Should Web Designers Know HTML and CSS?

Should Web Designers Know HTML and CSS?

There you are, sitting at your desk, the first fizz of a newly opened can of soda still sparkling in your ears, and your new hire walks in the door. Your design firm is small, but beginning to grow and you’ve just brought a new web designer on board. He’s not particularly experienced, but he has a good educational background, a small but impressive portfolio, and was bright, personable and apparently knowledgeable enough during the job interview.

Then, before lunch, you overhear him talking with your only other employee. "I don’t really know how to write HTML and CSS that well," he whispers. "In school, they taught us to slice Photoshop designs and tweak them in Dreamweaver. It works for me, but if you ask me to get in there and get my hands dirty in the code, I’m not very comfortable doing that."

You manage not to drop your soda can onto the carpet, and you sneak back into your office wondering what you should do. Fire him now? Hire someone else who knows code, and let the two newbies work together? Depend on your veteran employee to help him figure it out while you crack the whip from on high?

This article discusses the debate of whether or not knowing HTML and CSS is required for web designers. I will, for the most part, reference thoughts and opinions of people in the web design industry as talking points.

To Code or Not to Code: Seriously

A web designer who doesn’t know a lick of HTML/CSS isn’t as rare as you might think (or hope).

The issue was raised, not for the first time, in February 2010 by author and design guru Elliot Jay Stocks, who said via Twitter: "Honestly, I’m shocked that in 2010 I’m still coming across ‘web designers’ who can’t code their own designs. No excuse."

To Code or Not to Code: Seriously

Stocks’s comment started a Twitterstorm of controversy, which quickly moved over to his blog, and inspired other blog posts in response. Many designers and leading personalities in the industry — including Jeffrey Zeldman who once said, "Real web designers write code. Always have, always will." — agree with him.

To Code or Not to Code: Seriously

But a big shocker was that a surprising number of individuals said that knowledge of HTML and CSS wasn’t necessary any longer.

After writing his own take on the subject, SitePoint author and blogger Craig Buckler put up a poll that asked, "Should Web Designers Code?"

An overwhelming majority of the poll’s respondents (70%) said "web designers should have good HTML and CSS coding knowledge". A small proportion of respondents (25%) said "basic knowledge was adequate."

Only a small minority (5%) said "a good designer could create a great website design without coding knowledge."

Buckler wrote that he was surprised to "discover a significant proportion of respondents stating that good coding skills were essential."

Me? I dropped my soda can in shock.

Arguing Against the Need for Coding Skills

Many of the arguments that defend a web designer not knowing how to code their PSDs into HTML/CSS echoed that of Jay Fanelli, who wrote in response to Stocks’s tweet:

"If you’re a designer who has kept your coding skills sharp, good for you (seriously). If you’re a designer who has taken up coding recently, I applaud your effort to broaden your skill set. But understand that it’s not necessary anymore."

Designer Stan Grabowski, in response to Stocks’s blog post, said that it’s more important for a designer to know how to design, and to work alongside a coder on the design team, than it is for a designer to know both design principles and code.

Programmer Spicer Matthews commented that web designers ought to have some coding skills, but that he thinks "it is their right to say ‘no they do not want to work with code’."

Ace designer Mark Boulton came back with the fence-straddling "It depends." Boulton called the ability to code "a tiny aspect of web design," with implementation far more important. He posted a strong argument, and one I do not dismiss entirely out of hand. (For one, he’s a much better designer than I am.)

SitePoint commenter Chris Howard said: "Great web design can be done by people with no coding experience. Knowing the mechanics of web pages is much more important than knowing how to build one."

Even Stocks himself admitted that he occasionally doesn’t code his own designs, but focuses more on design and art direction. There is, of course, a big difference between choosing not to code a particular design and being unable to do so.

Stocks notes: "[H]aving that knowledge and choosing not to code (whatever the reason) is entirely different to lacking that knowledge in the first place, which — I believe — has the potential to unintentionally distance the designer from the end product."

Fanelli argues, though, that "[a]n architect doesn’t have to know how to build buildings."

The Majority Opinion: Web Designers Should Know HTML/CSS

The majority opinion might be represented most pithily by Ian Lang, who retorted: "Designers who can’t code (or don’t know spec on appropriate format for intended usage) need only learn one more important thing to succeed… ‘Would you like fries with that?’"

Perhaps less insultingly, designer Jason O’Brien said, "If you’re just pushing out PSDs, you’re making a picture of a website. It’s not actual web design until it’s being rendered by a browser, interactivity and all."

SitePoint member Alialib echoed many others by writing: "If you’re a web designer, you should know how to code. If you don’t, you’re a designer, not a web designer."

Designer Amy Mahon complained, "We get ‘web’ designs sent in Illustrator, 300dpi, impossible to code, no consistency/usability," with Stocks noting in fairness that Mahon’s statement represented the extreme of ham-handed "design practices."

