Illustration by Ran Liu

Every designer, at one point or another, has been faced with the dilemma of wondering if they will need to learn how to code to be successful. In today’s world of UX unicorns, where companies post job descriptions requesting UX designers who also code, it can leave you wondering, “Do UX designers need to codeto make it in this industry?”

If you are wondering this same thing, here’s the answer: Great UX design does not require coding abilities.

Now that we’ve addressed the question, let’s dive a little deeper. I mentioned that UX design does not require coding knowledge. Although it’s not required, there are still many instances when learning to code may benefit your UX career overall. There are certain designer types who might benefit from gaining this additional skill, which we’ll review in this article.

What are the essential skills of a UX designer?

If UX designers are not required to code, then what are the essential skills they should have? One of the biggest responsibilities of a successful UX designer is to conduct user research and identify the pain points that your design needs to solve. Ideally, you’ll test this design on your users in an iterative process throughout the design process. This design thinking process is the most important skill you must master to be successful.

Recall the design thinking process: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. This iterative process of researching, designing, and testing is at the heart of a great UX designer’s skill set. The ability to thoroughly research a problem and identify the actual problem at hand is the first step. Through various methodologies, such as user interviews, contextual inquiries, ethnographic studies, and competitive analysis, the designer should be able to identify the user’s pain points that their design will solve.

The design thinking process involves empathizing, defining, ideating, prototyping, and testing.
The design thinking process involves empathizing, defining, ideating, prototyping, and testing. Image credit Adobe Stock.

The ability to create a design that addresses the user’s pain points is the next essential skill for a designer. User interface design, information architecture, layout design, and interaction design are all part of this skill. Prototypes help bring your vision to life, allowing you to test your ideas to see if they are feasible or not. The usability behind these prototypes, along with the aesthetics, is what makes or breaks a product. This part should be easy, though—in a recent Adobe XD poll sent to 150 UX/UI designers, only 10% said they struggle with prototyping.

The last part of the process, testing your product on users, ensures your design solves the pain points identified in the research phase. Iterative usability testing is the best way to verify that your design is heading in the right direction. Whether it is a remote usability test or an on-site session, testing your prototype with actual users will help you understand what is working and what could use a second look during your next iteration.

Top 10 skills of a successful UX designer

Now that we understand the design thinking process, what are the specific skills you’ll need to be successful?

A UX designer should master various skills, including creating wireframes and analyzing user feedback.
A UX designer should master various skills, including creating wireframes and analyzing user feedback. Image credit Adobe Stock.

Whether you are in website design, app design, or both, you should be able to:

1 – Conduct thorough user research

2 – Conduct competitive and comparative research and analysis

3 – Build empathy through personas, storyboards, and scenarios

4 – Implement quality visual design (UI)

5 – Conduct usability tests

6 – Create interactive wireframes and prototypes

7 – Analyze user feedback

8 – Use strong communication skills to articulate designs to all departments and stakeholders

9 – Collaborate and work with teammates effectively

10 – Read and understand analytics

Why would a designer learn to code?

Now that we know the answer to “Does UX require coding?” we can address a variation of that same question: “Do UX designers code?” For many, the answer is “yes.”

Most UX designers have at least a little understanding of code, including HTML, CSS, and Javascript. Other languages like Reach and Swift aren’t as important. It is best to leave coding to the experts, but there are some reasons why you should have a basic understanding of code:

  • It helps you communicate better with developers so you’re both speaking the same language.
  • It helps you remain realistic if you understand and appreciate the levels of implementation required by the developers to complete the design.
  • Knowing code is a great asset to your toolbox and makes you more marketable as an employee, especially in start-up settings where you might need to wear multiple hats.
As a designer, knowing code can help you communicate better with developers.
As a designer, knowing code can help you communicate better with developers. Image credit Adobe Stock.

What type of designers benefit most from learning to code?

Some types of designers benefit from learning to code more than others. Let’s say you’re interested in working for larger companies. The design and development departments are typically separate at those companies, so you would only need to have a basic understanding of code to communicate effectively across departments. But if you like working in a start-up environment, a deeper understanding of code may be very beneficial to your career. Start-ups usually like when they can pay one person to design and build their products.

Beyond that, these three types of designers should consider learning to code:

Designer A: The enthusiast

The first type of designer who will benefit from coding is someone who inherently enjoys it. These individuals enjoy playing with CSS in their free time and analyzing HTML to see how much they understand while filling in the gaps with additional research on the side. If you are this type of person, then you might as well fill your passion and become a UX engineer and a true “UX unicorn.”

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that it’s important to choose one area and learn how to do it well. If you put too much emphasis on learning code before you master the essential UX skills, you might have shortcomings that affect the success of your products. Make sure you have taken the necessary steps to master the UX process, including knowing the differences between UX vs. UI, before you dive deep into coding. At the end of the day, if your product has a poor user experience, it doesn’t matter how well you code because the product will fail.

The enthusiastic designer can benefit from both mastering UX skills and learning code.
The enthusiastic designer can benefit from both mastering UX skills and learning code. Image credit Adobe Stock.

Designer B: The consultant

If you want to carve out a career as a UX consultant, then pairing your ability to build out the solutions you are suggesting makes you a marketable asset. In this scenario, your client will only have to pay one person instead of two. Additionally, when you are the one who codes the designs, you are more aware of the implementation measures behind your design solutions. This helps you suggest more realistic designs since you understand the development work that each will entail.

A design consultant is aware of the implementation measures behind design solutions.
A design consultant is aware of the implementation measures behind design solutions. Image credit Adobe Stock.

Designer C: The entrepreneur

These are the entrepreneurial spirits who want to bring their side projects to fruition. You might not have the means to pay a developer during the early stages, so it can be more time- and cost-efficient for you to create the vision yourself. Regardless of the funds available, entrepreneurs often have the spirit within them to tackle things from multiple angles, and knowing how to code is one of them.

As an entrepreneur, you may want to play the part of both a designer and a developer at the beginning.
As an entrepreneur, you may want to play the part of both a designer and a developer at the beginning. Image credit Adobe Stock.

Even as your team grows, learning code is beneficial for design entrepreneurs. First, it’s cheaper to launch an MVP when fewer people have to work on the project. If you don’t need to hire an engineer, the MVP just became that much cheaper. Second, when you are ready to hire engineers to take care of the code, you now share the same experience with them when hiring and can communicate your direction more effectively. It opens up another level of communication, increasing efficiency between you and the developers.

If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, there are plenty of affordable and free courses available online or in person. Lynda.com and Udemy.com are popular online resources for people who are learning how to code. General Assembly and other bootcamps are popular in-person courses as well. Make sure to do your research before a heavy investment as there are a variety of affordable available resources.

The final answer

So, what’s the final recommendation for UX designers and coding? Does a good UX designer require coding capabilities? In short: No, but it helps.

Your success as a UX designer isn’t tied to whether you can code or not; it’s tied to your execution of the design-thinking process and if you are able to create designs that solve the actual problem at hand.

It’s also worth noting that most companies do not require UX designers to implement any of the code. With emerging design tools, the handoff between designers and developers is a very seamless process. But having a baseline understanding of coding may help you communicate your designs better, and it can help you as a designer empathize with the development process. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide if you’re the type of designer who might benefit from learning code, or if you want to focus on your part of the design process.