Do Graphic Designers Need To Know Code?

In short, yes. My opinion, being an active graphic designer since the age of 13, I believe that graphic designers absolutely need to know code.

The code I learned at this age, in 1999, has effectively become a dinosaur in terms of modern coding, so we must be adaptive as well.

During my college studies in graphic design, (something that I no longer believe to be a requirement for graphic designers, but that's a blog for a different day) we learned various ways to integrate our graphics into web sites. Few of these methods involved any actual coding.


What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) is NOT Your Friend!

I first became interested in web design, not graphic design. It was 1999, and my Netscape browser came bundled with a WYSIWYG HTML editor called Netscape Composer.

Rather than blinding our audience with sales offers, new product announcements or company updates, we need creative and indirect marketing strategies.

The problem with WYSIWYG editors lies in the user's dependencies on the simplistic nature of the program, not to mention the horrible, error ridden code they output.

This software essentially worked like a Microsoft Word (man I'm getting old) document, because the user could place text and graphical elements where they wish, and the web site would appear (sometimes) as displayed in the software.

If you're looking to build a simple, non-responsive, HTML based site, these programs may still be of use. But, as we all know, responsive design and SEO driven sites are the only way to garner the desired results most will have when designing web sites.

The Rude Awakening of WYSIWYG Vs Code

When graphic designers finally accept that they need to know code, it can be like any other undesirable task in life. If you've ever had car trouble, knowing that you need to take it in can weigh heavy on your nerves. Knowing I needed to learn code had a very similar feeling.

I put off learning code for a very long time. During a college course on web design (this is a 2007 course, mind you) we began to delve litely into CSS. I had friends in high school who were also web designers that adamantly suggested I learn CSS.

Being the guy that I am, I completely ignored this great advice because I felt that graphic designers didn't need to know code. Ironically, from the day I was advised to learn/experiment in CSS, it seemed the entire internet did so, while I did not.


I continued to create web sites the way I knew how: Adobe Photoshop Image Slices and Image Maps for navigation, built in tables in a Macromedia Dreamweaver MX.

Building web sites like this would be the equivalent to mowing your lawn with a jug of gasoline and a match.

Sure, the grass will be gone, gone quickly. But what will be left will never yield fruitful results again. You got the job done, but your goals of creating a fruitful pasture on the internet has resulted in a barren landscape that no sane person will ever visit.

Ranking With WYSIWYG Vs Code

The main objective for any web site should be ranking high for relevant keyword phrases on Google. This objective can be achieve fairly quickly if you know code. But, if you make web sites like I used to, you'll have a beautiful piece of art that few eyes outside of your own will ever see.

You can build organic traffic through sharing on social sites, link sharing, and blogs like this, but these sources will not make up for the void created when your web site has horrible code.

Face The Music: Graphic Designers Need To Know Code

After decades of producing web sites like the dot com bubble never burst, I decided that I needed to know code.

As many graphic designers can attest to, I still sought a short cut. I looked into Wix and some other WYSIWYG styled services, but found their control and layout to be more confusing than actually sitting down and learning to code.

I was in a crossroads. I wanted to continue and grow GrindDesign, rather than just grow the clients I work for. Luckily in my move from Chicago to Phoenix, I became employed by an SEO guru, whose business survived and thrived before and after the dot com bubble.

His insights and advice assisted me in my work at his company as well as in my freelance GrindDesign endeavors. Had I not met Ken, you would not be reading these words.

So, I knew how to rank on Google, and I knew that my graphic heavy site would never stand a chance. I decided to put a small table in my garage with the laptop, and teach myself to code.

Learning To Code Isn't As Hard As You Think

Any graphic designer with an internet connection has no legitimate excuses for not knowing code. With the wealth of resources available through tutorials, both written and visual, not only can graphic designers learn code, they can do so for nearly no charge.

I am still not 100% fluent in any coding, but am patient with the trial and error method. I downloaded a few different responsive templates to be the skeleton for my web site.

Being a perfectionist like many other graphic designers, creating the one page layout that now houses GrindDesign took me 5 months. Of course, in those 5 months, I probably only dedicated 12 total hours, due to loss of focus, self-doubt and the graphic designer favorite of procrastination.

After getting my feet wet with basic CSS editing, and studying the code that now comprises my responsive web site, I understood how to create the layout for this blog.

Graphic Designers Need To Know Code - Period.

As graphic designers, especially freelance - the more cost you can cut in a project = the more profit for your time, in your pocket.

Having more skills under your mastery will always benefit you in the long run, if not only for marketing your own web site effectively and not having to outsource the production/management of your portfolio web site.

The years I wasted having a non-optimized web site cost me dearly in potential business and wasted opportunities. Don't do this.

You need to know code. You needed to know code yesterday.

Stop reading this blog (but come back when you're done) and go learn to code!

Kirk M. Collins

Corporate social media marketing director by day, social media marketing man by night. The one man gang of GrindDesign Social Media Marketing of Glendale, Arizona. Wrestling fan, toy collector, classic rock enthusiast.