As Stocks went on to note, contrary to Fanelli’s well-written assertions, web design is not separated between designing and coding the same way architecture is separated from building and construction practices. However, I know enough construction workers to know that they do appreciate an architect who knows enough about construction to create a workable design.

So do many of Stocks’s commentators, including designer and blogger Veerle Pieters. Pieters agreed with Stocks saying, "I wouldn’t trust an architect that doesn’t know how to build a house."

Obviously, a large design firm that has specialists for different aspects of web design has the luxury to have designers who work strictly with Photoshop, Illustrator, Fireworks, paper and markers, and so forth, without ever having to write a line of code.

Even some smaller firms can have a graphic designer who works hand in glove with a coder to produce lovely sites: Fanelli cited his firm, Full Stop Interactive, as just such a firm, and he’s right. Jake at jp74 made the same assertion as Fanelli, as did some others.

But for most of us, a grasp of the principles behind web design as expressed through HTML and CSS — and at least some facility at using them to produce elegant and workable designs — is a necessity for us. I would argue that in many firms, the designers and coders often end up at loggerheads, with one having to go behind the other to redo the mess the first one supposedly made.

Web designers who lack an understanding of code, and coders who lack an understanding of design principles, often create conflicts with one another through their lack of shared understanding; as a result, the design process suffers and the firm loses time, money, and perhaps even clients.

All the Discussion in the World Will Not a Coding Designer Create

Freelance designer Gary Stanton said: "My only concern with this debate, is that designers who can’t code will now attempt to do so, and do it badly. Good front end code is as much down to experience as knowledge, as there’s so many different ways to achieve the same result."

And Stanton made a seemingly innocuous observation: "It’d be nice if there were some links to articles for designers getting started, on how to code the right way."

Stanton’s absolutely right. But I’m not going there. I’ve created my own attempt at a "best practices" web design tutorial site, though it’s nowhere near "finished" or even, arguably, presentable yet.

You may be a small design firm founder with a very small staff; you may well end up with someone on your staff that has mad design skills in Photoshop, Illustrator, or even Gimp, but balks when faced with real live HTML/CSS. If you want those design skills on your team, you’re going to have to teach your new designer some code.

I found an interesting story from graphic and web designer Dani Kelley, which I think illustrates perfectly the fictional situation with the soda-crazy design firm boss written in the introduction. Kelley writes:

"I originally majored in print design. For my internship, however, the only position available at the time was with a web design company. I knew a little bit of html [sic] and css [sic], but not much, making me a bit reluctant to enter into the internship. The company assured me that they realized they would need to teach me some things along the way. I was lucky enough that my first web design was highly applauded by the client — then I was told to code the site. I took what little knowledge I had and tried my hardest … couldn’t do it. Then passed the site off to the head of development. He couldn’t even get it to work. The file literally went around the entire firm until I had to go back and tweak the design to get it to work."

Reading that as a journeyman web designer and a veteran teacher, I twigged off the bat that while Kelley’s boss might have offered some help, she actually got very little, and none of it systematically or with any real thrust or organization.

She got some tips, went back to her desk, and tried her best to figure it out on her own. How many paid hours did she spend learning code when she could have been working on designs? How much time did the firm waste on trying to bash out code for Kelley’s "uncodable" design?

HTML and CSS Are "Easy"!

A lot of the proponents who took to Stocks’s side said that, ultimately, there’s no reason not to know HTML and CSS because it’s easy to learn. In fact, the "ease" of learning HTML and CSS is almost axiomatic among the design community.

Well, no, HTML/CSS is not easy to learn.

More accurately, it’s not easy to master. Cross-browser support, standards-based code, best practices (and understanding why they’re best practices), optimized markup to avoid excess code soup, optimizing CSS selectors for performance, CSS sprites, writing flexible markup for easier maintenance — these all take a while to learn. Marking up a basic HTML/CSS page is quite easy, but doing it right and in advanced levels take years of learning, practice, failure, and experience.

You found it easy to learn? Assuming you know what you’re doing, everyone’s not you. What you found easy, equally intelligent and creative people will find difficult.

I’ll let Buckler weigh in on the subject:

"There’s a widespread misconception that HTML and CSS are easy. Take a sample of resumes from people in IT and you’ll find a ridiculously high number quote HTML as a skill-set. Many of those people will also know the rules of chess — but how many can claim to be a grand master? While HTML and CSS are not programming languages, they have subtle complexities that are not appreciated until you have considerable development experience. Graphic artists rely on precise positioning and programmers rely on rigid coding conventions, yet this level of exactness is rarely experienced in the browser world. Few people master HTML and CSS whether they migrate from a design or programming discipline. Should we expect everyone to have intimate knowledge of browser quirks, usability, semantics, accessibility, progressive enhancement, etc?"

A freelance designer who calls herself "Kathleen" posted on Drawar:

"I’m not an idiot, and I find HTML/CSS to be hard. Not just a little, but a lot. I taught myself Photoshop starting way back with PS4, and didn’t bang my head against it the way I have with code. It makes me so angry every time I see someone post on the web that learning code is ