer i’m happy to use a non-coding designer to bring something special to the table without getting bogged down in the coding detail – “don’t be like me!”, I tell them “keep your head full of beautiful design stuff, and let me worry about the geeky bit of translating that into a working site” :)

  127. Nick Toye

    Nick Toye

    19 February 2010 @ 03:50AM #

    @Rick Hurst – but doesn’t it make sense that those who design for a medium have some knowledge on how that medium works? I’m not talking about how you create an accordion menu or some other wizardry – but what is possible in the medium?

    I know we can use all kinds of cool stuff now to achieve quite an awful lot of design that we were once restricted – but we are still restricted due to that other browser family, so I think we do need to have some kind of level of exposure to what a coder does when designing for that medium.

  128. Thane London

    Thane London

    19 February 2010 @ 03:52AM #

    I agree with you completely on HTML/CSS.

    You can’t be a webdesigner without knowing those things…

    I can’t tell you how many times if seen a mock up from someone that’s just completely impractical from a web standpoint because they have no fundamental knowledge of HTML/CSS.


    I would be more interested to know your opinions on if we should know JS or not… muahahaha

  129. Alejandra


    19 February 2010 @ 03:57AM #

    I couldnt agree more, here in Mexico is a big problem about it. Im a graphic designer who specialize in web design, and sadly i must admint that most of the new graphic designer dont know the basic of coding. And that is a huge problem at the moment you are going to publish a web page, because they do i great graphic work but dont consider the coding for some of the stuff and the design at the doesnt work well.

    At least graphic designer must know the basic in this area

  130. Jessica


    19 February 2010 @ 04:04AM #

    Great post, I had very basic html knowledge when I started my career, and outsourced all coding and now after a year of self-teaching, I can very comfortably code a complicated website with all sorts of fancy css and java features.

  131. Jordesign » Designers that Code

    Jordesign » Designers that Code

    19 February 2010 @ 04:05AM #

    […] then people with much greater expertise and talent than myself (Richard, Mark,  Mike, and Elliot himself) have weighed in on the topic. I highly recommend you go and check out what they have to […]

  132. Holger


    19 February 2010 @ 04:08AM #

    Designers do design. Coders do code. Easy as that.

    Sure, I can code easy simple sites, some javascript or php. Sure, I can manage a databank, sure, I use action-script for flash or can implant some complexe Axax-stuff into the site and may adapt them. Indeed a coder can do easy, simple design for his projects.

    But when it comes to complexe sites, to special schichi (like we call it in germany, you call it, if i remember right, blinkyblink :) ) than I do, what i can do best – and that is design – and a coder do its proffession, and that is coding.

    All other is just timeconsuming and not very proffessional.

  133. Van


    19 February 2010 @ 04:13AM #

    Whooooa. Saying your a web designer means you understand the possibilities of the web, it means you know more than PHOTOSHOP > COLOR SETTINGS=RGB.
    I get by at CSS, JQUERY and Actionscript. And do my best to bust my ass to learn more. If you don’t, STOP, you’re a graphic designer.Maybe some of your graphics go on a website, but you aren’t a web designer.

  134. JD


    19 February 2010 @ 04:14AM #

    Thanks for the read. I was wondering about this yesterday. I do have HTML/CSS/some PHP knowledge as well. It has helped me understand and communicate better with developers/flash developers to get the job done right. I can understand where they’re coming from, and they can understand what I need.

    The people I’ve met who have no intention of learning or those that design the most obscure web designs that give developers nightmares give me a headache. I normally have to clean up after them, which is a painful process. Then I get told off if I’ve made a 6px link bigger, which made me think ‘but surely… they’re my senior and I must be wrong’. Only to see my developers and UE experts cringe at an 6px font size.

    If I were to design a site with the font sizes on eliotjaystocks.com I’d get shot and laughed at by the designers that don’t code at my work place. They say they can code, but that would be the standard tag for a ‘link’ or a ‘p tag’. They wouldn’t have a clue starting from complete scratch about the problems that happen in browsers, what a div tag is, how to properly use CSS. It would be hacked, it would be copied from all over the net, it wouldn’t work in all browsers.

    I’m starting to wonder what is wrong with this scenario or if I should just focus all my efforts on designing something, regardless of usability, accessibility or user experience.

    Confused In London

  135. Derryl Carter

    Derryl Carter

    19 February 2010 @ 04:28AM #

    I totally agree. It’s downright irresponsible (and a tad sanctimonious) to design things in Photoshop and expect someone else to do all the coding. One should be aware of how the various elements within their design will exist once they’re in HTML/CSS… because that’s how the site will actually remain after it’s launched!

    The art director comment is especially fitting – a good art director may not know how to produce the nitty-gritty details of their concept, but they are essentially handicapped if they can’t at least visualize the framework of their idea as it exists in reality (in this case, in code, as opposed to Photoshop).

  136. Paul Russo

    Paul Russo

    19 February 2010 @ 04:28AM #

    I still have not made it through the whole discussion, but I completely agree with Elliot on this.

    I think it is essential to being a good web designer to understand how the web actually works. So many of the choices we make as designers are set by our limitations. Also things like grid systems and frameworks may alter your design choices. There is obviously a difference between choosing not to code and not knowing how to code. I have been doing front-end coding for the last 4-5 years and it has made me a better web designer for it.

    I love being able to take something I have designer and move it into code having complete control of the end result. If you want to become a better web designer then you need to become better and front-end development.

  137. Position Absolute « Trent Walton

    Position Absolute « Trent Walton

    19 February 2010 @ 04:32AM #

    […] Honestly, I’m shocked that in 2010 I’m still coming across ‘web designers’ who can’t code their own designs. No excuse.∞ read full article […]

  138. TWV


    19 February 2010 @ 04:40AM #

    Wow! A whole load of willy waving going on over here.

    “Look at me, I’m so fucking great I can design and code a website”

    Seriously? Developers will read this and just think you are pretentious wankers. I guess some of you are with your fixed wheel bikes, your skinny jeans and faux black framed glasses but don’t get me started on all that…

    What I think would be more interesting to know is of those of you that claim you can design and code is:

    1. The level you can code to. Using Dreamweaver and the like doesn’t count thats like saying I’m an author because I can use Word. Cross browser? Standards compliant mean anything to any of you? Show me something cool that you have coded and it still works on IE6. No? Didn’t think so.

    2. Who you work for. a) Yourself / freelance b) A small – medium sized independent agency c) a large well known agency
    If a or b then you probably have learnt on a need to know basis or out of choice. If c do you actually code day to day? I doubt it.

    Lets not forget people the term “Web designer” is one of the most bullshit terms out there. Every other kid with a laptop, an internet connection and a hacked copy of Creative Suite claims to be a “web designer”. Not so cool now huh?

    I have worked in the design industry for over 10 years and in that time I have had the privilege to work alongside and closely with some of the most respected designers out there. Not once have I ever heard any of them say “I wish i knew html or i’d be a much better designer if i could use dreamweaver or see that guy, terrible designer because he doesn’t know html”. Do you know why? It is because they collaborate. Ever heard that word? The best usually choose to work with the best. They focus on what they know and bring other specialists in to aid the project. They realise it isn’t just about them, it is about what the client whats, what fits the brief best, what solves the problem etc. Sure if you work for yourself or a smaller company then it isn’t always possible to collaborate, due to budget restrictions or whatever but please don’t kid yourself in to pretending you are better than the next guy because you bought a couple of O’Reilly books off Amazon and have built a couple of one page sites for your second cousins sisters boyfriends mobile disco company.

    Also, even if you do understand browser capabilities, standards compliance, use of screen readers, divs v tables and so on it doesn’t mean what you have just designed is a great design. It just means it works for the widest available audience. Sure you can bring some extra input to the table and all that jazz I’m not disagreeing with that so great, well done you, but aren’t we forgetting something? That sometimes the best designs are great because they just work. Forget all the PC sensibilities. Something simple and beautiful is all it needs to be. Nothing more nothing less.

    You are going to be telling me next that web designers understand branding… or is that next week?

    Some food for thought…
    Some of the best designed sites I have seen only work on the latest browsers. Is that good or bad design?
    Some of the most accessible sites I have seen totally lack any creativity or sense of design. Is that good or bad design?
    some of the most popular sites out there lack design in any interpretation and are not widely accessible. Is that good or bad design?

    Just my 2 cents worth.

    Elliot – well done for starting such an interesting discussion. Certainly got me fired up.

  139. Chuck Armstrong

    Chuck Armstrong

    19 February 2010 @ 04:46AM #

    Yes and no. I swear that I gave this exact same rant to my class of web design students on Wednesday. I think that I fall into the same coding skill set: HTML, CSS, and enough PHP to get by in WordPress, with a little ActionScripting thrown in on the side (and I emphasize a “LITTLE” ActionScripting…)

    I cut my teeth in print, way back before the 1984 Mac commercial. Then, I was amazed at designers who didn’t know how to set their work up to be printed. It seems to be the same thing that you’re saying today. So yes, I agree in as much as I believe that it is critical for a designer to understand the medium in which they are designing. When I designed printed pieces, I needed to know what was possible on press, and what wasn’t, and would create the art accordingly. To me, the ‘illusion of anything’ is possible, and it was my job to design the job to create that illusion. In a sense, I had to know enough printing ‘code’ to allow the press operators to achieve the effect I desired.

    I think it’s the same on the web, and my no stems from my belief that design is still design, be it web, print, film, or skywriting. In some of the responses, I sense a differentiation between web design and graphic design. In fact one responder even said something to the effect that web designer who can’t code are just graphic designers. To me, that smacks of elitism, and someone who doesn’t fully appreciate the greater picture of design, and who would be susceptible to creating the same sins if they were to attempt to work in other mediums.

    I don’t know … Architects don’t build, but good ones certainly understand building concepts enough to design so that others can. I can’t run a press, but I can design so that the press operators can. Similarly I would like to think that I understand basic principals of code that make a web site work. That doesn’t make me a web designer, It makes me a designer, period.

  140. Elio


    19 February 2010 @ 04:52AM #

    There are two labels involved: web designer and web developer. Now, if we translate this to the print media, a web designer would be the graphic designer guys and a web developer would be the printing guys. You would never, ever, say that a graphic designer doesn’t have to know some basic aspects about printing right? even if he never gets his hands stained with ink, he must know that images for printing must be delivered at least at 300dpi, that he can perform some ink trapping on the design, define color plates separation, be aware of bleeding, cropping, etc.
    Now, even if a web designer chooses not to code (he’s a free guy, he can choose not to), he must know that images must be delivered at 72dpi, that there are some issues with png32 transparency on IE6 (if the design he is working in has a large audience still using it), that most coders are not designers and they won’t be able to define a proper colour for a rollover, that a simple coder might understand the margins on your design, etc.
    We all know stories about cool designs ripped apart by coders, so it’s better to know how to properly give them direction and better yet, code the designs ourselves. That way we are one step closer to making our designs look as good on web as they do on the design stage :)

  141. Cem Meric

    Cem Meric

    19 February 2010 @ 04:52AM #

    you can’t code or at least understand the basic principles of coding then your designs will not be web friendly.[/quote]

    We get lot of designs which we have to do it again before converting to html. Graphic designers turned in to web don’t usually get the ramifications of what they do. Sending 300 dpi artwork done in Adobe InDesign is just not cool.

  142. MauiDeveloper


    19 February 2010 @ 04:56AM #

    Great post , just want to say I agree 100% this reminds me of the arguments “back in the day” circa 2002-2003 coders vs designers when honestly designers were anybody with dreamweaver/photoshop and coders were, well coders, not to mention creatives, the argument was who will have a job hen the party is over?
    Programmers argued they could design a site well enough but could build it too..
    designers argued that , well without them you have ugly sites that aren’t user friendly.. the answer of course was programmers who can design well, that’s who.. fast forward to 2010.. I’m still working, at the time I couldn’t write a piece of code myself … the “argument” then made me decide to learn to program for the web.. if anybody needs a designer who never learned even CSS or HTML / Java Script ..I know of a few hundred :)

  143. Ronje


    19 February 2010 @ 05:03AM #

    Good Post!

    I was in Graphic Design school in 1994 when someone dragged me over to their computer to see some THING called the “WWW”. I didn’t “get it” for about a week, because back then, there just wasn’t much out there on the web for general public consumption. But then I GOT IT! I realized WHAT the web was, and I started getting hooked.

    Then I got my very own Mac, a few weeks before Christmas break, and decided I NEEDED to learn this HTML stuff, because the possibilities seemed endless, and thus, liberating. There were no books, no classes, not much in terms of online resources, but I felt HAD to learn it. Besides, I was in school in Michigan, and I hated the tiny town in which I then found myself. The web was something of a way out.

    SO, I STUDIED MARKUP. I loved discovering, learning, and creating, and even set up my Mac on the campus network, in my dorm room, as a server for my personal site. I got visits from ALL OVER THE WORLD! I dunno how they found me, but they did. I was thrilled!

    The whole thing felt great, because I KNEW HOW TO WRITE MARKUP, and I was a graphic design major, so I could “do design” as well. NONE of my friends could do it.

    I now know HTML, PHP, MYSQL, some Perl, and I have a Graphic Design degree that helps move me forward. I’ve made a career out of Web Development.

    HTML is your friend.

  144. Breann


    19 February 2010 @ 05:07AM #

    Honestly, I’m new to the field (pretty much started learning web design a few months ago after years of using photoshop for other things) and I’m surprised that this debate is even occurring.

    Sure, I realize I don’t know everything, but I thought it would be expected of me to know ATLEAST HTML and CSS. I’m not even talking about being expected to know how to do it in the working world either. One of my motivations was that I thought if I decided to go to college for design I would be behind not knowing it.

  145. David Calhoun

    David Calhoun

    19 February 2010 @ 05:18AM #

    Great article. I completely agree that web designers should have at least a general knowledge of front end coding to be able to communicate with their developers. It will also help them understand what it will take to bring their designs to life.

  146. Shaun Swegman Sr

    Shaun Swegman Sr

    19 February 2010 @ 05:21AM #

    Knowing how to code basic HTML and CSS is invaluable to a designer. Anyone with a good eye for layout and graphics can be a good designer with out knowing how to code, but will have many more options available to them if they take the time to understand it.

  147. Scott


    19 February 2010 @ 05:34AM #

    I love the excuse (and it IS an excuse) that an architect doesn’t have to know how to build buildings.

    Would you build the pyramids upside-down because you thought it looked cool?

    Was that Frank Lloyd Wright’s attitude? Even a building has a function, and if you don’t understand that function, you won’t be much of an architect.

    I walked out of an interview at “The House of Mouse” because the Creative Director looked at me like I was from the moon when I said the a good Web Designer should know how to code. “Is that important?” they asked.

    Bottom line: if you call yourself a Web Designer, and can’t code, I won’t hire you.

  148. Daniel


    19 February 2010 @ 05:34AM #

    I think it’s about finding your niche. If you’re great at design, do design all the time. If you’re great a coding, do coding all the time. The web is a big enough place to find complimentary services.

    Find out what you do best, and be the best at it.

  149. Anna


    19 February 2010 @ 05:35AM #

    I’d say that you’re right as long as you keep in mind that you are talking about WEB designers and not graphic-designers-who-are-occasionally-forced-to-design-a-website. (The debate seems to slide a bit to include designers at large).
    Most of us don’t have the time (and often neither the inclination) to learn HTML and CSS. However, we generally can’t avoid web design entirely. For example when you design a logo and a visual identity, you might have to do the website as well.
    As long as you discuss the project at length with the developer, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be a success.

  150. George Palmer

    George Palmer

    19 February 2010 @ 05:58AM #

    I completely agree with Elliot that web designers should have a thorough HTML / CSS.

    I don’t think web developers should be let of too easily. I would expect all web developers to have knowledge of HTML / CSS. I would even go as far as to say web developers should have a basic working knowledge of common design tools e.g. Photoshop, Illustrator

    As the old adage goes “time is money”, if a web developer has to contact a designer to make every small change, it potentially ends up costing him/her a lot of money. The same goes for web designers sending their design files to be coded.

    I think one thing that is lacking in the web industry is a clear definitions of what designer, developer, marketers, etc. do. I often here the phrase web developer used to describe someone who can use HTML mark-up, but not necessarily design or program. In my opinion a web developer is responsible for server side programming, and in some cases, client side mark-up (JavaScript is a grey area, but I think it also belongs to the realm of a web developer). Another common misconception (generally made by outside industries) is that a web designer makes websites, rather than just designing them. I suppose to some extent this can be considered true, a web designer can make a website, but then again can the web designer provide content or SEO? In most cases no.

    Sorry about the length, I suppose I got a bit carried away. This is obviously just my option, you may disagree.

    Best Regards, George

  151. Hannah


    19 February 2010 @ 06:47AM #

    At the risk of repeating what many have already said, I have to agree. Admittedly the 140 character tweet didn’t allow much qualification of the original remark, so it’s great to see that it’s been backed up by a fairly substantial blog post!

    I didn’t become a web designer through a typical avenue, and picked up most of what I do everyday now as I went along. I’m still finding out more about myself and what it is that I really want to focus on every single day, but being able to code the sites that I design in HTML & CSS with limited PHP and javascript knowledge helps in every design I do.

    Love it or hate it (and I don’t always love it) I think at least a knowledge of how front-end code works, even if you can’t use it very well and choose not to use it, is vital.

  152. Alexandre Ferrer

    Alexandre Ferrer

    19 February 2010 @ 07:21AM #

    I think a design need to know CSS and HTML to improve their design, but need not be an expert. I could see that in the design of my site. I have a friend who does all the programming and tells me about the codes that give me much more freedom to run a job.

  153. MBStuart


    19 February 2010 @ 07:51AM #

    I’m a big fan of learning the code first before moving on to the WYSIWYG layout editors. However, I fell in love with the control delivered through code so much I never moved on. BBedit 4 life!

    How about changing the analogy up a bit. I’m tired of hearing about that damn architect.

  154. Elliott Munoz

    Elliott Munoz

    19 February 2010 @ 08:12AM #

    Sure they should know how to do front end development.

    And they should be masters of IA and UX.

    And they should know all about accessibility and SEO.

    And they should know about API’s: Google, Twitter, Flickr…

    And they should know jQuery and Moo Tools.

    And they should know the basics of writing an iPhone app.

    And they should know Actionscript 3.0 for Flash and Flex.

    And they should know how to partition a server.

    And they should be outstanding communicators for when I send them out to meet a client.

    And they should blog and tweet regularly.

    The truth is many designers claim many of the things on this list, but hardly any could create a design that makes your jaw drop. They’re jacks of all trades and masters of none.

    If I’m looking for a web designer, I look for a web designer. Quality. Originality. Longevity. This is what I look for. If their designs jump off the page, if I find myself dissecting their work and zooming in to 1600% to appreciate the details, then I could care less if they knew what a hash mark was.

