#19 A UX designer does not need to learn how to code (fact)

I answer many questions in UX online forums such as Reddit. And I see that many people seem to misunderstand about this. So I wanted to clarify: A UX designer does not need to learn how to code.

99% of UX designer positions out there in the job market don’t require coding skills.

Especially if you are starting out to become a UX designer, don’t worry about learning how to code. Because you absolutely don’t need it.

A UX designer’s job is to solve a user’s problem. This includes defining a problem, and then coming up with UX design concepts that solve that problem in form of task flows, wireframes and prototypes.

Ultimately digital interactive products need to be coded by engineers in order to launch in a market as a real product. A UX designer needs to work closely with engineers in order to have her design implemented in code. 

For this reason, a tight collaboration with engineers is absolutely critical for a UX designer. There’s no question about it. But that does not mean that a UX designer needs to learn how to code. What’s more important is to learn how to communicate with engineers effectively. This is more about being a good listener, and understand where engineers come from, how they work, what their priorities are, and what they need to accomplish their goals.

A UX designer should be a good listener with a compassion, so that she is empathic when listening to her users during user research. This same soft skill can be and should be used when communicating with engineers, or anyone, really.

UX design is something that you can only learn by doing. Only through working on actual projects, you will gain experience and get better. And along the way, you will face many questions, you will feel a strong need or a burning desire to want to learn certain things.

That’s how you should and will learn new things, new skills, new specific areas within UX, or outside of UX.

Being a UX designer is a journey of continuous learning.

Somewhere along the way of your journey, you might come across a strong need and develop a strong interest towards learning how to code. If that happened to you, that’s the exact right timing when you should learn how to code. If this doesn’t happen, that’s totally fine too! This could happen when you are talking to an engineer,  and the engineer mentioned something that made you curious about. Or when you want to prototype a very dynamic UX concept that you came up with, which was not possible to show in a basic click through prototype.

If you happen to come across these situations and develop a desire and interest to learn how to code, that’s good, go for it. Even though in general, a UX designer does not need to learn how to code, there are certainly benefits for a UX designer in learning how to code.

Let me show you why.

  1. Having some understanding of code allows a UX designer to be more grounded and practical when coming up with a UX concept. As a result, your UX concept will likely be more implementable and realistic.
  2. Understanding how to code makes it a bit easier to talk to engineers, because you can understand what they say and how they think much better with greater details.
  3. Having a coding skill may open up a new creative possibility for a UX designer, so that she can build a more dynamic, code-based prototype to visualize innovative concepts that may be hard to prototype otherwise.

From my own experience as a UX designer, I benefited quite a lot especially from #3, and that was a driving force for me to want to learn how to code so that I can achieve what I wanted in a prototype that I built.

One caution for you: Coding is a totally different beast, which requires a totally different skillset and mindset part of your brain! You can easily get drowned once you dive in.

In my case, even though I did quite a bit of coding to build dynamic prototypes, I came across a lot of occasions where I had to do a lot of debugging to find out what went wrong when things were not working as expected.

This was quite painful, because coding was not my core expertise, not what I wanted to focus on. My focus and priority has always been visualizing UX concepts in the most compelling way. If a code-based approach is the best way to achieve this, that was when I went for coding. So coding itself was never the main thing. But lot of times, you end up spending a lot of time figuring out errors in your own code. Coding is very interesting. It has an art in its own way. For example, writing a function with variables and logics is very creative, flexible, with so many possibilities. I enjoyed it very much for sure.

I’ve met a very few UX designers throughout my careers who have natural talents and interests in coding, who can do amazing things by code such as generative arts. But there aren’t many such people.

Ultimately, it comes down to what’s most important for you as a UX designer.

Keep reminding yourself what’s the most important thing to you.

As long as you always ask yourself about your priority, you will find your answer in you.

Check out A prototype is worth a 1000 pictures to learn about the effectiveness of a prototype.

Check out the YouTube version too!

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