No, designers don’t *have* to code.
Over at Wired, Liz Stintson responds to John Maeda’s new Design in Tech Report:
But design’s role in this world is constantly shifting. In his 2017 report Maeda makes the case that the most successful designers will be those who can work with intangible materials—code, words, and voice. These are the designers who craft experiences for the chatbots and voice interfaces people are increasingly interacting with. Maeda cites a blog post from last spring, in which UX designer Susan Stuart makes the case that writing and UX design aren’t so different. “Here’s where I’d like to draw the parallel with writing — because a core skill of the interaction designer is imagining users (characters), motivations, actions, reactions, obstacles, successes, and a complete set of ‘what if’ scenarios,” she said. “These are the skills of a writer.”
This year, Maeda goes deep on this idea of skills, focusing his own on the growing field of computational design (a field he’s pioneered since the mid-1990s). In the report Maeda makes the distinction between “classic” designer, the makers of finite objects for a select group of people (think graphic designer, industrial designer, furniture designer) and “computational” designers, who deal mostly in code and build constantly evolving products that impact millions of people’s lives.
This piece has a deliberately threatening and clickbait-y headline: ‘John Maeda: If You Want to Survive in Design, You Better Learn to Code.’
Maeda’s report doesn’t say designers have to learn to code in order to survive. What he focuses on is the importance of ‘computational design’ in the worlds of technology and business and about how we need to evolve the way we solve problems.
The never-ending question “should designers know how to code” is vague and moot because if you’re someone who makes money as a digital designer (website, mobile app, user interface), you already know something about code.
There’s a wide spectrum of ‘understanding code’ and a digital designer can lay at any point along that spectrum. You could be fluent in PHP and know how to hand code custom WordPress themes, or you might only have a basic understanding of HTML and CSS. Both scenarios can lead to you being a valuable designer.
The most important thing designers need to know is what technologies exist and are emerging, how those technologies work, so that they can apply that knowledge to their problem-solving.