  155. Robert


    19 February 2010 @ 08:35AM #

    And architects should know how to build/construct, wire, plumb, survey etc…. They can’t and really shouldn’t. If on the other hand they where a Handyman (freelancer), then they should be able to do a little bit of all these things, but not a master of any.

  156. tohno-kun


    19 February 2010 @ 08:36AM #

    I would like to give a little more on the one quote:

    This as an excuse doesn’t fly. The architect doesn’t need to know how to build it expressly but they need to be aware of the manufacturing limitations, cost and time investments for their designs, not just the overall aesthetics. What good is the design without limits and specification? It woul just be a personal piece of art then, wouldn’t it?

    The same should apply to the designer; they should understand the limitations of the web as a medium for their design and adjust for it, and that would involve knowing some HTML and CSS basics, and realising what is possible and what is impossible/impracticle/immoral-to-give-to-developer.

    It’s not too late though. We should always be learning and improving, and just getting some more HTML/CSS knowledge as you said, should be an easy addition to your work load.

    I am very glad you sparked off such a topic really, and got me thinking about it.

  157. Melissa


    19 February 2010 @ 08:42AM #

    i think if you’re going to call yourself a ‘web’ designer, then some knowledge of code is required. otherwise, you’re just a ‘designer’…

    knowing the limitations of code is extremely helpful when designing. There’s nothing more frustrating to me (a WEB designer) than to get a site designed by someone else who obviously didn’t know what could/couldn’t be done online. very irritating.

    pretty much everything else i thought has been said by others in the comments above.

    a great debate! :)

  158. Kevin


    19 February 2010 @ 09:51AM #

    Wow. Articles like this, that yield so many great responses, are some of the most informative and inspiring words on the web. There is so much crap out there on places like digg, that are so uninspiring. This was a pleasure to read.

  159. boratlibre


    19 February 2010 @ 10:01AM #

    Designer: I set the photoshop files at 80 dpi so you get a better resolution in Flash.
    Me: ohhhh. That’s why my Flash file looks slightly bigger. I’ll re-import everything from you 80 dpi photoshop file and recreate all the movieclips. Won’t take long. 2 days is enough.

  160. Jason


    19 February 2010 @ 11:55AM #

    Hi all. i truly value everyone’s comments. The way I see it or my path has taken me has shown me this. I started as a print designer/art director, and about 5 years ago I started designing for the web, I designed one site and a few basic emails. Than took an HTML, Dreamweaver and Flash courses, soon after this I started working at a large ad firm in NYC, all of our developers did not want Dreamweaver files for any HTML sites and preferred a hand off .PSDs. (actually they took off dreamweaver and flash from all art directors CPU’s) To this day that has been the response from every developer I’ve worked with. With that said I do agree that a web designer needs to know all the restrictions/guidelines to build a proper organized photoshop file with all states and pages. Lastly I have found it crucial to collaborate with the developer on the project from the beginning and throughout the process. I compare this to the print side of working with the production coordinators and printers to achieve the best results. Lastly with the speed code/trends/software are changing I feel it is best for people to specialize in development or design. Obviously this is not for everyone but has been very successful for me in building great sites for global brands.

  161. Thomas R. Koll

    Thomas R. Koll

    19 February 2010 @ 12:29PM #

    I’ve become much a fan of the “code in browser” idea. I’m a developer for over a decade now, my designs still suck but the webdesign feels a lot better if it’s done in a browser.

  162. David Coe

    David Coe

    19 February 2010 @ 01:07PM #

    Personally I think that web designs that can’t code are doing themselves out of more work and more money.

    However, I envy how non-coders can sometimes put together more ambitious designs because they’re not limited by their technical knowledge.

    I’ve got more thoughts and feels how this can swing both ways. But I’m probably already comment 213 and no one will read it.

  163. Joe Bloggs

    Joe Bloggs

    19 February 2010 @ 01:52PM #

    As a Print designer moving back into web design quite a bit, and NOT knowing much about HTML and CSS anymore. I thought I’d give this argument a chance. I feel there are flaws in your argument:

    1) HTML and CSS is easy IN THEORY. I used to code my own websites waaaaay back (+- 7 years ago back when things were simple and compatibility meant "Does it work in both IE 3 (or whatever) and Netscape Navigator? Compatibility makes HTML and CSS hard IMHO. The landscape is also everchanging and unless you ONLY do webdesign it IS hard at times to stay on top of all the developments.

    2) “Because it’s easier to work design around code than it is to work code around design.” is the most lazy assed, self-righteous developer excuse ever and not acceptable IMO. I can foresee absolutely no reason any design done in either Illustrator or Photoshop can not be coded in HTML & CSS, and maybe a bit of flash in the extreme, unless I am seriously mistaken. If my Creative Director comes to me with an advert and i tell him that he should tailor his idea around what is easy for me to achieve with my software I would be in serious shit and I feel the same logic applies in this instance.

    Anyways, by my own admission I AM a web-amateur, and I could be completely out in the yard of the looney-bin on this, but I thought I’d share my throughts as an ex-webdesigner trying to get back into the game.

  164. Matt Daly

    Matt Daly

    19 February 2010 @ 02:39PM #

    Excellent post

    Ive been a designer for 3 years and wouldn’t have had half the work if I didn’t know how to code. Some clients assume / expect you to know how to provide them with a finished website.

    When asked what I do, I say I’m a web designer. But in truth I’m a web designer, who can code and even set it up on wordpress if need be. The more you know, the better service you can provide.

  165. Richard Metzler

    Richard Metzler

    19 February 2010 @ 02:56PM #

    I’m a developer who usually does Java, SQL, hardcore programming stuff that runs on the server and usually needs no designed interface.
    But I’m doing more and more stuff on the web and I needed the assistence of some designers, because I felt that I wasn’t able to accomplish an compelling design. But I found that designers tend to code their html and css more complex than it has to be. For example one designer made his css selectors very very long – something that you usually don’t need to do.
    Now I read books about webdesign and try to implement this stuff by myself in order to learn about it. I still have problems when I need to create logos and slice designs accordingly because this is something I can’t do in code. Everything else I do on paper and in code without have using photoshop or something like that, which is too timeconsuming for me to use.

  166. Ken Reynolds

    Ken Reynolds

    19 February 2010 @ 02:58PM #

    I’m actually quite surprised to learn that there are ‘web designers’ out there that promote themselves under this title without basic coding knowledge.

    I’m predominately a print designer, but I have designed a few sites on the request of long standing customers that were fully aware that I lacked the coding knowledge. It was understood from the beginning that I would design it, then work with a trusted colleague who would code it for me. I would never promote myself as a web designer working on this basis.

    Even in my situation there are so many advantage to knowing a little about basic code. If you understand the medium you are working in you can design to it’s limitations. Sometimes you can figure out how to work around the rules if you know them well enough as well.

    This is one area of design where the old rule of ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ doesn’t apply. Basic coding knowledge is an essential skill to have if you are trying to sell yourself as a ‘web designer’. Even if you decide not to code, you should have some idea of what is being done to bring your design to life.

  167. Devon Blandin

    Devon Blandin

    19 February 2010 @ 04:22PM #

    Great post! I think that the best web designers know how to code and the best developers understand fundamentals of design. I am currently aligning my studies and career with that in mind. I am extremely lucky to have found such an amazing academic program within DePaul University’s College of Computing and Digital Media that accentuates this fusion of design and programming. The program is called Interactive Media.

    Thanks for the reassuring post!

    Devon Blandin

  168. Alex Hardy

    Alex Hardy

    19 February 2010 @ 04:30PM #

    Definitions of a web designer aside, I can think of no better reason why a web designer should know HTML/CSS than simple practicality and self-interest.

    In an agency, you might do a design and then pass it on to a developer. How nice. A freelancer web designer however often works with small clients and is expected to be planner / designer / copy-checker / developer / maintainer.

    I’m not freelance right now, but I have been. When I was, I wouldn’t want to lose work to other designers because I couldn’t execute my own designs. I didn’t want to pay someone else to do work I could do myself.

    … and then there’s the obvious: People who understand a medium design better.

  169. James


    19 February 2010 @ 04:37PM #

    Hmm, I’m not a fan of black and white rules. The point really is that web design is a profession in itself, not something that print designers can also just do. How best to teach that profession is another question. Knowing how to code HTML is not, in my opinion, the answer… Not that it would hurt.

  170. Adrian Westlake

    Adrian Westlake

    19 February 2010 @ 05:04PM #

    I am a front-end developer, coming from a development background. I specialise in HTML/CSS/JavaScript, but can also do some back-end work, and also have a reasonable knowledge of design concepts and user interface design. I work with designers who have a little HTML/CSS knowledge but they wouldn’t be able to code up a whole site to a great standard. Specialisation is not a problem as long as you retain a general knowledge in other areas, and have a good working relationship with other specialists to get your job done.

  171. Desmitificando HTML y CSS — TecnoBlog360º

    Desmitificando HTML y CSS — TecnoBlog360º

    19 February 2010 @ 05:10PM #

    […] presencié en Twitter una discusión entre varios diseñadores/desarrolladores web acerca de si era necesario saber HTML y CSS para ser diseñador web. Unos decía que no era necesario ya que al diseñador le corresponde hacer un modelo de la página […]

  172. Pablo Rodriguez Laurta

    Pablo Rodriguez Laurta

    19 February 2010 @ 05:31PM #

    Aza Raskin can design, code, and do Nuclear Physics Research and some of you can´t design and understand HTML/CSS.

    One thing is specialization, lazyness is a completely different concept.

    A designer may very well not code, but he/she need to understand the logic of the code in order for the project to be successful. This, in the same way as an architect has to understand constructive systems. Otherwise the designer might design “buildings” that are impossible to build or incredibly difficult, and the whole project will have to deal with the burden of an uninsightful footprint.

  173. flashopen


    19 February 2010 @ 05:54PM #

    There are Designers* and Web Designers. I’m not any of those, but I run a company where it is clear the difference (regarding education/experience/talent/knowledge) between each one. And yes, the web-designer must know something about ‘web’ & ‘design’. Looking at Adobe products, a web-designer should be familiar with Photoshop & Dreamweaver at least. Meaning, image optimization, html, css and javascript. “Each one in their own square”.

  174. Dimmmy


    19 February 2010 @ 06:07PM #

    I think when a designer knows to much about the code that his creativity wil be blocked by thoughts about “is this even possible to code”.
    In our company I do not want the designer to know how to code for that reason.

    We have 3 stages developing a site.

    1 – design a nice template and describe the functions in a prototype / mindmap and create a data-scheet witch explanes what the sizes are and what menu levels look like.
    2 – make the design into a xhtml template (this is done by someone else)
    3 – create the code for interactive parts like forms and slideshows etc. etc. (this is done by yet another person.)

    this way we all do what we like to do and we make great websites in record time


  175. Paul Winslow

    Paul Winslow

    19 February 2010 @ 06:07PM #


    “Some of the best designed sites I have seen only work on the latest browsers. Is that good or bad design?”

    Well that depends completely on the target audience, as do the other points at the end of your post.

  176. Daniel Lanigan

    Daniel Lanigan

    19 February 2010 @ 06:16PM #

    Great article and debate (though, I’m not going to lie, I didn’t read all of the comments yet :P)

    I read blog post the other day (though I cannot recall where at present) asking the question “What do you tell people you do?” I’ve been thinking about this recently, trying to figure out what I would tell someone else in the industry (To friends/family/anyone over the age of 40… I say “I program Robots!”, which is only partially true). I’m currently the web development department for a robotics company. So, I really do everything: HTML, CSS, Javascript, PHP, shell scripts, database design, you name it, I do it. Now, I’m not going to tell you that I’m the best Designer that’s ever lived (Eliot here, for instance, does much better design work than I), but I can do it when necessary.

    So, I suppose that I am arguing that yes, all designers should be able to throw some HTML and CSS around, but that’s really all I’m asking. I’d prefer to do the Javascript myself (were I having a site designed by someone else).

    Either way, it’s something to definitely think about. If there is something that you can do to better yourself, to make yourself more attractive to future jobs/clients, there is no reason NOT to do so. That’s why I’m here now. I read many blogs about web design because it’s my weakest point currently.

  177. Joe Stevens

    Joe Stevens

    19 February 2010 @ 07:56PM #

    Its simple to me.

    If you are designing websites in Photoshop and do not know how to code them yourself then your project is not going to come out as well as it could. If you have a great understanding of front end coding including visual javascript effects you are going to design a better product.

  178. Ales


    19 February 2010 @ 08:05PM #

    I’ll just say this:

    A person with artistic touch can learn to code while a programmer with two left hands can’t learn to design.


  179. Matt Berridge

    Matt Berridge

    19 February 2010 @ 08:37PM #

    @Elio – funny you should say this : “that most coders are not designers and they won’t be able to define a proper colour for a rollover”

    So why is unacceptable for a web designer not to be able to code, yet it is seemingly accepted that web developers don’t know how to design? Further more if they didn’t know an appropriate colour for a rollover – then the developer doesn’t know BASIC design principles. Yet this whole argument seems to revolve around the fact web designers MUST know the basic principles of development.

    It seems silly to me.

  180. Ben Brooks

    Ben Brooks

    19 February 2010 @ 08:53PM #

    Great analysis. To your point that architects don’t need to know how to build their buildings I would say that is incorrect. Having been raised in the construction industry I can tell you first hand just how frustrating it is to work on a building that was designed by someone who has no clue how to build it. You run into a lot of practical problems and more often than not it means delays and redesign.

    Many architects don’t know how things are built, but those that also have a basic understanding of structural engineering make the construction process a breeze.

    I think this only bolsters your point about designers needing to be aware of the building process.

  181. Hugh


    19 February 2010 @ 09:11PM #

    I think you shot yourself in the foot by saying at the end of your twitter ‘No Excuse’ – it sounded (and was meant to sound?) definitive and unforgiveable!

    But there are lots of excuses, good excuses. One of which is time. Another is that your view of web designers is cosily close to the cutting edge – but there’s a ‘real’ world out there, too.

    All this thing about ‘workflows’ and designers and developers and using flat designs in Photoshop and back ends and….WHAT!!! Scribble it out on paper, rev up Dreamweaver and get going, that’s how thousands of sites are made and maintained. Do you need to know HTML/CSS? Not absolutely. It might help if you’ve time, but it’s not essential.

    Sorry, your tweet came over with a rather ‘Upstairs,Downstairs’ attitude.

    The less code I need to know the better!

  182. Dona


    19 February 2010 @ 09:17PM #

    Print designers don’t need to know how to run a press to produce their designs, why should web designers need to code? I do believe however, that a basic understanding on front and back end developement is key to producing good work.

  183. Brad Landers

    Brad Landers

    19 February 2010 @ 09:20PM #

    Actually, I think the architect/builder analogy supports your viewpoint. Every contractor I know has horror stories about architects who don’t understand the building process. When you go to school to be an architect, you learn a lot about the actual building process, but a poor architect thinks that these details are unimportant. When an architect doesn’t understand how their designs will be built, the result is often that the builder cannot execute the design as-is, and changes are required. It’s almost identical to the problem of a web designer who doesn’t understand how their design will be coded.

  184. dcave


    19 February 2010 @ 10:09PM #

    good post, good point. If you can’t code you dont really have much control of how your ‘web design’ will turn out in html especially if you are working with a coder who is not that great. Also by not learning even basic code you are limiting your usefulness and income. I could never make the $$$$ I am making now if all I did was design stuff in Photoshop and let someone else to the coding. If all you do is make a photoshop file is it really web design or just a design that could be used on the web. Step your skills up.

  185. tallacman


    19 February 2010 @ 10:24PM #

    Yes, but we do all agree on George Bush being the worst US president ever, don’t we?

  186. Next Day Flyers

    Next Day Flyers

    19 February 2010 @ 11:02PM #

    You’ve got an interesting discussion brewing. I’ve come across both developers who can code, and designers who can’t code. But fortunately, I’ve had good experiences with both.

  187. shuckster


    19 February 2010 @ 11:28PM #

    HTML and CSS might be “easy”, but what they represent is not: The DOM.

    By far the biggest barrier to web-design mastery is understanding the structure of documents and how they flow.

    Teaching visual artists HTML and CSS isn’t going to cut it — they don’t need an understanding of syntax, they need an understanding of structure. That’s a problem of communication, and it lies with your developers.

  188. ryanMoultrup


    20 February 2010 @ 12:23AM #

    If a designer doesn’t know how to code, unless he is an amazing designer, just gives me the advantage over him in this competitive field. I would think all designer would want to have every advantage that they can to do the best job. Which includes, at the very least, a basic understanding of how a site is put together after Photoshop.

  189. keif


    20 February 2010 @ 01:32AM #

    This is one of those loaded questions, full of the “in this situation”, “in my opinion”, “well, it depends…” etc. etc.

    Should a designer have a basic understanding of technology? Yes, or at the very least be able to recognize what is/is not possible. They should at least be able to recognize the difference between a simple user interaction (you click, it opens an overlay/pop-up, whatever) versus complex interactions that would require additional code/plugins (flash interaction, cross browser spinning logos, games, slideshows, etc. etc.)

    Should they know how to code it? No, but they should recognize making an HTML layout is not the same as a complex user experience. They should have a basic idea behind front-end code (HTML, CSS, basic JavaScript is a plus).

    Should developers know design? Front-end developers SHOULD have a basic understanding of design AND back-end development. I’m not saying they should know databases, php, java, ruby, whatever, it’s just a bonus if they understand the concepts (at the basic level). They don’t need to be able to crank out papers on color theory or pop art, but they should be able to talk about design/usability a bit, particularly in relation to technology.

    Should front-end developers be able to design a website? Well, a basic website, yes. It may not be aesthetically pleasing, but they should be able to crank SOMETHING out.

    I’ve studied design, do front end development work and am studying more design and back end development currently – to enhance my capabilities as a developer.

  190. Josh Okun

    Josh Okun

    20 February 2010 @ 03:29AM #

    I would also argue that when you’re in the business of inter-disciplinary creation, you need to have a least a basic understanding of what goes into all the roles. Having said that, not only should a good web designer understand the concepts behind front-end code, but they should also have a really good understanding of UX and IA as well.

    Working in teams helps to develop this knowledge of the periphery and ultimately helps you come up with better design solutions.

    Great conversation.

  191. darcy


    20 February 2010 @ 04:06AM #

    Your not much of a “web” designer if you can’t understand the basics of the web.

    Architects understand basic parameters about whats involved in building out their designs. Many times choosing materials to be used (these fraudulent ‘web designers’ can’t even tell you what the hovered state of links look like).

    A lot of the time, this “web” designer conundrum, is brought up when a graphic designer approaches ‘web design’. Without the fundamental tools and knowledge about the basics, they begin to fashion designs that simply don’t make sense, aren’t feasible and have extremely little insight into interaction.

    Communication is key between developers and designers, yet developers cant baby these people into doing their jobs properly. HTML and CSS lay within the realm of the position as a “web designer”. You can’t just add the title “web” to your position because you “actively use Google” and “have a Twitter account”. This is a day and age where developers and designers, together, have made it easier for you to jump in and start playing our game.

