Why The Valley Wants Designers That Can Code

Jared Spool talks about why designers who code are popular in Silicon Valley right now, and for the most part, it boils down to this. Small software and web startups value and are able to use a broader range of skillsets, because one of the highest priorities, especially for bootstrapped startups, is to ship while lean on resources.

Jared notes that those who don't think designers should know how to code say this dilutes the designer's value. I think we're talking both interaction designers and visual designers here.

The main point for me is that particular organizations favor someone more M-shaped than T-shaped, which is to say, they need to be deeper in more than one set of skills. This is true of more types of organizations than just small startups, but the main idea is that multi-role people are valued in organizations that are open to having a person who can execute on a diverse set of responsibilities, even if they're viewed as "diluted" in terms of being less deep in one area.

I'll say this. I started out doing interface design and development work on databases in-house in a corporation. Early on in my career, I envied the people who got to work on the sexy, high-profile projects and made the switch to doing front end-development at an agency. Unsatisfied with that, I went back in-house doing both design and development, and then envied the design side, and went to a company to do interaction design only. I've never been satisfied in a silo, and have been happiest being involved across a project. I've found that working on both ends as a designer and developer to be ideal for me, even if the development is only front-end development and prototyping.

That said, I don't think it is particularly easy to find a home when you're more M than T-shaped. Certain types of organizations won't even let you interview for more than one type of role.

I've spoken to quite a few people looking to make a shift from one side to another over the years. It's kind of easy to recognize an M-shaped person. They may have worked in small organizations that gave them more room to flex their muscles outside of their role, or they may be freelancers that get to and maybe have to do design and development. For whatever reason, that varied experience can make it hard for them to find the right home and to convince hiring people to consider a cross-disciplinary role to fit them into.

This is why I think what Jared is talking about could be very helpful to both the budding UX designers out there, and those considering making a change in role.

It seems obvious to say, but if you can already do some development and you want to use it, you might look for an organization that values it. Small startups or in-house positions with small development organizations where multi-role people are valued is a good start.

If you can't do some kind of code, at least learn HTML5, CSS and a little Javascript, and maybe some other server-side scripting languages. If you can't convince your organization to use you in that capacity, then demonstrate your skill doing prototypes in code when the opportunity presents itself, and keep your skills sharp. When there seems like no way to flex your development muscles in your current job, work on personal projects continually to stay sharp and relevant!

Read more at UIE. Interested in learning to code for the web? There are some resources for that here.