Why The Valley Wants Designers That Can Code

by Jared Spool

If you’re in a room filled with designers, bring up the topic of whether it’s valuable for a designer to also code. Immediately, the room will divide faster than Moses split the Red Sea. One side will tell you coding is an essential skill, while the other will vehemently argue how it dilutes the designer’s value.

Interestingly, it isn’t the designers who get to decide if coding is a valuable skill. It’s the hiring managers. And right now, based on today’s jobs market, it’s pretty clear where they stand. Many want to hire super designers—designers who can also code.

While hiring super designers has always been floating around, the real demand has come recently out of Silicon Valley startups. With a couple of high-profile design successes, like Apple and, the investors and entrepreneurs in the Valley now have a new appreciation for the work of designers.

Startups, however, try to run as lean as possible, so they look for talent with a broad set of skills. The thinking among the Valley folk is, if they can get someone who does both, they can get their product from concept to ship with an ideal set of resources. Otherwise they’d have to hire two people. Or do without one.

We’ve proven for years that you can ship a product without a designer. Many companies have done that, and while it doesn’t make for a great result, it does ship. However, it’s much harder to ship a software product without a coder, if not near impossible.

That’s why, right now, there are dozens of startups looking to pay big bucks to find the coding super designer. The demand is high and those designers who have proven, practiced coding skills can demand a higher salary than those who don’t.

What about the non-startup portion of the hiring world? Right now, the established organizations find it easier to have larger teams with separate developers and designers.

Yet, that doesn’t make the designer that can code any less valuable to them. A team with two coding designers is more flexible and capable than a team with one non-coding designer and a non-designing developer. The flexible team can produce well-designed results better and faster.

Coding and designing are collections of skills. What we’ve learned is teams with a better distribution of skills, not segmented by roles, produce better results. Having a team filled with individuals who can both code and design will be more effective in the long run than a team where the skills are divided up.

If you’re a designer, you don’t have to learn to code. But if you do, and you get good at it, you’ll find more opportunities as time goes on.