    Blogs, tutorials and wikis for just about everything. Truly disgraceful if your going to sit on your laurels and take credit for what people have been striving for over these past 15 or so years; The acknowledgment of this industry and its capabilities to stand on its own two feet.

    Even 10 years ago I couldn’t get a job as a “Web Developer” or I wouldn’t be making much money from it. Don’t be lazy, advance your skills, take into consideration that most, non-handicapped developers, don’t leave you blue effing links on your “pretty” designed websites (they build).

  192. Dan


    20 February 2010 @ 04:33AM #

    Well, this is a curious debate. When many of us started out there was no distinction between designer and developer – you were just a web designer.

    The web is a much more complicated beast now, but I agree that there’s no good reason for not having an understanding of the underlying structure, and I’d be amazed at any smaller studio hiring someone who can’t both design and build. For me, design and front-end developing go hand in hand, and always have.

  193. Joaquin Windmuller

    Joaquin Windmuller

    20 February 2010 @ 05:12AM #

    I agree with you, I’m on the other end of the spectrum: software developer with some idea of design. I find it that sometimes it’s a waste of time trying to learn design because it takes your attention off of what you are supposed to be good at. But then again, I find it very hard not to want -try, I mean – to design.

    As you said, CSS and HTML are not hard and that’s the reason it should be the common ground between developer an designers, because when you have all those people that say making web pages is easy you need your design skills or real software development skills to differentiate you form them.

    It was a great read, this post. I enjoyed it very much!

  194. David


    20 February 2010 @ 06:24AM #

    I am a web designer and I taught myself to code for two simple reasons. 1) I got tired of developers butchering my designs. 2) It keeps a good relationship between you and a developer. Developers are worried about back-end development, functionality, and dynamic content. They are not worried about making your design the greatest it can be. If your a web designer there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to mark up your design. If you leave that to the developer god only knows what will happen to your design. Like I said before developers could give a shit less about your artistic vision, they have bigger fish to fry. You as a designer should also at have at least a working knowledge of Javascript or have an understanding of the different libraries. That will also allow you to add your artistic dynamics yourself. If you can add your own slideshows, drop downs, or any interactivity you want yourself the happier your developer will be not to mention you’ll get more respect from a developer with that knowledge and the more likely you will see your visions make it at launch. I have started learning PHP and MySQL and understand what it’s like to be on the developing side. The last I would want to deal with is a designer who cant code.

  195. Theo


    20 February 2010 @ 06:35AM #

    Excellent article and a great discussion.I think understanding both parts of the process, design and build websites, is a must.

  196. lawrence


    20 February 2010 @ 06:45AM #

    Because you know code does that make you a web designer?

    Is it reasonable to expect a coder to be able to design? or know something about design and layout? or better yet, know when to tag-out and let a designer in the ring.

    The majority of the crap on the web is because of the many coders posing as web designers.

  197. Zohra S

    Zohra S

    20 February 2010 @ 07:13AM #

    I’ve just read your post, and you do make some valid points.
    On one hand, it’d be great if designers knew how it all worked, the main basis of it. It would solve a lot of the headaches we coders get.
    On the other hand, I’ve seen some of the coding put online by some designers, and it makes my head feel like exploding.
    I’d rather be really good at one thing, and know a bit of everything else than know a bits of everything only.
    And, as for the people in here dissing the coders, well, some of us are crap. I’m being honest and truthful here.
    Some coders don’t give a damn about the artistry of a design. They just botch it all to be able to get to the next one.
    I myself always try to get the end result to look as much like the design as possible, pixel perfecting if it needs it.
    In conclusion to this rant (so sorry for its length), I believe that designers should know some code basics, the base of it, and coders should know some designing basics. It’s by understanding them both that you become a great designers and/or coder.

  198. William Valencia

    William Valencia

    20 February 2010 @ 09:36AM #

    At the risk of repeating what others have said, (honestly I did not read all the comment). I have an opinion I’d like to share. I think there is a lot of resistance from designers because coding is a bit of left brain thinking. As designers we are just less comfortable in that mode (generally). But I compare the knowledge of coding to knowledge of pre-press. It makes us better designers if we know the tools, the process, the language, how to build digital mechanicals etc. We don’t need to be masters, but we need to “get it”, it helps us make better design decisions.

    Designers are so used to pushing elements around on a page in a very intuitive, visual way. With code it is more abstract but you are essentially pushing “divs” around to design your page. It’s a different mind set. One that I personally find challenging and exciting. And I have been an art director for 15 years. (I just cringed as I wrote that. :)

    The design world is very exciting these days. The web offers a level of interaction never attainable in other formats. We can interact, engage, and entertain viewers in a way never before possible. And we are still in its infancy. The future may make the process more intuitive. We shall see.

    I would have written a shorter more concise post, but I just did not have the time.

  199. Tom Elders

    Tom Elders

    20 February 2010 @ 06:14PM #

    The architect analogy falls down because architects actually have to know a lot about how to build a structure, more so than the people actually doing the building work.

    I think web designers, without exception, have to know how a site is put together in order to design effectively. I speak from a wealth of experience having coded up far to many horrific and ass backwards designs from so called ‘web designers’.

    You’re right; it is easy and a failure to pick up the bear minimum of skills is pure unadulterated laziness.

  200. Amazed


    20 February 2010 @ 07:47PM #

    I am amazed at the total ignorance shown in the understanding of how quality websites are made in the comments of this post.

    People actually saying that they think they can just talk to one person and they go away and days/weeks later a lovely website is up and running. Clearly you just think a website is a website and the scale of the project has nothing to do with anything.

    What is clear in this debate is the complete lack of any real understanding of how websites are actually made.

    I honestly think that some people commenting here believe agencies to be a collection of individuals who all take a job on each and then split the money.

    Interesting post, but the quality of opinions shown here is a warning to those designers/developers in the trade. These people will be your clients when they realise what is involved! I look forward to you writing about the stupid things your clients say/request in the future.

  201. Hugh


    20 February 2010 @ 10:04PM #

    “..What is clear in this debate is the complete lack of any real understanding of how websites are actually made…”

    Amazed: how are quality websites actually made, then? In your opinion?..

  202. Kriselle Laran

    Kriselle Laran

    20 February 2010 @ 10:14PM #

    I don’t think that it’s necessarily coding that is important for a web designer to learn. I do think that if someone calls his or her self a “Web Designer,” that person should understand the various concepts and standards of designing for web interfaces. In print, designers are supposed to understand that you have a specific size or color or quality requirement. It’s understood in print design that a bleed is needed in order to have color extend to the edge of a page.

    If understanding those basic requirements is a necessity for print design, why shouldn’t understanding requirements for web be just as important?

    People who are “web designers” should know the basics. I don’t care if they don’t know how to code, but they should at least understand the platform for which they are designing.

  203. suBi


    20 February 2010 @ 10:20PM #

    nothing is black n’ white. its a blur gray line.

  204. Jake


    20 February 2010 @ 10:21PM #

    This is an easy one.
    The architect doesn’t need to know how to build buildings, but he does need to know the math behind building buildings. He can’t just draw four thousand-feet walls connected to each other, no columns or walls inside, and expect the roof not to cave in.

    So a WEB designer may not need to know how to code (in my opinion they most certainly DO), but they do need to know the coding behind their design.

  205. Dan Collins

    Dan Collins

    20 February 2010 @ 10:23PM #

    I am a designer who chooses NOT to code. I’m not saying that I can’t, it’s just that I choose not to because there are others that I partner with that can do it a hell of a lot faster and more efficient that myself.

    Also, this frees up some time to go after new business or perhaps take a nap.

  206. tmartineau


    20 February 2010 @ 10:30PM #

    First of I’d like to start by saying that I fully agree with your post, and as a developer just starting out, with a slight bit of design knowledge, I don’t think developers should get of the hook.

    But anyways the real point I wanted to make was against the:

    ‘But an architect doesn’t have to know how to build buildings’

    This is very very untrue and is actually probably the closest example you could give to how a designer should be in their field. An architect absolutely has to be up to date on new building techniques and materials. They absolutely HAVE to know how things are constructed and put together, after all they are the ones putting together the drawings that the builders follow. Does this me they will go and pick up a hammer and have the ability to follow through on their knowledge, probably not but they don’t need to. So for designers it’s the same, they should know how web sites are constructed, and keep up to date on the newest techniques and technologies, but they don’t need to have the ability (or wanting) to go and do it. After all they are putting together the drawings that developers will use to build the site.

  207. Johnny


    20 February 2010 @ 10:31PM #

    Some really good points. In my opinion web designers should definitely have at least a basic knowledge of HTML and CSS, if not other languages as well. Web Design and Web Development overlap frequently, and there is no excuse for having absolutely no knowledge of any coding when you’re working in this field.

    As you said, HTML and CSS are very easy to learn now, and a basic knowledge wouldn’t take you that long to master.

  208. Enrique Ramírez

    Enrique Ramírez

    20 February 2010 @ 10:32PM #

    I’m totally amazed that this debate is STILL going on.

    It is not a matter of MUST knowing how to code or not. If you’re a designer that does not know a bit of HTML/CSS, fine. If you do, great, you have one more tool under your belt. One more tool that may or may not make you a better designer.

    To some designers it may work, to others it’s probably a hassle they can’t bear.

    In my opinion, HTML/CSS will grant you a better understanding of the skeleton you’re trying to dress. Of it’s limitations. If you insist so much on the architect comparison, think about it this way: Being an architect that has a better understanding of where his work will be applied, you can better choose the materials you’re going to use, the spaces you might fill, wether you CAN add that wooden floor in there without it being a problem for the water pipes later on, etc. etc. You’re NOT adding the water pipes, you’re just preparing for YOUR work to not interfere with the plumber’s.

    As a FED, I rather work with a designer that does know his fair bit of HTML/CSS. They almost always seem to handle easier to work designs that are far more consistent than their counterparts.

  209. Christina


    20 February 2010 @ 10:34PM #

    I design and code, and all web designers should be able to code a rudimentary site. Better yet they should hook up with a good developer so their client gets the best possible website.

    And quite frankly it’s time that they did. Static and flat websites are going the way of the dinosaurs.

  210. Daryn St. Pierre

    Daryn St. Pierre

    20 February 2010 @ 10:36PM #

    I think you make some excellent points here. Like you, I’m pretty shocked to know that a lot of web designers still have absolutely no front-end coding knowledge at all. It’s fine if it just doesn’t interest you, but in my opinion, it’s just lazy or stubborn.

    Being a product of print design for years, I have a lot to contribute to my web design work. At the same time, learning how to code my sites was in the back of my head and was a must. So I picked it up and from then on, that was it. I write some PHP, Smarty, I write my own jQuery, work with MySQL, etc. I basically went from not knowing how to even code a simple site, to building a site from design to development and beyond.

    In my opinion, if you design a website, you should at least be able to block it out and build an XHTML/CSS version of it. It will help you better understand how things work and how your end result will come out. Also, in this job market, don’t you want to be ahead of your competition? I know tons of web designers that can code their own sites with their eyes closed. You’re just limiting yourself if you can’t at least write basic code.

    Often times at the firm I work for, we have one of our print designers create website layouts because our web department might be busy writing code or doing general development (we’re a small firm). The print designer has absolutely no coding knowledge whatsoever but after some simple explanation of font usage, container divisions, etc, he’s creating designs that we don’t even have to alter or go back to the drawing board on. This is an example of where I can understand if you are a web designer with no coding abilities. You’re working within a team directly with people who can code and your print design skills lend themselves beautifully to web design.

    I can see the points made on both sides but I heavily lean towards the ‘learn to code, web designer’ side. When I got into web design years ago, coding my layouts just felt like a requirement. It wasn’t even a question, especially if you want to be noticed on the job market radar.

  211. Craig Villamor

    Craig Villamor

    20 February 2010 @ 10:39PM #

    I definitely agree with the premise that web designers (and more importantly web application designers) need to have a basic understanding of the medium in which their designs are produced. This does not mean that designers have to be great coders, but the ability to hack together a prototype is incredibly valuable and can save you untold pages of documentation. It also lends some credibility when you work with your engineering team because you can be in a position to offer multiple alternatives as to how a design gets implemented.

    A lot of people tend to jump to conclusions when it’s suggested that designers should know how to code (a little). There is an assumption that the designer will somehow lose their objectivity merely by possessing this knowledge. I disagree. Good designers are perfectly capable of ignoring technical constraints early in the design process even when they have coding skills. Where coding skill really comes into play is when you need to engage and negotiate with your product team. Nothing is so convincing as a working prototype and most developers appreciate designers who have considered technical details as the coding phase approaches.

    I’ve written a few posts related to this topic if you’re interested:

  212. Jose


    20 February 2010 @ 10:39PM #

    I hire webdesigners based on how creative they are. I hire developers based on how well they code. I want my designers to give me something that isn’t limited by what they know and don’t know how to do in html/css. I want the developers I hire to look at something beautiful and see the challenge in converting it to html/css. In both cases I want people who push their limits, no who only work with their limits.

  213. Ian Devlin

    Ian Devlin

    20 February 2010 @ 10:42PM #

    Interesting post and as you said, no doubt there will be people who disagree with you, but since you make the distinction between those who can’t and those who (usually for good reasons) won’t.

  214. Daryn St. Pierre

    Daryn St. Pierre

    20 February 2010 @ 10:42PM #

    Also, I didn’t mean to imply that all web designers come from a print background. It just seems like that’s always the case these days. I was basically making the point that it’s dead simple to learn the basics of web DESIGN, as long as you have some sort of eye for design. Why not make yourself more valuable and learn (X)HTML/CSS? It’s easy, it might make your web designs better and it will make your web developer friends/coworkers happy. You might even get a raise. It’s like learning how to walk and then saying “I don’t want to learn how to run.”

  215. Patrick


    20 February 2010 @ 10:44PM #

    Hmmm. as a print designer for over 25 years in the direct marketing (DM) industry, I agree with the basic premise of this post. To be good at DM you had to learn print production and personalization techniques as they are part of your design arsenal. But with that said, you don’t need to be the expert…you just need to know when to bring the expert in.

    The architect example is perfect…they don’t need to be a plumber or a carpenter or an electrician…but they do need to know the basics of all those things. The have the vision and know which carpenter does the type of wood work they need to complete their vision.

    We are the same…we need to know enough about html/CSS/Java to effectively structure a website…but what we do is have the vision. An we are smart enough to know when to bring in the team of people to execute our vision. And we may be part of that team.

    I believe 1+1 = 3. Any smart creative director, art director knows this and let’s all the players add to the best design.

    To wrap up, yes, knowledge is a good thing…but equally important is knowing when you don’t have the knowledge and need the expert who does. We don’t do this in a void…we work as a team.

  216. Damian Madray

    Damian Madray

    20 February 2010 @ 10:45PM #

    What a great post, I love it.

    Let me start out by saying that your initial tweet definitely didn’t come across fair and this article does quite a good job at wrapping up what you really meant.

    I’m a creative so I don’t like labeling myself a ‘web designer’ but majority of my work is in web. I learned html/css basics 6 years ago, got into print design and came back to web with no interest in coding so I guess I fall into the category of ‘CHOOSE NOT TO’. At this point, I have very little knowledge of css/xhtml but I understand it quite well.

    I’ve always asked myself if a web designer should know front-end and after a few years only doing the design, the answer is no. There are of course certain drawbacks and it’s imperative to have a basic understand of font-end development so you can design effectively for the web. There’s other drawbacks as well but when you’re working on massive social websites, it’s impractical to design + code.

    One of the things to consider is that web design is not just designing + coding. There’s so much more to consider like branding, information architecture, usability, and converting. To do all this for a simple 12 page website is no problem. To do all that + code for a massive social and content driven site, it’s another thing. Andy Budd is right.

    So my conclusion is that you don’t have to do it or even know the details but you MUST have a decent understanding of how the design works.

    In the end, I choose to do what I love and anything remotely close to coding is just not one of them. I love every aspect of designing for the web though.

  217. Miroslav Nikolov

    Miroslav Nikolov

    20 February 2010 @ 10:48PM #

    I personally has made designs, html, css and programming.
    I am developer, not а designer.
    Anyway I am defending position that the work process needs to be separated into 3 parts:

    1) Design;
    2) HTML, CSS;
    3) Programming;

    From my experience working in company implementing this work-flow, I can say it is really successful:)

  218. caff


    20 February 2010 @ 10:52PM #

    Totally agree that at least the basics should be know. Heck, I’m a copywriter and I know basic CSS and HTML. And even if you don’t know how to actually code it, it’s important to at least have a ground-level understanding of what is and is not possible to achieve.

  219. Rost


    20 February 2010 @ 10:52PM #

    I’m not really a proper graphic designer, I’m just someone who likes to make pictures. I made our website in iWeb of all things with absolutely no idea about anything web based. The outcome is OK considering. If you use the most basic of software creatively you can get some interesting solutions without having to be a html knowing web-nerd. I guess working in the industry is a different story though…Actually I don’t care about this story too much I’m just here to try and get more traffic to our site….www.readerswivescollective.com

  220. rima


    20 February 2010 @ 11:00PM #

    interesting post! i totally agree. isn’t a web designer with no html/css skills basically a graphic designer? on the other hand, there are people who know how to use programs like dreamweaver and expression web, but otherwise couldn’t design a website… are those web designers, or designers at all?

    i honestly just get pissed off at the number of people and companies out there advertising their web design skills whose portfolios really really suck (i.e. i can’t believe anyone would hire them based on the crap they’ve apparently done in the past). yet somehow they get a lot of business!

    to be a good web designer, you need to have good, solid creative/design skills as well as the knowledge to implement your design – but it’s perfectly ok to have someone else do more complex coding like javascript, php, .net stuff, etc! in addition to that, you need to understand principles of usability, accessibility, optimization, etc.

    just my opinion :)

  221. Trevor Harmon

    Trevor Harmon

    20 February 2010 @ 11:12PM #

    Excellent post – I couldn’t agree with you more. Part of web design IS using CSS & HTML – without a solid grasp on those, you really can’t call yourself a web designer. Sure, you’re designing and it’s for the web, but if you can’t even implement your own designs, you can’t really make a case for yourself.

  222. Travis


    20 February 2010 @ 11:16PM #

    I started as a web designer back in 2000, but slowly moved across that diagram into the world of front end (back when frontend was hell in a handbasket), then into back end development. Today I am a senior PHP developer specializing in Zend Framework, as well as one of the best frontend dudes you can find (if you can design it I can build it start to finish and it will work in all browsers without having to do any bug fixing)… And now I can’t design worth crap!

  223. Rochelle Dancel

    Rochelle Dancel

    20 February 2010 @ 11:16PM #

    I agree – if you’re a web designer, you need to know how to mark up it HTML/CSS. That’s the ‘web’ part in ‘web designer’. Otherwise, you’re a designer, graphic artist, illustrator, whatever, but definitely not a web designer.

