Should A Designer Learn Programming?

As the market for graphic design becomes less stables, with an ever increasing offer of work for a somewhat constant demand for designers, many professionals consider that, by now, being just a designer is not enough. The rising trend among many employers, is to seek designers who can also program, just like they’ve started seeking copywriters who also know SEO.

2-in-1 is the name of this trend among freelancers who oppose it and we understand their reasons, too. The debate has many pros and cons and we will go through a few of them, without taking sides because, as always, we are not here to decide what is right or wrong for you, but to clear some doubts and misconceptions.

Pro: A Wider Choice of Jobs to Apply To

Being a programming designer or a design programmer has the main advantage that, as you become more skilled at the second specialty, you can apply for pure programming projects when there is a long hiatus between design jobs.

Also, you can take up large projects and fill in several positions, thus gaining greater control over the project, the milestones and the planning – and a larger fee as well. But remember that you can also get lost into too many things to do. You will become a victim of increased expectations from clients and end up with a bad rep because you tried to juggle with too many eggs.

Con: You Lose Focus on Design Itself

When you need to operate withing programming constraints that you yourself developed, you may lose sight of your initial design vision. In other words, you stop thinking as a designer and get into a programmer’s mindset. If you take up a lot of projects where you play the devil’s advocate as programmer and designer, it will impact on your creativity in the long run.

Pro: The Design World Is Evolving, Go with the Flow

Soon, programming skills will become the norm for designers, as things are evolving. Many companies try to integrate various aspects of their outsourced activities, so they are already setting the foundation for this trend. We are not sure if we can call this evolution, or more accurately what clients expect. Design alone is a strong skill to have, because nothing can be done without images, no ad, billboard, commercial, e-card or website. And it is a highly demanding skills in terms of time, of thinking to come up with a creative idea and executing it properly.

Perhaps it is the moment to define evolution and client expectations, unless you want to end up constrained to learn something new just to get a project.  It is the moment to decide if you are really a designer or want to become a one-man-show. Experience teaches us that everyone is very good at one thing, and dabbling in others. Going with the flow may seem lucrative, but it will also mean sacrificing something of your professional quality standards.

Con: Clients Can Take Advantage of You

The designer-programmer trend has an underside: cutting costs. When clients look for a designer with programming skills, not all of them will pay you for both aspects of the work you perform for them. They will try to bundle it up and, using the 2-in-1 formula in marketing, pay you just for the design, the programming part being a free bonus you offer them.

If designers allow this to happen too many times, it will become the norm on the market. Soon, you will be expected to know programming and do the programming work (almost) for free.

Beside any other pros and cons, every new skill acquired needs time to learn and perfect. You will have to sacrifice a lot of your time away from design and put it into programming tuition. Your work, your creativity, even your skills as a designer may suffer, if you cannot find a perfect balance between these two skills.

However, you should remember that you will never excel in both design and programming. You risk getting bad ratings for clients not for your design work, but for the programming skills. And the bad reputation will cover everything related to your work, including graphic design. You risk losing loyal clients and a lot of design projects just because you tried to do too many things.

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Do not forget that, first and foremost, you are a graphic designer.

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Ionut B
Digital Art Director with an innovative creative thinking able to translate ideas and concepts into useful and memorable interactive marketing campaigns.

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