Do painters need to know how to make paint?

Note: This was originally published on Medium. Reposting here for archival purposes.

I was recently asked the classic question by a prospective student for a class I’m preparing to teach: “Do designers need to code?” For a long time, my answer has been a variation of, “Well, it helps to understand the medium in which you’re working or want to work.” This time I gave the answer a bit more time and the resulting answer is one that might be helpful if shared. I’ve modified my original response a bit, but the core message is still there:

You can get a UX job without knowing how to code. But your long-term effectiveness has considerably greater potential by having a working knowledge of code. It’s like asking a painter if they can make their own paint. They don’t need to know how to make paint, but knowing how paint reacts to different application methods and substrates is critical for a painter to achieve the look they desire for their painting.

So it is with designers knowing how to code. You don’t need to know all the intricacies of how to write clean and performant production-ready code. It, like Sketch, Illustrator, and all the other software options available today is merely a part of the larger toolset a designer works with. The better you understand code, the more you can utilize it to make better, more engaging—and as a result more successful—experiences.