  224. João Craveiro

    João Craveiro

    20 February 2010 @ 11:28PM #

    Matthew Pennell beat me up to what first came to my mind after reading your architect comparison: an architect does indeed need to know something about building stuff (at least what can be considered equivalent to the subset of website coding skills a web designer should have). An architect major will study things such as geology and physics, so that his apparently only visual-oriented creations are, indeed, feasible, functional, reliable, etc.

  225. Sheltz A Joseph

    Sheltz A Joseph

    20 February 2010 @ 11:28PM #

    good read, i think i’m actually going to try and learn coding myself although the thought scares me (thinking of sleepless nights coding websites) but hey the customer will have better confidence knowing that i can code instead having to deal with 2 people, i mean like put your self in the client shoes.

  226. Marc


    20 February 2010 @ 11:31PM #

    I graduated in June, and one of my major beefs with my course was that they didn’t explain the difference between web development and web design. This post helps clarify it, and I now understand why we spent a lot of time learning how to code our designs in HTML,CSS and JS.

    I agree that as a designer, you should have a basic understanding of what happens to your PSD once you’ve given it to someone. Really, for me it boils down to a personal desire that the final design functions in the real world once coded as well as it did in my brain as I designed it.

    I love knowing coding, and really plan on developing (no pun intended) my development skills. I think it’ll only make you more desirable as an employee/freelancer, and easier to work with.

    The best part about being a designer is that it requires life long learning and near daily education.

  227. phinn


    20 February 2010 @ 11:44PM #

    This guy should take is own advice. This website is ugly and slow as hell, has a 10 mile long comments section and this comment entry is horrible.

  228. The Guide Line Freak

    The Guide Line Freak

    20 February 2010 @ 11:47PM #

    Can I talk a little about myself here?

    Well I Will…

    I’ve been working directly with design for almost 16 years now. That obviously means that: 1. I really luv all this stuff; 2. I started as a Graphic Designer.

    As time went by I experimented on a lot of different design fields: corp., branding, packaging, magazines, books, children’s books, product design, and even some almost complex machinery.

    ’Bout 8 years I started as an Art Director in a “Cross-media-Studio”, but I never had worked around the web. Of Course I took a lot of courses at the time to become a better professional. But it was all about usability, an interface I never bored with the code…

    For 2 years now I have my own company (and it’s not at all related to design, it was just one of those things that present themselves as a great opportunity to do something different and end up making some bucks in the process), but I do all the design around here. So, obviously, we needed a Website, witch I designed, as everything else, and I even did all the html and css, I could even, as a great surprise for myself, write some JavaScript and make it work.

    It was a great experience, and I felt great about myself for actually doing my first website and I even think it’s a good one; Mom loves it so it has to be good, right??? LOL

    But, anyone wants to know when am I gonna code the next website? NEVER

    There’s a reason I never tried it before, I think there are a lot of great professionals out there to make my ideas happen on a hell lot better way then I ever could. I did this one out of curiosity, and that was it; the curiosity is gone, so now I’m hiring some JavaScript Ninja to put all the cute ideas I got and could never code.

    I think myself as a good team leader, and have always (especially by mom) been accused of having great and functional ideas… I would never want to spoil it by doing it myself. And I don’t consider coding basic skill for designing a great website, I got some prizes on the stuff I created back when I was art directing, and I never even used the computer, I would roughly discuss the ideas on a white board with all the team together and let them figure out how to give live to what I wanted exactly AS I wanted…

    One thing I have learned on having some companies in this last 11 years is that thinking-planning-creating is on the other side of the universe to get to DO… And there are better thinkers and better doers… But, specially, you will never think well enough when you’re doing and never do so well when you’re thinking.

    So, to finally end this book of a reply:

    I don’t even think that a good designer have to touch a mouse if he found the right team to work with, what’s to say about coding… Design you do with a pencil a paper and a brain, all the rest is mouse-pushing, not designing.

  229. Dodi Rahmaninoff

    Dodi Rahmaninoff

    20 February 2010 @ 11:57PM #

    I was think that I’m the only one who’s confuse with the words you use. Well, nice posting though, well I took a course as a designer but end up preferring the coding. I guess it will be some advantages and disadvantages to those designers who know how to code and those who don’t. Because if designers are well aware about the coding, then they will be inside the box, I mean, they will not design as beautiful as we can see in the most sites right now. Because they won’t be push coders to have some designs that is impossible to implement can be possible to implement, at least it will take some serious long time. I hope I can make myself clear :D.

  230. Andrew M

    Andrew M

    21 February 2010 @ 12:02AM #

    In a nutshell you greatly limit your job opportunities if you are a designer that can’t code CSS based web pages. A Web Designer must know how to design and code CSS/HTML.

    It’s obvious that schools are graduating students that are unprepared and who are not aware of the required job skills in 2010. Learning just Photoshop will only get you a production job. Same goes for just CSS/HTML.

    Read current job descriptions for Web Designers and you will see 50% interface design and 50% front-end development (html, css, javascript). Then upgrade your skills accordingly.

    Web Designers are finally respected and part of the development process because, with design and code skills, we bridge the gap between the business and the developers.

  231. Bryant


    21 February 2010 @ 12:03AM #

    Are you a great designer that doesn’t know how to code?

    Are you an awesome developer who is clueless about design?

    Well if so, there other great and awesome developers/designers out there who also are very skilled in both, and these people will start taking your jobs. In an industry that is so progressive and ever changing, don’t be stubborn and think that staying specialized is making your talents niche. In reality its making your talents redundant.

    ….just my personal opinion

  232. Kristy


    21 February 2010 @ 12:10AM #

    I always figured that the difference between a web designer and designer was the ability to code (or at least understand the basics). While I understand the different arguments supporting design-only skills, a web designer should still be able to understand the basic workings of HTML and CSS.

    Even if the designers and coders are split into separate teams, communications between the two are much easier and more coherent if the designers can understand the angle coders are coming from, and vice versa. Yes, it may be easier to make a design work around code, but developers should still know the basics in design to better understand why they’re coding what they’re coding.

    It also depends on the project you’re working on – if it’s a site that’s very user-interface heavy, then it’s fairly tough to work with a web designer who knows zero about coding. Granted, there may be a separate user interface design team, but the flow between teams will not be as efficient as it could be.

  233. The Guide Line Freak

    The Guide Line Freak

    21 February 2010 @ 12:20AM #


    Only if you’re not the boss… Right? ^^

    Freelancers out there usually think if they do everything by themselves there will be more money left at the end of the job. And, well, that’s actually true…

    BUT, how many more jobs can a team finish on the same schedule?

    You can even charge as much as a single freelancer would and end up with a greater income by the end of the month…. With better work…

    On people working alone, 1+1=2, but in team-playing, it always has to be more, a lot more, because you’re not only adding they’re separated skills, you’re adding debates, ideas, inspiration, etc. etc. etc.

    And there will always be someone freer to talk to clients, present ideas, layouts, and even finding new clients… Being stubborn is thinking you can do better then teams with specialized players doing best what they do best… Actually, that’s kinda being arrogant not stubborn (I know it “sounded” like I’m calling you an arrogant guy, but it was never the intention, it’s just the way I’ve always seen things, hope not to offend you, dwood…^^)

  234. Nate Johnson

    Nate Johnson

    21 February 2010 @ 12:21AM #

    But front-end code (just HTML and CSS; let’s forget Javascript for now) is intrinsically linked to the design process. It’s a design tool just as much as Photoshop.

    This sums it up nicely.

    A basic knowledge of CSS and HTML are essential in knowing how to design a site that will be functional and user friendly. If you are involved in both, you will inherit an understanding that is crucial to the process.

    A car designer must know something about the engineering mechanics. They don’t have to be an engineer, but if they don’t understand the process the outcome will be impossibly inefficient.

  235. Nyssa


    21 February 2010 @ 12:22AM #

    Have to agree with the post, and a lot of the comments posted. From my own personal experience, if you don’t have HTML/CSS knowledge, you’re very seriously limiting your job opportunities.

    And by my own personal experience, I mean that when I was looking for work last year, almost every (I think every, actually) job advertisement for a web designer had a requirement of HTML/CSS knowledge (and JavaScript in some cases). You may very well be awesome at what you do, but if there is someone else with those HTML/CSS skills going for that same job, the chances of that person getting the job over you are highly likely.

  236. The Guide Line Freak

    The Guide Line Freak

    21 February 2010 @ 12:32AM #


    “Even if the designers and coders are split into separate teams, communications between the two are much easier and more coherent if the designers can understand the angle coders are coming from, and vice versa. Yes, it may be easier to make a design work around code, but developers should still know the basics in design to better understand why they’re coding what they’re coding.”

    Would never disagree… But, understanding something doesen’t actully mean you know how to do it yourself… Or that you should be grat at it…

    A few weeks ago (sorry to keep using myself as an example) I never did see how a CSS file looked like, but I never had trouble understanding what developers and programmers were talking about… And I even worked with some back-end programmers that knew zero about design, but I always took the time to explain them the “whys” and “whats”…

    “It also depends on the project you’re working on – if it’s a site that’s very user-interface heavy, then it’s fairly tough to work with a web designer who knows zero about coding. Granted, there may be a separate user interface design team, but the flow between teams will not be as efficient as it could be.”

    Only if the one who should be organizing their work don’t know how to arrange daily meetings for brainstorming and debating the “hows” and the "whats"…

  237. Jeremy Gode

    Jeremy Gode

    21 February 2010 @ 12:47AM #

    Great article and topic. For my two cents, I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary for someone aspiring to be a designer to learn code, but I think it’s more than advantageous. Much like the architecture class that required experience with a construction firm that someone mentioned above, I think it’s beneficial to most people, and their careers, to learn how to code.

    That said, I also think if you are going to learn to code, you should learn how to do it right; beyond that of just how to structure a basic HTML document or knowing a handful of CSS selectors.

    If you really want to be well rounded and extend that to learning some PHP, Javascript, and a database language, all the better.

  238. Rob Loukotka

    Rob Loukotka

    21 February 2010 @ 12:48AM #

    I wholeheartedly with everything you said.

    I’d take it one step further, and say that your designs actually IMPROVE when you understand the markup that has to go behind them. Knowing the structural limitations of your design for the web is important. In the past several years I’ve become an expert at marking up my own sites (and clients sites), which has lead to a much better understanding of whats possible. All of the little details regarding borders, alignment, text sizes… your end product really improves if you know how to perfect it in code as well as in your design.

    Sometimes I’ll have clients or employers tell me it’s a waste of time, that all they need is PSDS. But I’ve gotten to a level where no average developer can properly markup my detailed textures or patterns, and my fellow designers can’t properly code it together. It’s to your benefit to know both sides equally well, because you’ll have that much more control over the final look. I know a few years ago I’d hand a PSD over to a developer, and cringe when it went live. If you work hard, and handle every aspect of design and front-end yourself, you’ll be happier with your work.

    Lastly, coding CSS is relatively easy… it lets you crank up the headphones and power through some code all day. I actually find it relaxing, because it’s easier than the design process. Once you’ve already gone through the stress and rigors of making the design perfect, the CSS is just an extra easy step. I’m always relatively chilled out when I get to relax in the office and just type. No calling the client, no comparing color palettes, no revisions… just Notepad ++ and some tea, haha.

    Anybody who disagrees that designers need to know CSS… fine. They can do that while the rest of us who understand the (easy) code, take their clients. Too many people expect us to be knowledgeable about these things, and it could hurt your career to stay in the dark.

  239. The Guide Line Freak

    The Guide Line Freak

    21 February 2010 @ 12:55AM #

    Do all you guys know what I’m really tired of? (And I’ve been tired for almost 10 years now) Ppl who CAN code saying they’re designers… Some are, but it’s a ridiculous number in front of the majority clamming they are!

    I will quote myself:

    “Design you do with a pencil a paper and a brain, all the rest is mouse-pushing, not designing.”

    You need to know how it works, not how to make it work…

    Poor the spider, born a web designer…


    And, come on guys, I’ve seen for some years now a lot of you using image editing softwares to come up with your layouts when there are programs made for that purpose.

    I get kinda moody when I open the Photoshop and see a lot of tools that shouldn’t be there, text and layout tools just to begin with… It makes the program heavier and takes time from the guys writing it… If users used the right programs for the right purposes, maybe there would be time left to make tools for, in the Photoshop example, some actual image editing.

    But that’s a whole other subject… Not the time, nor the place…

  240. Web team at a print publisher

    Web team at a print publisher

    21 February 2010 @ 01:00AM #

    Honestly, how would this discussion go if we were talking about print designers? Would anyone honestly argue that a printer designer should be able to work without understanding at least some of the technical basics of printing such as ink, paper, bleed lines, etc…? What if the print designer handed in a design where vital elements extended beyond the crop and demand spot varnishes without providing files? Would we honestly allow the designer to rely on the printer to just “make it work” as I’ve often heard web designers demand of developers?

    When hiring for my web dev team I require an understanding of CSS/HTML of the web design applicants, not because they’re going to be coding but because it’s required for them to function as part of the team effectively.

  241. The Guide Line Freak

    The Guide Line Freak

    21 February 2010 @ 01:27AM #

    Nameless dude:

    Great point, but it just strengthens what I said earlier:

    A Graphic Designer MUST understand inks, coatings, papers…

    And I’d go even further, all Graphic Designers should know what a photolith is, a plate, a Dr. Blade, a Cyrel, an Anilox… know how letterpressing is done and a hell lot more…

    He NEEDS to understand it so he can do his job properly…

    But, once again, understanding something does not imply actually knowing how to do it…

    Never met a package designer who could setup and operate a flexographic printer… But never met a good package designer who didn’t understand the principles behind…

  242. The Guide Line Freak

    The Guide Line Freak

    21 February 2010 @ 01:33AM #

    Well I’ll now stop bothering you people with my old mans crankiness, gotta take the girls to the mall… ^^

  243. Nate Johnson

    Nate Johnson

    21 February 2010 @ 01:36AM #

    Great point @Web team at a print publisher

  244. Caleb Wright

    Caleb Wright

    21 February 2010 @ 01:48AM #

    I disagree and continue to work very well with many designers that don’t know how to markup a site.

    While it certainly does add and help to have a designer that knows HTML/CSS, it’s not required as I work with many talented people that deliver high quality web apps.

    First, some background: I am very experienced with everything from designing, marking up (HTML/CSS), front end development (javascript), backend development (ruby on rails / php) and web servers (apache, nginx, Mysql, mongrel, etc, etc).

    Clarifying Roles:

    - Traditional Designer – anything visual, print and online. Went to school to understand real design such as typography from real artists.

    - Web Designer – visual for web (photoshop) – HTML/CSS (HTML and CSS are not “code”, there are no “if” or logic statements). Possibly went to school and sat in “multimedia” classes and not from a “designer”

    - Front end Developer – HTML/CSS and sweet javascript (which is “code”).

    - Developer/Programmer – Rails, PHP, Python, flavor of the month

    The key to creating is killer site is COLLABORATION and COMMUNICATION.

    Stop complaining if you receive a 300 dpi illustrator file to markup. Educate them in what you need to build the app then scale it down to 72 dpi.

    The Developer (backend) person should be working with the Designer to nail down functional requirements.

    The “Web Designer” or who ever is going to markup the design, should be working with the designer to make sure they don’t put in some funky 3000×3000 repeating background.

    The result of separate companies has brought confusion and made everyone work horses.

    The designer should not just pass off the PSD to the web designer.

    The web designer should not just pass off the HTML/CSS to the developer.

    The developer should not just say “can’t do that” or “do you know how long that’ll take??” and come up with real solutions.

    Ok, I think I’m done.

  245. Kirk Henry

    Kirk Henry

    21 February 2010 @ 02:15AM #

    I agree with Andy on this one.

    “if you’re designing fairly large scale sites it’s often not desirable, possible or practical to do the coding, especially if the complexity of the various components (e.g. complex JS functionality) outweighs your technical ability.”

    ~ Andy Budd

    I work for a heavy lifting DEV shop and there is no way my design team could handle the complexities of a HUGE commerce site with all the complexities that surround it. WE DO however know how to code and understand JS so we GET what can and cannot be done. Also, we work very closely with the developers and IA’s and have never had a pixel perfect comp as a final deliverable NOT look exactly as the comp. Maybe we are a rare exception.

  246. Will


    21 February 2010 @ 02:19AM #

    You could compare the HTML/CSS markup stage of a project much like the artwork stage of traditional print work. Some designers do both, but not equally as well.

    So specialising is key imo. It’s also more efficient and profitable. The focussed skill-set of a designer and front end developer duo can crank out more/better work.

    I have a good working knowledge of HTML/CSS but prefer not to code. I also used to mock stuff up in Illustrator, much to the horror of our build team.

    Surely it’s more important for designers to focus on winning pitches and awards than making something triple AAA XHTML Strict?

  247. Matt Stow

    Matt Stow

    21 February 2010 @ 02:49AM #

    I agree with Elliot, but it’s not just about knowing HTML & CSS. Personally I don’t see how a “web designer” can design without at least a basic understanding for the semantics of HTML, accessibility and usability.

    It’s often very clear when I “code” designs from other agencies who clearly don’t understand the basics of what is achievable, usable and accessible with the tools at our disposal.

    To me, Web Designer seems quite an out-dated job title. UI/UX/Front-end Developer seems more fitting.

  248. Ingrid


    21 February 2010 @ 03:43AM #

    I was a self-taught coder and wanted to make my designs look better so I went to school for graphic design. I was shocked that they were teaching very minimal HTML and CSS and just letting the students draw everything up in Dreamweaver, and basically never touching the “scary” code. Sure, sometimes that will work but most of the time it has bloated awful code and doesn’t work properly. I totally concur that if you’re going to be designing websites, at a minimum you should at least be able to read and write HTML and CSS.

  249. Mark Smithers

    Mark Smithers

    21 February 2010 @ 04:05AM #

    In a former life I was trained in building construction and taught in Schools of Architecture and Building at various universities. I can tell you that good architects know how to build. They also know how buildings work.

    I can think of many examples of buildings that initially appear to be cutting edge design but on closer inspection they just don’t work for the users of that building. They are too hot or too cold or the space doesn’t work.

    I now build web applications and I will cover front and back end design and development. I always have but it is now more important than ever given the increasing interaction between UI components and back end data stores that AJAX gives us.

    Just my 2 cents.

  250. Horus Kol

    Horus Kol

    21 February 2010 @ 04:28AM #

    Speaking as a developer – I’d much rather receive a PSD comp from a graphics designer than any attempt by them at coding it in to HTML/CSS.

    We often work with complex template systems – and a lot of times I get designer HTML/CSS and I almost have to rewrite it from the ground up in order to be able to breakdown the design into something that works in the template. I suppose that you could argue that the designer should be trained to create the HTML/CSS to fit in with the frameworks – but I’d rather the designer keep to making good designs and developers keep to making good code.

    Of course, if a designer can make good designs and good code, then that’s great.

  251. seye Kuyinu

    seye Kuyinu

    21 February 2010 @ 06:57AM #

    I seriously don’t see the sense in not knowing how code in css/html. Why call yourself a designer then. It’s even pointless not knowing. in fact, I think developers themselves should and MUST know how to do the …simple/basic front end things

  252. Ricardo Costa

    Ricardo Costa

    21 February 2010 @ 07:25AM #

    ++ to everything that “The Guide Line Freak” posted. It’s exactly my own experience (except that my company has only a year, but I’m in the field for as long as he is).

    Seriously, go and re-read what he posted.

    Now, I know what can and what cannot be done with code. And I never had to redesign any of my sites because something couldn’t be done, or would be done better if I designed differently. Devs never, in the 6+ years I’m doing design for the web, argued with me based on “that can’t be done the way you think you can”. At worst, I got someone suggesting that it would be easier in Flash.

    Sure, I can tweak code here or there.

    But, I can’t code.

  253. Nate


    21 February 2010 @ 07:55AM #

    I like what Jay Greasley pointed out.

    It’s important for web designers to understand markup and css because they are web design tools— and a craftsperson should understand how to use their tools.

    However, from an art/concept perspective, it’s wonderful to not be restrained to boundaries. Knowing what is “possible” with simple css might come in the way of a genuinely ingenuitive design idea. Remove the knowledge of the limitations, and the idea can flourish.

    Of course, making it real and functional after the fact can become much more difficult, but that’s a trade-off that may be worth it in some cases.

    All in all, I’d rather have a sharp designer who had a firm understanding of usability and interactive design and was clueless about markup, rather than a designer who could code ‘till he was blue and only create stiff, inaccessible designs. Best case, I’d like one who could do both.

  254. abdusfauzi


    21 February 2010 @ 01:34PM #

    can’t agree more with your points. some might look into this as you’re attacking them, but for me, you’re advising them for their own goods. because, some designs (UI) might look good as they are, but a failure when they were implemented into the user interaction experience.

    “Not a must, but why not?”


  255. Meg


    21 February 2010 @ 02:27PM #

    I know what you mean. And it’s really downgrading as in the future, I expect that all the codes will be as simple as 1-2-3 or simply, copy paste. I understand the hardship of the coders, developers, etc. But really, it’s becoming more lazy to people who doesn’t code or even understand the logic of coding.

    Will be posting something in response to this in the future. I hope this won’t give a bad vibe to others who ‘do’ it unconsciously and turn it into a controversy.

  256. M


    21 February 2010 @ 02:56PM #

    My opinion is that every webdesigner has to know the basics of coding a website (html, css). I pesonally could code all of my designs, but I choose not to, because it takes too much time. Designers time is much more worth than the time of a webcoder.

  257. Hugh


    21 February 2010 @ 04:26PM #

    Christina: “..And quite frankly it’s time that they did. Static and flat websites are going the way of the dinosaurs…” Absolute piffle! Where are you living, dear!

    The Guide Line Freak: “..Design you do with a pencil a paper and a brain..” Ah, now there’s some sagacity at last.

    Ingrid: “..I was shocked that they were teaching very minimal HTML and CSS and just letting the students draw everything up in Dreamweaver, and basically never touching the “scary” code…” Get over it! What’s ‘shocking’ about it? Note that you yourself said you went to “graphic design school”…should they have been teaching deep web code at graphic design school?

  258. Christina


    21 February 2010 @ 06:03PM #

    Hugh certainly didn’t like my thoughts about static website and dinosaurs. That’s perfectly okay.

    However, with social media and the increasing importance of engaging your visitors, keeping customers informed without a heck of a lot of effort on the business owners part (a static site would mean they would have to manually post to Twitter, Facebook, etc.) for each new bit of information, and manually creating and sending out a newsletter vs. using a service such as Feedburner, Wordbook, Twitter Post and other plugins which can cross post. They don’t have to use WordPress as there are numerous small or lightweight CMS.

    Relying on Dreamweaver for creating websites and never learning a bit of code is not a good idea. If something breaks because the cursor has been set in the “wrong” place and screws the site up…well unless you know how to code you can’t figure out how to fix it.

    Eventually the client will want to be able to do x, y and z,because their competitor is they and won’t be able to do it with a static website.

  259. Weekend Links « a work on process

    Weekend Links « a work on process

    21 February 2010 @ 06:04PM #

    […] posts this week about whether web designers need to know HTML, with a number of good contributions. Elliot Jay Stocks kicked things off and I principally noted contributions from Mark Boulton and Rachel Andrew. It seems that the key is […]

  260. Alex Blundell

    Alex Blundell

    21 February 2010 @ 07:56PM #

    Theres no way I was going to read all 269 responses so I’m blindly adding my comment.

    I think web designers need to know the fundamentals of HTML and CSS to actually design wisely.

    Without a basic understanding of how a design is to to be coded, you may be left with a fantastic looking design that is actually imposable to code.

    I recently coded a design for a someone who hadn’t the knowledge to code his designs and the result was over 20 different templates for a relatively simple design, I put this down to lack of consistency and general lack of understanding of basic html and css

    Just my 2p

  261. John Robinson

    John Robinson

    21 February 2010 @ 11:34PM #

    Like Alex, I’ve skipped most of the comments as there are too many to read at the point, so apologies if I’m repeating what other people have said.

    I agree with what some of the comments are saying, that there’s no excuse for a designer to not know some basic HTML and CSS. But that’s not what’s been addresses in the article. What we’re talking about here is a complete understanding of HTML and CSS and being able to turn your design into a fully functional (HTML and CSS only) site. That I don’t agree with. As a designer you should know the fundamentals, and you should understand the process, and the limitations of what can be done (as if there are any anymore), but to completely understand both languages is asking too much.

    “That’s right: writing HTML and CSS is so easy … you could liken HTML and CSS knowledge to a few other fundamental skills, like … knowing how to cook a basic meal”

    I’m almost offended by that. Sure, neither language is as in depth as PHP or C, but to call them easy is really undervaluing the knowledge and skillsets of those people who are true HTML and CSS experts. Should we really expect our designers to know the ins and outs of the various rendering engines? Are they expected to know about all of IE’s little quirks (and there A LOT)?

    HTML and CSS aren’t easy. They’re an entire skillset unto themselves. Designers should have a basic grasp of the coding process, but to demand that they be HTML and CSS experts is asking too much.

  262. Bryant


    22 February 2010 @ 04:26AM #

    The Guide Line Freak:

    No offense taken :), however I think you were reading into my comment a little too much.

    I do think that being specialized and working in teams can achieve a greater outcome than a single well rounded professional, but that was not the point of my comment.

    The point I was trying to convey is in this multi-versed profession we all find ourselves in (that of being “Web Professionals”) the area of being a designer vs. a developer is narrowing every day. There is a big difference between someone being specialized and someone ignorant to progression, and I believe that some people in this profession (not all) might be falling into the latter.

    My comment also is based on the notion that I believe a group of relatively independent well-rounded workers will put out better work than a group of specialized workers who are all dependent on the collective knowledge of the group.

    I liked your feedback though, made me think outside of my box!

  263. Tink


    22 February 2010 @ 01:38PM #

    I think that if you don’t know how to code, you probably don’t know much about what is possible besides hover and click. Yes you could know without knowing how it works, but if you know how it works, you know the variables that are involved and that might lead to learning how to do it better.
    If you learned to code, your communication with the developer might go more smooth and not to forget: You’ll know when a developer is ripping you off too!

  264. Ian Tearle

    Ian Tearle

    22 February 2010 @ 05:57PM #

    I thought I would add two more cents to this post before you close it down, because of the huge reaction you have stirred in the hornets nest, I work for an internet marketing agency, and we receive designs from some of the top London design agencies, which to be honest 99% of the time are crap. Not because of their artistic merits but because of the lack of knowledge of how the web works.

    If you are going to design for the web, you need to know a few simple rules of how the web is made. I sat down with my sister in law last night to go through her designs for a website she has designed for her employers, needless to say she has no clue where to even start with any front end development, but her font size was less than 10px, her page was less than 600px high, and she was worried about white space under a vertical menu when I suggested a different layout.

    If a designer cant code, they should not design for web, its straight forward thinking from me. I have always called my self a web designer, I start with PS, progress to html/css/js and add in some PHP. From very early in my career I used Expanse CMS http://expansecms.co.uk – a complex PHP content management system that was built by “web designers” for “web designers” If you dont know PHP then its fine, the system will work great, a little knowledge then you can start doing amazing things, install some plugins and the web is your oyster. Its a great starting block for any artist or designer who wants to get started with HTML/CSS, so if there are any designers reading your post Elliot, then I suggest they learn the fundamentals of the web, but in my experience designers who dont code, dont look at websites like this.

  265. Antonio Riveras

    Antonio Riveras

    22 February 2010 @ 06:17PM #

    I couldn’t agree with you more. This is something I’ve written about on my blog a few times, not so extensive as your post though.

    Your tweet reached to me all the way from Norway to Sweden. You sure made a statement that became heard…

  266. The Guide Line Freak

    The Guide Line Freak

    22 February 2010 @ 07:39PM #

    You guys know what scares me the most?

    The excuse repeatedly repeated here:

    “You should know what’s possible and what’s not…” [Or something like it…]

    HELL if someone working for me says something is impossible to do because he is limited to the code’s limitations than he’s on the street…

    I will never accept one of my professionals telling me that something cannot be done, specially cause I never asked anything impossible, I just push’em one step further…

    Limiting yourself to what the code limits you is almost the same thing as a self proclaimed “graphic designer” sitting in front of the InDesign or Illustrator (or even worst, Photoshop) to start a layout…

    If you start IN the computer, then the program tells you what to do, if you start with a pencil and an IDEA, then there’s no limit to what you can achieve…

    And the only way to achieve the “virtually impossible” (as I always have) is by lock capable people in a room with lots of coffee, soda, beer and pizza until all impossibles had been made possible.

    Now, or some friendly finger pointing^^:

    Matt Stow:

    “Personally I don’t see how a “web designer” can design without at least a basic understanding for the semantics of HTML, accessibility and usability.”

    Accessibility and usability are not made with code, but with some good ideas executed by competent professionals, And designing and coding are completely different things, to design is to give a certain form to a function, ad to make it work on the best way to achieve some goals, goals determined by the function and, most of all, by the needs, clients needs, costumer needs, user needs, you name it…


    What I think is, graduation courses are there to give you a deeper repertoire, so that you can understand what’s behind the profession, The theory, the really important things that makes the juice flow within your brain, you should learn how to use programs at specific courses, and you will only learn how to be a professional by getting a job… That’s not why graduations or post-graduations where invented. I’d never hire someone that spent more time in some school lab than in theory classes…

    Mark Smithers:

    “I can think of many examples of buildings that initially appear to be cutting edge design but on closer inspection they just don’t work for the users of that building. They are too hot or too cold or the space doesn’t work.”

    Those where just BAD architects because they didn’t understand the theory, they must had some really poor knowledge about materials. It’s not about knowing how to lay down the brick, but knowing WHAT kind of brick to lay down…

    Horus Kol:

    “Speaking as a developer – I’d much rather receive a PSD comp from a graphics designer than any attempt by them at coding it in to HTML/CSS.

    We often work with complex template systems – and a lot of times I get designer HTML/CSS and I almost have to rewrite it from the ground up in order to be able to breakdown the design into something that works in the template. I suppose that you could argue that the designer should be trained to create the HTML/CSS to fit in with the frameworks – but I’d rather the designer keep to making good designs and developers keep to making good code.

    Of course, if a designer can make good designs and good code, then that’s great."

    Gotta listen to the one ho actually lives what he’s talking about… Kudos dude!

    seye Kuyinu:

    “It’s even pointless not knowing. in fact, I think developers themselves should and MUST know how to do the …simple/basic front end things”

    Developers should, designers shouldn’t


    Just tnx a lot man… All the love back at ya!


    “It’s important for web designers to understand markup and css because they are web design tools– and a craftsperson should understand how to use their tools.”

    They’re web development tools, not web design tools… The only REAL design tool is your brain… In a real far second place there would come a pencil.


    Tnx^^, but that’s neither sagacy nor wits, it’s just some old mans experience and crankiness…


    “Well unless you know how to code you can’t figure out how to fix it”

    But a designer shouldn’t even try, that’s a developer/coder/whomeverelse work


    “The Guide Line Freak:

    No offense taken :), however I think you were reading into my comment a little too much."

    Is that a bad thing? hehe

    “I do think that being specialized and working in teams can achieve a greater outcome than a single well rounded professional, but that was not the point of my comment.”

    I know it wasn’t, I was just better basing my opinion, because I really think one shouldn’t carry all the burden of a work in ones back… I’ve always believed in teams and, even when “solo-freelancing”, always worked within teams…

    “The point I was trying to convey is in this multi-versed profession we all find ourselves in (that of being “Web Professionals”) the area of being a designer vs. a developer is narrowing every day.”

    Well I’d never call myself a Web Professional; I’m really a designer that believes in design, no matter the media… And I like the idea of people being great designers AND developers at the same time, as long as they can see the line between…

    “There is a big difference between someone being specialized and someone ignorant to progression, and I believe that some people in this profession (not all) might be falling into the latter.”

    Agreed, sadly agreed

    “My comment also is based on the notion that I believe a group of relatively independent well-rounded workers will put out better work than a group of specialized workers who are all dependent on the collective knowledge of the group.”

    Never seen it happen, and from where I stand, don’t I ever will… But that’s opinion, not fact imposing^^

    “I liked your feedback though, made me think outside of my box!”

    Tnx a lot man, as a former teacher, that’s what I do love to hear!


    “If you learned to code, your communication with the developer might go more smooth and not to forget: You’ll know when a developer is ripping you off too!”

    I never knew the code and never got ripped, they tried, but never succeed, and that’s because I understood the principles behind it, even not knowing the how-to…

    Ian Tearle:

    “If a designer cant code, they should not design for web, its straight forward thinking from me. I have always called my self a web designer, I start with PS, progress to html/css/js and add in some PHP.”

    Sorry man, but you said it, you start with PS… What are the odds of being a designer if you start the thinking process attached to a tools restrictions? And, come on, PS is a photoedditing software… Well, I said it earlier, not the time no place to such a discussion


    So sorry to rob your space like this, just say it and I’ll stop flooding your area!!!! It’s just a subject I’m really passionate about!^^

    And really sorry about my poor english too…

  267. Dawn Casserly

    Dawn Casserly

    22 February 2010 @ 09:49PM #

    I respectfully disagree. As long as you have the means to get the job done, in this instance, you have a close and comitted working relationship with a developer or a designer who CAN code. Yes I admit. I cannot code. Although I have a limited working understanding of HTML and CSS, I do not have the necessary skills to develop the design into a website, and therefore this is where the skills of a local developer (who is also a close friend) comes in, and everyone wins. Of course, I’m talking about freelance based work here. Nearly all full time positions with studios, agencies and companies require that a web designer has experience of X/HTML/CSS, which is fine. I’m a freelance designer and this doesn’t apply to me. Should I be in the position of looking for a full time job in this industry, I would get into gear and learn how to design in HTML/CSS to my hearts content. But as a freelance designer, I choose to focus entirely on the graphic design part.

  268. Danny Zevallos

    Danny Zevallos

    22 February 2010 @ 10:14PM #

    I think it should go without saying that knowing a little bit about web development (front-end) is needed, much like print media.

    We have to know the limitations of CMYK, how different paper behave with color, knowing about setting up bleeds and line per inch limitations (newspaper print has a lower count). I’m not going to go into details about print but being a print designer as well, I know what happens when I receive designs from others that don’t understand the technical aspects and limitations of print.

    At times, I would receive design done in Photoshop, color set at RGB such as Word, no bleeds set up, resolution is way too low, etc. Knowing the technical aspects of print is absolutely necessary and I believe web designers should know basic HTML and CSS to know its criteria and limitations.

    I’m a designer that’s trying to veer off developing because I feel it’s hurting my creativity. Trying to learn CMSs, blogging tools, Javascript, extensive CSS, and other techniques is hurting my creativity. Instead of learning more about typography, grids, color theory, art history, etc, I have become a jack of all trades making me a well rounded designer/developer but not a great one at one.

  269. The Guide Line Freak

    The Guide Line Freak

    22 February 2010 @ 10:42PM #

    Danny Zevallos:

    “We have to know the limitations of CMYK, how different paper behave with color, knowing about setting up bleeds and line per inch limitations (newspaper print has a lower count). I’m not going to go into details about print but being a print designer as well, I know what happens when I receive designs from others that don’t understand the technical aspects and limitations of print.”

    Yeah, you gotta understand the principles behind it all, but that doesn’t turn you in an offset machinery opperator. You migh understand the theory of it all, but you will not have to know how to (or where) lay the paper on the Heidelberg printer paper feeder, or how much solvent to mix on that Pantone Reflex Blue, or even how to set up the registration.

    Those are a printers skills, and if you have them, good for you, but you don’t need them to make great print design as along as you understand the principles…

    “Coders” of all kind are the “web printers” for the designer, they have the necessary skills to make the design to work on the desired medium…

    “I’m a designer that’s trying to veer off developing because I feel it’s hurting my creativity. Trying to learn CMSs, blogging tools, Javascript, extensive CSS, and other techniques is hurting my creativity. Instead of learning more about typography, grids, color theory, art history, etc, I have become a jack of all trades making me a well rounded designer/developer but not a great one at one.”

    Have you seen a duck?

    Well a duck have those funny feet made for swimming, but ducks don’t swimm so well, an they also can’t run, and even being able to fly some great distances, they’re not such great flyers…

    Know what’s wrong? Nature tryed to do to the ducks the same thing some people here are trying to do to designers…

    Wanna be great at something? Focus on the one thing you do best, as you already realized!

    One of my first degrees is a Marketing Degree, and since colege I’ve been found of Al Ries… I’m thinking people around here should read it…

  270. Nate


    22 February 2010 @ 10:55PM #

    The Guide Line Freak:

    “They’re web development tools, not web design tools… The only REAL design tool is your brain… In a real far second place there would come a pencil.”

    I feel like I may be getting dragged into an argument about semantics here, and I don’t want to do that, but I do want to clarify:

    I agree with you about design and ideas. I think you’re absolutely right that concepts are not limited to tools, and you lose some possibilities if you only work within the framework that certain tools allow. That’s what my earlier post is about.

    I disagree with you that html and css are web development tools only, not design tools. I think they’re both.

    You could just as easily say that plaster is a builder’s tool, not an artist’s tool, but that discredits the amazing art in Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. (Of course, no analogy is perfect, but I hope the comparison helps to communicate my point.)

    A designer needs to understand the concepts of balance, hierarchy, focus, etc., but at some point he or she does actually have to go past ideation and start putting things into some form of output tool. For many, that’s Photoshop or Illustrator or InDesign or Quark. For others, it involves the html and css in the browser itself. We’re not just concept designers, we’re graphic designers, print designers, interaction designers, and web designers.
    It starts with idea in the mind or sketched out in pencil, but it shouldn’t end there.

    You can still design wonderful websites without html knowledge – I’m not arguing against that. Michelangelo could have painted the ceilings with his fingers instead of brushes.

    What I am saying is that html and css are designers’ tools just as much as developers’ tools.

  271. Jonathan Harris

    Jonathan Harris

    22 February 2010 @ 11:17PM #

    I design every day.
    But I don’t code.
    I do however understand.

    I also communicate with my clients, developers, specialists and 3rd parties. I define and challenge the brief properly. I take the time to understand the world that my designs are going into – be it within a browser, a shopping mall, an envelope or a printing press.

    If I’m designing online then part of this designers’ job is to find the boundaries within which I’m working. I ask the smart questions, I draw on the experience of decades of pushing both pixels and pantone. I know what the limitations and foibles of HTML and CSS are because I consider it my responsibility to do so. It’s my job to keep an eye on the latest technologies, trends and methods. I need a working knowledge of them, know what works, what takes time and money to develop, what needs to be written from scratch, what can be reused. I don’t ever need to know how to do it myself. Thankfully I have some amazing colleagues who can code far more efficiently, creatively and effectively that I ever will be able to, irrespective of how long I study.

    I do this level of research whatever the medium I’m working in. On-line OR Off-line.

    If I take the time to develop coding skills, the flash, the action scrips, the java’s then my creativity will suffer. If I devote that amount of time to one niche then I won’t be as effective in all the other facets that a designer must maintain to be effective. It’s not cost effective or a good use of my time to code. I can design the site then work closely with my developer to realise it. He or she can do it a lot quicker and produce beautiful code far beyond my abilities.

    I know how the printing press works, I’ve visited many. I know about colours, inks and trapping etc. But I feel no need to build one in my basement or know how the flywheels work just prove I can design for it.

    I can understand how a one person outfit might have to be a jack of all trades, though soon it may become unfeasible from both a logistical and financial perspective to continue to do everything yourself.

    To issue a blanket edict that you can’t be a web designer without coding is rude, blinkered and arrogant. Understand and appreciate the medium? Yes, mandatory. If that means having some limited experience then yes, that’s even better. But code your own designs every time? No.

  272. The Guide Line Freak

    The Guide Line Freak

    23 February 2010 @ 01:45AM #


    “A designer needs to understand the concepts of balance, hierarchy, focus, etc., but at some point he or she does actually have to go past ideation and start putting things into some form of output tool. For many, that’s Photoshop or Illustrator or InDesign or Quark. For others, it involves the html and css in the browser itself. We’re not just concept designers, we’re graphic designers, print designers, interaction designers, and web designers.
    It starts with idea in the mind or sketched out in pencil, but it shouldn’t end there.”

    Nothing to disagree…

    And I said it earlier, no problem a guy being both designer and developer, or even a heavy programmer, I know a few ones that can pull that kind of magic off, as long as they can draw a line between designing, developing a design and programming…

    Back @ the agency we were making a few big sites a month, and for most the process of making the ideas that were hand drawn on a white board would start on the heavy programming, creating the systems functions leaving the “print to web” (on the printer analogy of my last post)for the end. But even the functions were drawn on the white board on a closed room with competent people and pizza… We’d discuss everylittlething until there were only the “doing as planed” part left. Our team normally would be one Art Director, two art assistants, two Designers (one of them kinda knew some css), 4 developers (each on some specialization) and 3 backend programmers. From time to time we’d borrow some of them to other teams or would get someone from them…

    The design part was not even made (only) by the designers, the whole group participated actively until the result became satisfactory…

    And no designer working for me ever coded or needed to know anything about code, we had dialogs…

    Jonathan Harris:

    Man, I just wish I had your eloquence, but being away from any English speaking country for over 10 years now really killed it… Use it or lose it, right?

    I won’t even comment anything you said, it’s kinda a more organized, “vocabularized” and objective version of everything I said until now (or tried to).

    Greatly putted man!

  273. Sam


    23 February 2010 @ 06:51AM #

    As someone who has done a little research in the Architecture field I would like to point out that an Architect absolutely has to know how to build a building. Maybe they don’t have to know exactly how to fit the frames together for pouring concrete, but an actual registered Architect has to know all about load-bearing calculations and wind tolerances and how to fit all the electrical and duct work between the floors.

    But this only reinforces the claims made in your article. I agree that designers should know how to code and furthermore that developers should know the basics of design software.

    I’ve had several designers send me designs with a complicated background that just can’t be replicated in the environment I’m working in. Similarly, it’s very advantageous as a developer to be able to open up the design file and export my own images as I need them to fit together.

    Crossover in skill sets is essential.

  274. Mick


    23 February 2010 @ 05:35PM #

    I try to stay away from articles like this because they just seem very calculated, a lazy resurrection of some tired old argument (Photoshop V Fireworks, PC V Mac, etc) with a SE friendly semi-sensationalist Tweet designed to mainline traffic stats directly to the author’s ego.

    Seriously, how delicate do one’s sensibilities have to be in order to be ‘shocked’ that someone designs without being able to write code? Does this kind of thing happen often? Does one weep inconsolably upon seeing the most eye-wateringly beautiful typographic layout clusterf***ed by third-rate copy? Is there a great gnashing of caffeine addicted teeth biting down on the outraged tongues of the easily offended when a site uses Flash for something that could be done with jQuery? Does one swoon to a limp lifeless mass clutching a Photoshop manual to one’s heart when discovering a designer didn’t start with a filter but with an idea. Meh.

    I haven’t coded a site since the late 90s (you know, back when nested tables weren’t just what your grandma had in her drawing room) and I’ve no intention of ever coding one again. Why? Well, for one, I don’t need to and, more importantly, I don’t want to. I have another designer who works for me whose code is brilliant, he thrives on it, and four programmers. I set out to hire people who are better than me in the areas I know I’m weak at, which lets me concentrate on what I enjoy most and lets them know I’ll be guided by their knowledge.

    I’ve seen too many designers over the years who truly, madly and deeply understand CSS go on to limit themselves by designing around what they know they can code quickly/easily/safely; their imagination stunted by self-imposed restrictions. Sure, there are the few who can master all aspects of web design from designing front-end layouts, to typography, to architecting information flow, to coding the whole thing up and working with programmers to provide a fully functioning site. But, from what I’ve seen over the years, most can’t – or, at least, they do some bits well and other bits not so well.

    Sure, an architect my know everything there is to know about load-bearing walls and the most efficient way to do the wiring, plumbing, roofing and the best materials to use to create a sustainable, energy efficient, solar-powered, dolphin-friendly, igloo factory in a desert. But, invariably, they don’t do all those things themselves, instead they will regularly seek expert advice to keep up to date on what’s possible, then seek out expert providers to put it all together and also listen to the suggestions and ideas they hear from all sides along the way – including the client who generally knows damn all, except the little things like what they want and how much they’re willing to pay.

    Articles like this thrive on creating unnecessary conflict, where there’s a sneering superior attitude by claiming to be ‘shocked’ by the way others work. The me-too tub-thumpers taking up the cause, jockeying unctuously for fawning credits by spewing insulting nonsense like : “I think that if you don’t know how to code, you probably don’t know much about what is possible besides hover and click”.

    It’s wholly disrespectful, not just to designers who work in a teams in a way that they enjoy and their clients benefit from, but also to the teams of coders and developers who make their living doing damned good work without knowing about grid structure, kerning or tertiary colours.

    I hope the stats were worth it, Elliot.

  275. mccasal


    23 February 2010 @ 06:41PM #

    I mostly agree with this article.
    It’s true, knowing how to code changes the way you think your work. When you wireframe you have to think how you’re gonna build it. And when you start the design, your brain needs to make virtual cuts in the images, virtual actions and you need to understand how you could code it or at least have a pretty good idea of how it could be done.
    I’m part of the “I don’t want to code”. It did it for years in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. I’m now working in an agency that has a pretty talented bunch of coders and developers. I manage the webdesign team. So I stopped coding. But I couldn’t work without the inputs of these coders. Even if I don’t do it anymore, I really need to stay aware of what’s going on, what’s changing, what’s new, because it feeds my own work.
    The webdesigners that don’t know or don’t want to code should understand that the coders and developers are part of the creativity. They bring a lot. Webdesign it’s not just images, colors and decoration… or keep doing posters.

  276. Thomas Moffett

    Thomas Moffett

    23 February 2010 @ 07:04PM #

    I think the important thing to remember is a quote by a friend of mine’s grandfather: “Find that which you love and do it better than anyone else!” – I hate programming, I love designing.

    I have concluded in the last year or so to stop coding because my design has suffered from me trying to fit my design into what I can code.

  277. John Pitchers

    John Pitchers

    23 February 2010 @ 08:23PM #

    Elliot, What actually happened that motivated your “No excuse” tweet.

  278. The Guide Line Freak

    The Guide Line Freak

    23 February 2010 @ 11:19PM #

    Soo many replys and no one even bother reading some…

    The best I’ve seen here is in the discutions beneath the post… Sadly, words to fall on blind eyes, or none at all…

  279. Michael Borowiecki

    Michael Borowiecki

    24 February 2010 @ 09:37PM #

    In my view, yes, it is beneficial when a web designer has a basic understanding of coding. That knowledge helps translate the designer’s vision to the programming team when it comes to animated objects or complex visual representations of data. And I agree with you that there is a distinction between not understanding coding, and those that choose not to.

    I believe better results come from having a team where each member is specialized in a different facet of web creation. I naturally wouldn’t want my web designer working in CSS or PHP, just as I wouldn’t want marketing and branding content researched and written by a database programmer.

    I find it interesting you reversed roles and begged the question, “should web developers have a working understanding of web design?” In my experiences, and I’m probably going to get flak for this, but web developers almost universally seem to have a very poor grasp of basic design — even those who continuously try to improve their design abilities. I wonder if it has more to do with right-brain versus left-brain thinking?

    Great post… looking forward to reading more Elliot!

  280. Chris Howard

    Chris Howard

    26 February 2010 @ 06:42AM #

    My attitude to this changed abruptly a couple of months ago. Previously I was in the naysayers’ camp, that is the one’s who said designers didn’t need to know coding to be web designers.

    I tried saying that graphic designers can do any sort of design – be it print, web, packaging etc.

    Then I realised the foolishness of my example. If you want to design for anything, you have to understand the medium. You’d be a hopeless package designer if you didn’t understand the materials and methods.

    Web design has become a specialist field. Just like fashion design, industrial design etc. It should be separated from graphic design. If you’re a graphic designer who ants to specialize in packaging, you will learn everything you can about packaging. The same should apply to graphic designers wanting to do web design.

    That’s not to say graphic designers can’t do good web designs without that knowledge. I know a guy who does great web “designs” without knowing CSS or HTML, but then I have to spend extra time making them work.

    And to counter the “But an architect doesn’t have to know how to build buildings” argument, an architect does have to have an understanding of the materials to be used, the engineering requirements and limitations etc.

    He may never pick up a hammer in his life, but if he doesn’t understand the buildings themselves, there’s every possibility his designs could come crashing down.

    Likewise a web site “designed” by someone who doesn’t have an understanding of the mechanics of web pages – they could come crashing down.

    If an architect is not familiar with building materials and mechanics, then he’s just a guy drawing pictures of buildings.

    And if a “web designer” is not familiar with web materials and mechanics, then he’s just a guy drawing pictures of web pages.

  281. Webstandard-Blog


    26 February 2010 @ 12:23PM #

    WebDesigners or ScreenDEsigners should know something about WebDevelopment ( CSS, HTML ) bcause they design WebDesign for Internetpages not for a Newspaper. A PackagingDesigner should know something about material and usability of the products too.

  282. Dan Wong

    Dan Wong

    26 February 2010 @ 08:09PM #

    What a great discussion! I recently began teaching web design at CityTech, CUNY in downtown Brooklyn, and I wanted to say, watch out! My goal is have all of our graduates come out with killer HTML/CSS skills. Every web course they pass results in a live working site. They’re building both a portfolio and skills to match.
    As a practicing graphic designer, who initially fought learning how to code, it’s amazing how easy it is. Yes, beyond HTML/CSS and understanding Javascript/PHP, there’s no need. But I’ve worked on large corporate projects, and as a designer, it’s necessary to be able to hand over HTML/CSS files to the real developers. Otherwise, you’re getting people implementing your designs, who don’t understand the importance of kerning, leading, and breathing room around type and graphics. Yes, you could direct them. But how frustrating that is. Eventually you give up on the details, because they just don’t get it all.
    There is also an approach to designing for the web that is so different. Things vary from browser to browser, OS to OS, now smart phone to smart phone. Your designs have to be flexible enough to look good on all devices. It’s a completely different head space than print or packaging design.

  283. Chris


    26 February 2010 @ 11:27PM #

    I’m going to agree with you. HTML and CSS are very simple in comparison to even the most forgiving of programming languages. If you’re designing for the web, you ought to have a basic understanding of what it takes to make a webpage.

    That being said, I totally understand the desire to avoid programming. It gets pretty boring. HTML/CSS is usually fast and fun.

  284. Kayla


    27 February 2010 @ 06:51AM #

    I couldn’t agree more, and great post. While I don’t expect web designers to know how to build a complex dynamic site, what differs ‘web design’ from ‘graphic design’ is just the simple ability to create a webpage, which of course, requires HTML and CSS. It’s definitely not difficult at all, especially with a bit of practice. Plus, as a web designer, it’s always a relief that I can fall back on my own coding abilities if I can’t afford to outsource at the moment.

  285. Sequoia


    27 February 2010 @ 09:32PM #

    I hope I’m not repeating anyone:

    I feel compelled to lay some blame for designer ignorance at the feet of project managers etc.. If they knew and took seriously the affects of web-inconsiderate design on the project budget, they would (I hope) insist that the designers learn enough markup and styles to keep from wasting costly dev time. Otherwise, why should the designers care? They make the psd and hand it off and after that, well, it’s not their problem. Project managers: if you want to stay in budget, make it their problem!!

  286. Creative Professional

    Creative Professional

    28 February 2010 @ 11:54PM #

    I’m a Creative Director searching looking to fill a full-time position, and we’re running across so many candidates who are unfamiliar with even basic html/css development. Due to the fact that we build web applications this is a deal breaker for us.

    Learn to code html/css. Don’t leave it up to others. You’re limiting your job opportunities, and leaving money on the table.

  287. Lee Hung Nguyen

    Lee Hung Nguyen

    01 March 2010 @ 03:40PM #

    I would say I agree with your post, but like “Josh Cagwin” has mentioned I completely agree with him.

    I’m a graphic designer that went through a university course that was based all around Print design. Sadly enough us designers that favoured web (the whole two of us), had to go off and learn html/css off on our own.

    At till this point, I can write html/css fairly basically only to do it at my own pace. Although I have very strong knowledge of what other programming languages are able to do, and what they are used for (mySQL,XML,PHP, JS and so on).

    So I’m able to direct the developer on what I want, and know whats possible or not for him

  288. Chris


    01 March 2010 @ 11:42PM #

    Very insightful article and comments. There are many truths and perspectives to this, but in regards to the designer who doesn’t know HOW to code… I think a designer needs to understand the framework or canvass they have to work within. If they don’t, then they have failed.

    An easy example being a print designer who chooses to put some type of triple stroke effect around a graphic or group. Sure it’s possible, but so very impractical from a coding perspective. One needs to understand the consequences of their design choices. And I submit that you cannot know that without knowing how to complete your design in HTML.

  289. Rachel Nabors

    Rachel Nabors

    02 March 2010 @ 03:23AM #

    I am one of those odd birds who falls squarely in the middle of that ven diagram. When I go to Refresh and they ask how many of use are designers, how many of us are developers, I don’t know when to raise my hand. I’m almost strictly a front-ender with the exception of designing my own sites and some illustration work.

    But enough about me.

    Sometimes I am surprised at how little some developers know about semantics. Sometimes I have to un-train them: Don’t use br tags when a paragraph would work. A ul would be more appropriate than a string of nested divs, here. And so on.

    I think both sides need to take some interest in front end code. When you throw a hardcore developer and a designer into the same room together and force them to make a site, there’s a good chance you’re going to end up with something absolutely hideous to search engines and screen readers.

  290. Mike


    02 March 2010 @ 05:37AM #

    Great post! I agree with you in part. However, I am more of the school of thought that encourages focus on one thing. If a designer has the ability to both design and code, that’s great. But if a designer, can’t code, there’s nothing wrong with that. As a developer, I think it is very hard to move from knowing how to code to designing websites and I’d imagine for some designers this is probably the case also. I would argue that HTML and CSS aren’t easy for the average person. To me Javascript is super-simple, but I’m sure many will disagree with me. When it comes to best practices, whether that be from either a design or development stand point, it is up to each side to effectively communicate with the other on that level. Overall, with projects on any scale, people working within their specialty, allow for productive and effective execution of a project.

  291. Web Designers and Coding | 8164.org

    Web Designers and Coding | 8164.org

    02 March 2010 @ 12:09PM #

    […] entry listing five reasons why web designers should code. Elliot later posted in detail to further explain his thoughts on the matter. I share the same views as them, so I won’t regurgitate what they […]

  292. Peter Ellis

    Peter Ellis

    02 March 2010 @ 09:22PM #

    I agree with some parts of the discussion you have raised! From my experience its hard getting a web/digital designer who really understands the medium for which they are designing (Accessibility considerations, CSS, XHTML…even at a basic level)!

    In the creative marketing world art directors (designers to me) and copy writers are usually paired up and hired together as a single unit throughout their career (they work togehter on the design and the copy collaboratively!)

    Since working in the realm of “digital” within the agency I work for we have adopted a similar approach. Here we pair up a digital designer with a front end web producer. A concept that has worked really well so far within the agency and each person learns of the other! The digital designer isn’t orientated in becoming a web designer but starts to understand where and how to push his/her web designs.

    This is far better than the old way of design it first then passing to the web production team who will only scratch their heads asking how did you see this working!

    Plus this approach seems to break down those common barriers between designer and developer.

  293. Mike Dyer

    Mike Dyer

    03 March 2010 @ 08:32AM #

    Brilliant article. On one hand, I do believe that all designers should be more than able to hand code and develop their own XHTML valid websites in this day and age. On the other hand, I guess I can shit in and wait to see which hand fills up first.

  294. Deb Pang Davis

    Deb Pang Davis

    03 March 2010 @ 09:04AM #

    Fantastic and I think a stellar post for all designers who want to make the transition to read.

    Coming from nearly 10 years as art director/designer for newspapers and magazines, learning CSS and HTML was a major awakening.

    CSS = Indesign stylesheets. HTML = The content.

    I’m definitely not a CSS/HTML expert but I can hold my own thanks to authors like Dave McFarland, Andy Budd, Simon Collison and Dan Cederholm.

    When the lightbulb hit, it was a coming out party for my inner geek.

    There’s a Portland based clothing company called Nau who believes in “Performance. Beauty. Sustainability.”

    So, I agree. Understanding and knowing HTML/CSS is a must for anyone who calls themselves a web designer. If you know more, more power to you. I certainly wish I had the time to do it all and do it well!

  295. Issue 6 news

    Issue 6 news

    03 March 2010 @ 07:15PM #

    […] debate was sparked on whether designers should know how to code. Elliot Jay-Stocks offers his opinion. We have based this issue’s Twitpoll on the same […]

  296. Daniel Pereira

    Daniel Pereira

    03 March 2010 @ 08:24PM #

    Webdesign, surely, comes under one category; Design & Development.

    What makes a good Webdesigner is someone who designs and codes well, a poor webdesigner is someone who either designs or codes poorly.

    It should come as a package…


  297. Arron Davies

    Arron Davies

    04 March 2010 @ 05:12AM #

    Best read in a long time and you’ve covered everything!
    I’ve seen business’ targeted at freelance designers who want to speed up their working proses by slicing up PSDs for them, terrible!

    I love all of my work and I really REALLY enjoy coding and learning new styles.

    Great read cheers!

  298. Deepak Eyebridge

    Deepak Eyebridge

    04 March 2010 @ 05:53PM #

    Absolutely true .. these days the employers want to earn out of every penny they spend over the employees. Hence the designers who can code well have the better employment opportunities.
    Thanks :)

  299. Jack Barham

    Jack Barham

    04 March 2010 @ 07:17PM #

    Great article – There’s nothing wrong with wanting to leaning how to make nicer curves in Illustrator then jump on to a jQuery tutorial.

    When you meet you clients (or deal with the powers above) you ingellegance allows to cover so many aspects and keeps you from saying “sorry, this is not my field”.


  300. Sarah Strachn

    Sarah Strachn

    05 March 2010 @ 08:07PM #

    I agree in the fact that you should have the knowledge even if you choose not to use it. I choose not to code because I just can’t bring myself to do it but it is important for me to know the things that can be done and how certain browsers will render things so I can design accordingly. What I find to be even more shocking is the number of designers who know nothing about accessibility.

  301. SitePoint Podcast #51: Real Web Designers Get It

    SitePoint Podcast #51: Real Web Designers Get It

    06 March 2010 @ 06:00AM #

    […] Yeah, it seems reading Elliot Jay Stocks’s larger blog post it seems he admits that you can design for the web without understanding the code, but the point he […]

  302. exe files

    exe files

    08 March 2010 @ 06:36PM #

    Still, know more about html is really helpful.
    No matter which develop tool you use, html is basic of everything.

  303. Malli


    09 March 2010 @ 05:42AM #

    OK. wow, 320 posts, you’re right about knickers in a twist :) as a web designer who “codes” front-end and does basic forms etc in php, this is right up my alley. After reading ur tweet, people’s responses, i’m actually a bit exhuasted, but not enough to not say what i feel i must. Its unfair but thats how life is: A designer must know Photoshop, mustdefi know HTML/CSS, but more often than not, should know how JS, php, .net platforms etc work . A programmer need pretty much not know any design except integration issues. BUT since that’s all said and done, here’s whats getting my knickers in a twist..I read this ad for a job profile
    DESCRIPTION: Expert proficiency in .Net, php, CMS, Coldfusion would be a plus, AS3 essential, flash, HTML/CSS skills necessary. Javascript, JQuery necessary.
    So here’s my question: HOW is this a job for a “web Designer” Someone enlighten me.
    With the lines between designer/developer being so blurry, this post has been 2-3 years int he making i would say..

  304. Simone


    09 March 2010 @ 06:00AM #

    Funny how it went a little crazy! I agree that NOW this is true, HTML & CSS knowledge will actually make a designers life easier if one knows it. Whats interesting to me is seeing what happens to the “web design” role in the future. Designing with divs & CSS hasn’t been around that long relatively speaking. Its natural that we, the people who have been doing this for the last 10 years, know that stuff. We HAD to. But will this continue?

    I speculate that perhaps sooner or later the training institutions will start really concentrating on spitting out designers who are super usability geeks. They make wireframes, personas, experiences rather than worry their pretty little heads about any sort of code. They are taught briefly on restrictions the technology has but no more. Then there are the super HTML&CSS peoples who are paving the way for incredible front end code.

    Thats the theory for the day anyhow, thanks for the inspiration…

  305. Donna


    09 March 2010 @ 09:24AM #

    I agree with what you are saying Elliot. It is like the saying; The best architect was once a builder. It also carries over in to so many other vocations.

  306. Ann


    09 March 2010 @ 09:00PM #

    As I was reading through I though, how can a web designer not know code? Then I realized that a “Web Developer” where some of you come from only do the graphics. Where I live (Tennessee), if you want a web job you have to know the graphics and the code (front and back). I’ve had a hard time keeping up with knowing everything and sitepoint has helped a lot. I don’t really have the desire to learn the graphics side, but have had to learn it. I’m good at the coding side – been coding for 25+ years. I was really surprised when I came here that the companies that have the jobs expect you to do everything. But then I looked at their sites and I can see that you can’t be great at everything, unless you do it 20 hours a day. Their websites are proof of it. I guess I’ll stick with being great at one thing and pretty good at the other things. Otherwise, I would not have time to ride the Harley! – my stress releaver.

  307. forthetimebeing


    09 March 2010 @ 09:04PM #

    Coders, whether markup or programming, should be banned from all design. Developer dominance in design is the bane of all usability and beauty. All technology is poisoned with this perverse dominance, from hardware, to operating systems to software to web design. Until developers are banned from design, relegated and subjugated to serving HCI designers with functionality alone, technology will continue to be junkware, from A to Z.

  308. Steve Griffith

    Steve Griffith

    09 March 2010 @ 09:13PM #

    I teach web design and development at a local college. It is a two year interactive multimedia program, so the students are learning more than just the web.
    However, I absolutely insist that the students be comfortable with both sides. They may not leave as experts in both (or either), they will at least understand that both parts are integral to any website.
    You need to understand HTML and CSS (even better if you can throw Javascript, jQuery, MySQL and PHP into the mix) AND you need to understand the fundamentals of designing for the web.
    Each will have their own strengths and weaknesses. Each will have their own preference. However, they NEED both to call themselves either a web designer or a web developer.

    I think your point is very well and clearly stated here Elliot.

  309. Alex Al-Hamdan

    Alex Al-Hamdan

    09 March 2010 @ 09:38PM #

    I completely agree with your statement, and as an architect myself, I see the “architects don’t need to know how to build buildings” comment as further support for your argument, actually.

    Although we don’t need to know the finer details of construction, we are still required to take building technology courses which familiarize us with the general processes which our subcontractors will use to execute our designs. This is necessary so that we don’t end up designing a building that can only exist in fantasy-land.

    This ties directly to your argument that web designers should be familiar with basic html / css; without this common language it makes communication and understanding between the designer and developer much more difficult, and prone to mistakes / misunderstandings

  310. Sarah


    09 March 2010 @ 09:47PM #

    Designers should be able to code and have an Clear understanding of web usability. If they don’t then you have a 3 tired position: Designer, Front-end programmer, and back-end programmer. And the problem you are going to run in here is time. if the designer and front-end programmer are the same person then your development time will be decrease. Now that doesn’t me that your designer has to be great at drawing pretty picture……. that’ what illustrators are for.

  311. John Scrivner

    John Scrivner

    10 March 2010 @ 02:29AM #

    Awesome post Elliot! I completely agree. I have never felt that I know enough about Front-end vs. back-end design/development. I’ve always thought it was expected to know HTML, CSS, and all design tools (photoshop, illustrator,etc) to be a web designer. Nice one! Thanks -

  312. Josh


    10 March 2010 @ 05:03AM #

    No, architects don’t need to know how to construct the buildings they design, but they DO need to know HOW BUILDINGS ARE CONSTRUCTED.

  313. EricThriller


    10 March 2010 @ 05:07AM #

    First off,

    Designers and Developers are two completely different things. Disagree?

    Let me tell you why.

    What is the designers job?

    What is the developers job?

    When you are a designer you have so many different aspects to think about. Web design is an art form. To make a good piece of web you have to polish your design skills. Constantly upgrading your arsenal. Always teaching yourself new design techniques.

    When you are a developer you also have many aspects to be responsible for like Coding HTML, CSS, PHP. You have to have a certain type of person (Left Brain) who has that mathematical knowledge to break down a design and code it.

    From my experience in this industry so far I have not met a designer that was a good developer nor a developer that was a good designer. I just can’t picture those two “Jobs” or “Positions” blending and making one.

    Whoever can do both design and development at a high caliber I commend you, and would like to see your work and what you have done.

    I do not see these jobs blending together. They are both too technical and too massive of a position to do both. I just do not see it!


  314. EricThriller


    10 March 2010 @ 05:12AM #

    Opinion # 2

    The Web Designer / Developer is a FREELANCE thing.

    Where as in an advertising agency you have those being to separate jobs so they can focus solely on their profession and become the best they can be.

    This to me is how they become so good at what they do, they are not doing 15 different things at a time.

  315. CSS Skills = Better Web Design?

    CSS Skills = Better Web Design?

    10 March 2010 @ 09:43AM #

    […] went onto outline his position in a lengthy blog post. Here he mentioned how learning the HTML and CSS necessary to code his designs had been a […]

  316. Alex


    10 March 2010 @ 08:13PM #

    Well, great article. There are so many comments, that’s made me wonder if i even should try to post my comment :) But i think what i have to say is worth it.

    I agree with people that say “You don’t know how to code to design a nice website”.

    And i also agree with the people that say “If you’re a webdesigner, you gotta know SOME coding”.

    Here’s my opinion and i think also a fact:

    If you want to be a trendsetting, future thinking webdesigner. A webdesigner that sets new achievements and pushes webdesign boundaries: You gotta know some code. not ALL of it, but at least you have to know ‘What technically is posible’ and what can and can’t be done technically speaking. If you know those things you probably also know your code.


    If you just want to design websites, with simple techniques, a main menu, maybe a side menu, with some different pages, not thinking about usability or convertion/clickthrough ratio like say on a webshop. Then hey: Who needs to know some coding right?

    This kind of article, makes the Jedi webdesigners, who hand craft their code looking at all the little details in their code as wel as in their design, even more angry at those superdeluxe Amatures, who polute the internet with their cheap ass designs and sliced up table html code, and steal the jedi’s work for being so super cheap.

    I think that’s a thought running in the back of the mind with a lot of people, feeling themself needed to put their oppinion about this subject in the open. And i think it’s a never ending story.

    It’ll always be like that. It’s like a mac vs pc thing.

    So if everyone will continue to get the best out of things to prove the other one wrong, maybe in the end we’ll only have perfect webdesign ;)

  317. Peter R

    Peter R

    10 March 2010 @ 08:23PM #

    excellent article! When’s part 2 come out?

  318. Radu


    10 March 2010 @ 09:27PM #

    Web designers need be familiar with the HTML/CSS coding aspect. I mean, c’mon they are designing for THE WEB. Web is different than print. Understand it, learn it and master it.

  319. kiplog


    10 March 2010 @ 10:48PM #

    As someone who builds and doesn’t design, I don’t care if the designer handing me a .psd knows about the double margin float bug. What I do care about is if they know not to shove tiny lorem ipsum into a fixed height layout. They must understand what happens when the browser, content or font size scales.

    All to often design decisions have to be made after the comp is approved. When it’s a developer making those decisions, the designer has failed.

    If I have to ask whether a design will be centered in the browser, or what happens when the copywriter gives me a headline with more than two words, their failing has nothing to do with ignorance of CSS.

    Designing with lorem ipsum in Photoshop is flawed beyond whether the designer knows CSS, it shows the designer has a weak knowledge of the medium itself.

  320. Bella


    11 March 2010 @ 02:42AM #

    Love this site! Absolutely brilliant!!

    I’m a designer who has just started to dabble into the world of web design.
    I set myself the goal to learn as much as I could about html & css, actually spent months just focused on that… but I found my design work suffered as a result! Stupid really but I began to design around my code knowledge resulting in bland, lifeless designs! So, I decided to design my site and hand it over to be coded by someone who actually knows what they are doing!

    Unfortunately the developers working on my site have let me down. I was told my WordPress site of four pages would take two weeks to create and I’m still waiting for it FIVE weeks later!!!!!!!!!!!!

  321. Martin Taylor

    Martin Taylor

    11 March 2010 @ 05:11AM #

    As a traditional creative who loves to design for the web, I feel it is essential to understand what goes into developing a website of all scales and complexities, so our designs can be sympathetic to the medium, be practical in delivery and we can converse with developers and clients in a confident manner at planning phases.

    I don’t feel it necessary for a web designer to be able to develop his or her own website as creativity would become the looser. If I designed a website as a coder than I am sure my creative conscience would start to shy away from conceptulising quirky user interface and possibly give way to a more conservative and time saving final product.

    As a creative, I should excel in the delivery of exciting and intriguing, brand considered user friendly visuals.

    As a coder, I should excel in the efficient delivery of the visuals using only the best and cleanest code possible.

    With the risk of sounding cock sure, this is a view, backed up by an close friend, colleague and experienced developer who has worked alongside me on many a successful project.

    but this leads me onto my simple closing point. Why do we have…

    Web Designers / Creatives


    Developers / Coders

    Surely the job titles above conclude the argue? (like the chicken and the egg, this debate will almost certainly never conclude… ; )

  322. Nathan Nash

    Nathan Nash

    11 March 2010 @ 09:41PM #

    I wholeheartedly agree. I taught myself HTML and CSS in highschool – I knew photoshop pretty well at the time as well – with relative ease and that foundational knowledge has helped me tremendously in using database software like Wordpress.

  323. Scott Morrison

    Scott Morrison

    11 March 2010 @ 09:58PM #

    What irritates me the most about comments like this – “Design you do with a pencil a paper and a brain, all the rest is mouse-pushing, not designing.” Is the complete lack of respect for what Software Developers do. It’s not mouse-pushing and not designing. It’s a different type of design. The problem is that graphic designers have a superiority complex. They think there’s nothing beyond visual design. In reality it takes a lot of design and thinking to build out beautiful css. Comments like the one about diminish the value of someone who writes beautifully thought out and well designed algorithms or html/css but can’t draw a pretty picture. The thing that people need to realize is there’s more than one type of design infact – Software Engineers are designers of a different type. Just like writers are artistic in a different way than painters.

  324. Kamal


    11 March 2010 @ 10:04PM #

    Heh! I don’t get what’s the big debate about… If one can drive and also learns to change tires of her/his car, s/he can use their skill when needed; or choose not to, and hire a mechanic for the job.

    If they did not learn to change tires, they are in a situation here. First, they depend on availability of a mechanic to get anywhere if their tire goes kaput. Second, they have to live with “first” and be able to afford one at all times to get work done, because they don’t have a choice on that front. Now I am sure I would get a nod from all enterprising and D-I-Y kinda folks out here if I say “that’s a pitiable situation”. :P

    If I want a choice, I would learn html+css+js+(everything that lends me a choice i want to have). If not, I chose to live with the limits. Many people do. Each one of us does that, in something we encounter everyday!

  325. Michael Hall

    Michael Hall

    11 March 2010 @ 11:47PM #

    i’d love to read over all the comments but i have to come back later as i have to run.

    but let me just say that i wholeheartedly disagree.

    1. we were calling ourselves web designers way before css was even born using plain old html

    2. i can code the backend and outsource the front end to a peer or team member – i’d be lying by ommission of the fact that i didn’t do the whole thing all by myself, but i did design the site for the client.

    example: i can code front and backend in all the popular stuff like PHP, HTML, CSS, JAVASCRIPT, DHTML. But i don’t do graphics – at all. So i build the engine, and the frame of the car – and have someone else paint it. So i’m not a car designer because i don’y apply the asthetics?

    3. CSS is not easy! easy to grasp, but not so easy to apply, like javascript every browser treats your code differently, and worse of all CSS doesn’t give you error messages, nor does html.

    to call yourself a web designer when you don’t touch a lick of code is a big fat lie, i’ll give you that, but if you can code a site without using a lick of css then what are you if not a web designer?

    besides your whole post seems to suggest that the designer should learn html and css for posterity whether they intend to use or not.

    i’d rather hire 2 specialists than a ‘jack of all trades and master of none’

    web design is more of an umbrella term i.m.o. it does not specify that you must be able to code front end, back end, and do graphics before you can brandish the title – but you do have a point – one should not go around calling themselves a ‘web designer’ if you don’t do any coding. knowing how to code doesn’t really count, unless you used to code and stopped.

    better to call yourself a ‘web design company’ since you will be outsourcing much of the work to someone who will actually build the engine for the car. after all what good is a pretty car that has no engine?

  326. Thomas


    12 March 2010 @ 11:04AM #

    What’s interesting to me is that more and more I’m finding it rare to come across developers who know HTML/CSS. They know the extreme basics, like how to lay out a page with tables, but they know nothing of semantic markup, accessibility, and efficiency. I’m the designer and I’m usually going in to fix all their mistakes.

  327. Miguel Calo

    Miguel Calo

    12 March 2010 @ 01:22PM #

    My vote, is that a designer should know how to code html/css… so the dev peeps can just focus on the backend… MVC is awesome in so many ways(off topic).

    If you design something without the slightest idea of how to code it… how else would you know if its possible? efficient? practical? not saying that there’s a possiblity that a design’s impossible, coders can dice it up any way they see it fit. But wouldnt it make lives easier, if Designers could just code it themselves? its not that hard…

    Other thoughts would be, the specializations in web building have been getting wider and wider. Maybe they should change “Web Designer” to “Layout Artist” or even “Artist”… they’re just words… and obviously, the word “Web” or “Layout” already has something to do with html or css. :)

    Great post…

  328. almost daniel » jacks of all trades or masters of one?

    almost daniel » jacks of all trades or masters of one?

    13 March 2010 @ 03:09AM #

    […] “Honestly, I’m shocked that in 2010 I’m still coming across ‘web designers’ who can’t code their own designs. No excuse.” ~ Elliot Jay Stocks, Web designers who can’t code. […]

  329. Hire Web Designer

    Hire Web Designer

    13 March 2010 @ 12:02PM #

    Well, designers should be creative and not coders.

    I agree that in todays internet world, designer should know basics of HTML and can build the flat HTML site on their own, this does not mean that they can do powerful backhand for the website…

    see, this is also a fact that designers can be programmer (if they want), but programmers cannot be deisgners.


  330. Ashley Morrison

    Ashley Morrison

    14 March 2010 @ 04:42PM #

    Okay from what I was able to read (about half, I have to be somewhere soon and would like to get my thoughts out before I forget them. I will read the other half later!) I completely agree with the fact that the designer should know basic HTML, CSS and even above that, for the simple fact that the more you understand about coding the easier it will be for you to design something that isn’t impossible for the next person to code. I think one should know as much as possible because in the end it will make them a better designer, and isn’t that what any designer (especially a web designer) would want? I fall into the category of Can’t when it comes to the coding side of web design…but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to learn! I feel it could be one more thing that I could do and therefore make me more profitable as a designer!

  331. Mary McKnight

    Mary McKnight

    16 March 2010 @ 12:53AM #

    THANK YOU! This is by far one of my biggest pet peeves. I’m actually a marketer by trade but taught myself web design and web development because most web designers fail at designing for conversion. Learning to code isn’t rocket science – designers that do not code their own site or pages are just lazy and show very little pride int heir work. From a technical standpoint their product will 90% of the time suck because they outsource it to people that may introduce errors into the code, fail to ensure compatibility between browsers and possibly forget to include the basics of on-page SEO within the code itself. For those that say, “designers should design not code”ARE YOU KIDDING ME? That’s like the doctor that lets the nurse close in the OR. If you want to provide the best quality product and guarantee your product – you need to do the project yourself and know how to code review for W3C compliance, compatibility and SEO. On the flip side of that – why would you want to outsource something you could easily do yourself to someone you have to pay for a service you don’t have the skill set to review for accuracy? Designers, SEOs, Social Media dingbats that can’t code need to take their butts back to school and learn their trade from top to bottom.

  332. Zia Rahman

    Zia Rahman

    16 March 2010 @ 08:25AM #

    Yes I agree, designers should know and code their designs in HTML and CSS, I also agree designers cannot be great coders but HTML and CSS should not be a problem, and besides, some developers I came across mess up the complete design just because they didn’t know how to slice/HTML and style some tough designs.

    As you said No Excuse.

  333. Tweets to Remember | Darren Hoyt Dot Com

    Tweets to Remember | Darren Hoyt Dot Com

    16 March 2010 @ 06:29PM #

    […] led to a discussion on Twitter that meandered all over the place. Elliot then posted a much longer follow-up. It became clear no two people fully agreed about what makes a well-rounded Web Designer. It was a […]

  334. Michael Becker

    Michael Becker

    16 March 2010 @ 10:37PM #

    To be the best at what you do, you need to know every facet of your trade no matter what career path you’ve chosen. Ever see a plumber who just has parts in his truck, but doesn’t know how to fix anything (ok, maybe some of you have—you get the point).

    There is no excuse for a print designer who doesn’t understand how to design for the web. There is no explanation for a web designer who doesn’t write or read HTML markup. And finally, there certainly isn’t anything logical about a graphic designer who hands off an interactive project who has little-to-no knowledge or experience in Flash.

    The fact is, there are enough resources out there (most of which are free) for people to push themselves, adapt and learn new technologies.

  335. David Elliott

    David Elliott

    16 March 2010 @ 10:37PM #

    I agree 100%. If you’re making something for the web, you should have some knowledge on how things are pieced together. Repeating gradients/patterns, css sprites, and so on and so forth.

  336. Marc Jones

    Marc Jones

    16 March 2010 @ 10:48PM #

    I design websites. I design magazines. I design POS campaigns for blue chips.

    I can’t code CSS/HTML. I can’t perfect bind a set of printed sheets. I can’t cardboard engineer eflute.

    I understand the importance of all the above. I design accordingly but I leave experts to do what they do better than I could. In the same way they (the coder/dev – the printer – cardboard engineer) doesn’t tell me about art direction or even layout.

    I don’t need to be a carnivore to produce a layout for a butcher’s advert. I don’t need to be 6 years old to get creative on a product aimed at kids.

    Being fluent in CSS isn’t necessary AT ALL to call yourself a designer of any colour (web print or anything in between). I’ll accept knowing what the coder needs is vital and what their code is capable of is paramount. But your headline statement is tosh IMO and IME.

  337. JV


    16 March 2010 @ 11:52PM #

    @Michael Hall
    “3. CSS is not easy! easy to grasp, but not so easy to apply, like javascript every browser treats your code differently….”

    I AGREE. CSS and HTML are not that easy for left-brained people! At least not this left-brained person. I am a designer. I have a graphic design job at an ad agency and do freelance “web design.” I was taught a smidge of CSS by a programmer friend, and taught myself the rest. I’ve learned some javascript and PHP on my own too. And it’s HARD. I hate coding, but I do it because I’m “supposed” to know it; because I “have” to know it. Print designers might as well become coffee baristas because our jobs are disappearing.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the web and beautiful websites, I just don’t love feeling of inadequacy because I did one tiny thing wrong in code and it’s thrown off my entire site design and I have to spend hours and hours researching fixes and try 14 different ways to fix it and pour through every character of code because I must have told some div to do something it can’t do and then I find a fix! omg! but then I want to stab my eyes out because it still doesn’t work in IE6 and I feel as though I would actually pay someone to let me design their brochure or logo instead of their f***ing website. But no one wants brochures. They want websites.

    Basically, my point is that as a print designer, I am trying as hard as I can to be a web designer but I will never be a “real” one. I agree with most of your post, but please don’t think I’m dumb because I find coding frustrating as hell and would rather make someone else do who can do it better.

    (Really sorry for the long comment…)

  338. Philippe Dionne

    Philippe Dionne

    17 March 2010 @ 05:59AM #

    This is one of those things where you HAVE TO be yourself a web designer and front-end developper to trully understand.

    Great reflection, thanks a lot!

  339. Marc Jones

    Marc Jones

    17 March 2010 @ 02:14PM #

    I still think people are being too specific about a very broad term…

    As we know some clients with MS Word think they can “design”. Web designer / web developer / web coder. I personally think they are 3 distinct disciplines and it’s rare to be great at all 3.

    What a GRAPHIC designer needs to know in order to ‘design for web’ is the way CSS works so that they exploit its tricks and assets. This can be learnt as easy as how to supply print ready artwork (CMYK, Bleed etc). I return to my point about designing for print and not needing to know how to run a press.

    As far as I can see it’s a case of code apes that can do a bit of design feeling a little smug and looking to create a hierarchy – plenty of PSD to HTML types out there doing amazing work for guys like me that understand how a website works, how to devise a wireframe and sitemap and then how to make it look suitable to the client’s requirements that don’t know a span from a div and frankly haven’t time to add another semi-skill to dilute their craft from being good at a few things rather than ok at a lot.

  340. jeb


    18 March 2010 @ 06:44PM #

    i like the internet

  341. Amber Taylor

    Amber Taylor

    19 March 2010 @ 09:39PM #

    Web designers design for….that’s right the web. So it is essential to have a basic understanding of browser limitations, code specifics and other technical challenges your design will eventually face. I think there is no excuse for a “Web Designer” to not know some of the basics or at very least be in the process of learning html/css. These people should design for print, and leave the web design to web designers who know why it’s not a good idea to design something like that.

  342. Nickjett


    20 March 2010 @ 05:14PM #

    Thanks for the amazing post!

  343. Ricardo Zea

    Ricardo Zea

    20 March 2010 @ 07:03PM #

    If you’re a designer creating a design for print, then you should know, OF COURSE, the technical implications of your design.

    If you’re a designer creating a design for web, then you should know, OF COURSE, the technical implications of your design.

    I still don’t understand how a designer creating a design for the web and has NO IDEA the technical implications (this includes coding, of course) of his/her design, even DARES to actually sit down and create a design for the web.

    As I used to tell my Flash students (this was many years ago): Today, there are two types of designers: Print Designers and Web Designers. Which one do you want to specialize in?

    If you design for web, YOU SHOULD (HAVE TO) KNOW how to code, ffs!

    Nice article.


  344. Anthony Garritano

    Anthony Garritano

    20 March 2010 @ 09:25PM #

    As another commenter said, “Nice beard!” I envy you. My younger brother has the same curly head and matching facial hair. I think the gene pool left me out on that one ;]

  345. H4x0r Ch1ck

    H4x0r Ch1ck

    21 March 2010 @ 05:11AM #

    I agree. Even now I see people more companies expecting designers to know more then just the initial designing.

    Up until now I’ve only really ever dabbled in either area. I was afraid of using different programs and learning all these different ways to code.

    However now, I know that if I want to really let my imagination take off, and be the best in what I choose to be in, and be happy in what I do, I must take the initiative to throw my brain into it, as well as my heart.

    So I’ve been reading up on anything I feel I would want to know how to do, so that I can write a lot on my own, as well as design techniques that I was afraid to do before. I think as far as the coding I am probably throwing myself a little to far in, lol.

    As far as basic HTML and CSS knowledge, I agree that designers should know the basics of what they are designing for, if they indeed are designing something like websites.

  346. Sean


    24 March 2010 @ 06:54AM #

    I worked at a large agency for the last three years and never once did I code a single bit of CSS, HTML, Flash, Silverlight, etc. However, the work I did, and the work my developers did alongside me, allowed us to create award-winning, client-pleasing and personally pleasing emails, newsletters, landing pages, and so forth.

    I don’t think that a web designer has to be able to code, all they have to do is know what is possible, and stay up to date with those possibilities, the same way a good designer sees trends in design, they should see trends in what is being done in development, but they don’t need to know the code to do it. CSS would not exist in the form that it does today if graphic designers didn’t keep asking “why can’t you do this?” or “I want it to look this way, why is that not possible?” and had developers and coders figure out a way to do it.

    Developers have a particular role, part artist and part mechanic. I don’t work on my car before bringing it to the mechanic to get it ready for him. Why would I waste the developer’s time with markup that he’s most likely going to throw away or rewrite huge parts of anyway?

    I can design a magazine without being a color retoucher, that’s a specialist’s job. I can design packaging without being a paper engineer, that’s a specialist’s job. I can commission illustration without being able to draw, that’s a specialist’s job.

    So is web development.

    So, if the question is, can you be completely ignorant of the environment in which you are designing? No. But if the question is can you design for the web, or design UX without being able to code, then the answer is a very obvious yes.

  347. Ben


    24 March 2010 @ 11:25PM #

    Great post. For the most part I agree with you but I do have to say that while basic html and css is “easy”, being good at it certainly is not. I do both – design and code. But I have to say between the two, being good at the latter is quite a challenge. Finding ways to make a site look identical across all browsers (including the dreaded ie6), to me, is an art form in and of itself.

  348. Tom Klein

    Tom Klein

    28 March 2010 @ 10:42PM #

    I must agree with the article on Design Meltdown. One needs to understanding front end programming if one wants to understand what programmers are doing. By having knowledge in front end programming, one can communicate better with the programmer and have a better understanding of what the programmer is saying. Knowing front end programming will make one more effective and efficient when working on a project, so it would be foolish not to learn HTML and CSS.

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  350. Robert Mayers

    Robert Mayers

    29 March 2010 @ 08:05PM #

    @ Elliot and all.

    This post offers more questions than it answers (not a bad thing) and obviously the debate is far deeper than the simple question of ‘is it better or worse to code your own design?’ There are many more subtleties that need to be considered. Here are a couple of mine:

    Understanding the structure/hierarchy of a project’s content and style is very different to the ablility to code.

    I appreciate that it is common belief that constraints can lead to the best creativity but we are mixing metaphors here. Designing something to the constraints of one’s knowledge/ability of code is innovation-suicide. In the context of a project with adequate resources surely it is far better to have the benefit of a designer who can solely concentrate on the intentions of the website as well as the user.

    However, a freelancer for example, is forced to ‘make do’ by spreading their resources out. Although, this can lead to a positive effect of gaining complete creative and technical control, it naturally inhibits as opposed to constrains the final product.

    So, my perfect world model?

    1. Principle designer(s)/information architect(s) possess absolutely no knowledge of any web application. No technical inhibitions = the ability to focus on the relevant creative constraints. Who wants a website to look like a conventional website anyway?

    2. HTML designer(s) are the implementers. Whatever has been signed off on the PSD’s and functionality stipulations (animated objects and other interactive elements) should be executed with craft-like precision. This requires not only their rock solid ability to code but a powerful grasp of visual language too.

    Of course, success critically depends on a synthesis and clear communication between each of the above stages.

    …My (rather overweight) 2 penneth-worth.


  351. Cre8ive Commando

    Cre8ive Commando

    30 March 2010 @ 07:51AM #

    I definitely think that web designers that can’t code HTML/CSS will have trouble finding work or even freelancing. Although there are a lot of cheap services that will cut up a PSD file for you.

    I think it’s also better to understand the way a website is put together from a code perspective. This will make the design/build process more efficient. :-)

  352. Pablo Martinez

    Pablo Martinez

    01 April 2010 @ 01:27AM #

    Hi! im a graphic designer and illustrator from Argentina, i have read all the post and i have to say thats is all true, i don’t code, because i don’t know how to, but im designing 5 web / monthly. I have people that do the code for me… i wish i knew how to code… but i don’t. Im starting to learn.
    Besides that i think than that doesn’t make me a worst designer, i have win a lot of web contests and have recognition of all kind.
    Something else, i don’t know how to code, but im know all the css and html rules, possibilities and limits.

  353. Leslie Mello

    Leslie Mello

    01 April 2010 @ 01:18PM #

    I’m in the “can’t” and “won’t” camp of designers as I was trained in print, not web.

    And I completely agree with you. It’s just like print: if you don’t know how the process works, you don’t know what’s possible in the final product (which, of course, is all that matters at the end of the day).

    So, I should learn code. But will I? Probably not. But at least I don’t spec pantone colors for the web any more! ;-)

    Good post!

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  355. Alan


    01 April 2010 @ 06:06PM #

    I code because I can, I design because I have to.

  356. Dak


    06 April 2010 @ 06:28AM #

    In my experience, the two most dangerous hires are a developer who also considers him/herself a designer, and a designer who also considers him/herself a developer. In both scenarios, I find that they’re only willing to develop (or design) to the level of their limitations/weakness in the other area. With exception of a few high profile designer/developers, I just don’t believe a jack of all trades is realistic in the real world. A good designer working with a good developer who have great interaction and challenge each other is the best situation I’ve seen for producing innovative solutions.

  357. Simon Hamp

    Simon Hamp

    07 April 2010 @ 08:35PM #

    Elliot, I am re-reading this article as I am desperately looking for a designer who can code!

    Admittedly I’m looking in a limited radius (I’m based in the Midlands)… but I know they’re out there! … aren’t they? Somebody?

  358. Greg


    09 April 2010 @ 10:38AM #

    There’s a misconception that you have to be highly specialized to be highly successful. The “jack of all trades” model is a perfectly valid one unless you buy into the premise that people can only be good at one thing.

    I most certainly do NOT buy into that premise (being good at a number of things), and therefore do not buy that the two aspects of website creation are mutually exclusive. I also do not agree that these things are in OPPOSITION.

    There’s a trick, though: at the level where your expertise is outstripped by the requirements of the job, let’s hope that one of those things you’re good at is outsourcing. All the better if you can predict these things in advance; you don’t want to call a ringer in halfway through the project, you want to contract them at the beginning.

    In any event, that addresses some of the comments more than it addresses the topic at hand. For my $0.02, I think that designers don’t need to know how to code at a detailed hands-on level, but if they at least understand the box model of CSS, they can present ideas that are easier to implement. On the other hand, a good developer can make almost any design “work” if they need it to. It just won’t always have the cleanest possible code in the end (weird divs to accomplish design goals… the antithesis of markup purists, oh shock oh horror!).

  359. Manuel Garza

    Manuel Garza

    13 April 2010 @ 07:13PM #

    Elliot, I want to learn code. Two years ago I was laid off my job as a lead print designer for a Large Newspaper (that job was outsourced to India). Anyhow, In order to survive I had to reinvent myself. I started my own business and have several clients on board who mostly rely on print materials. And, believe it or not, I design web pages on iWeb that look good. I know how to grab code out there and use it in HTML snippets. But, iWeb is my work around because I don’t know how to use Dreamweaver or write code, but I want to learn. I want to go to the next level.

    What/Where can a 45 year old print designer do/go to learn code without having to go back to school? Can you really teach an old dog new tricks? I have the desire to learn code. Where can I start?


  360. Manuel Garza

    Manuel Garza

    13 April 2010 @ 07:15PM #

    Elliot, I want to learn code. Two years ago I was laid off my job as a lead print designer for a Large Newspaper (that job was outsourced to India). Anyhow, In order to survive I had to reinvent myself. I started my own business and have several clients on board who mostly rely on print materials. And, believe it or not, I design web pages on iWeb that look good. I know how to grab code out there and use it in HTML snippets. But, iWeb is my work around because I don’t know how to use Dreamweaver or write code, but I want to learn. I want to go to the next level.

    What/Where can a 45 year old print designer do/go to learn code without having to go back to school? Can you really teach an old dog new tricks? I have the desire to learn code. Where can I start?


  361. Wallace Rodrigues

    Wallace Rodrigues

    13 April 2010 @ 10:43PM #

    Hey, congrats for the new design btw, Ihaven’t been around here for ages – good to be back!

    I actually read the whole post, something I do ever so rarely these days. I agree with you, but thought of mentioning something I find important: I think you should say “front-end designers” instead of just “designers”. I guess everyone understands what you mean anyway, but saying only “designers” you generalize it and the whole definition gets too wide. I think most reactions come from there.

    I’m a designer (in the broader term) that ended up messing up with web design and eventually learned HTML and CSS through interesting stages. I did start with WYSIWYG editors, my first was the AOL editor back in 1998, then I went to Dreamweaver 3 and Flash… In this process I ended up learning some other languages as well, never enough to re-invent the wheel, but enough to get it to spin. Anyway, that’s my background.

    I do agree with you, in the perfect world it would be best if front-end designers knew what they are dealing with: the limitations and what would be the smartest way to code a design. But I think that it is still possible for front-end designers to get away with it, as long as they compensate their lack of knowledge in HTML & CSS with valuable knowledge like information structure, typography (it is a science!), usability, call-to-action, the “eye field” concept, grid-based layout, accessibility, etc…

    As a web designer myself, I think all these are important and do my best to learn more everyday, but it is a bit extreme to expect or require that every web designer should know it all.

    Cheers from Norway,

  362. Elliot Jay Stocks

    Elliot Jay Stocks

    13 April 2010 @ 11:16PM #

    Dear everyone,

    Thanks for leaving your thoughts on what has become my most-commented-on post by far. There are some very strong feelings surrounding this debate.

    I have to admit that since writing this article, my opinion has been changed slightly thanks to the ensuing conversations I had with people in the real world and on Twitter, and because of the comments left above. My stance is now this:

    There are times when it’s acceptable for a designer to possess absolutely no knowledge of code, particularly if she/he is a Creative Director in a large organisation where it’s impractical for her/him to get involved in the nitty-gritty. A basic understanding of code appears to be beneficial in almost all circumstances, but is not actually a necessity.

    And with that, I think it’s time to close the comments on this post. Thanks again for your input.

  363. Amos William Abaidoo

    Amos William Abaidoo

    23 June 2010 @ 02:45PM #

    Guys, I was amazed when I saw this post. You know why? Listen! Where I’m from (Ghana), there’s absolutely no distinction between designing a site in PS or FW and coding it in HTML/CSS and I think no matter how much of a web design specialist anybody is, being able to code in HTML is point blank mandatory. Come on people! This is not even arguable.

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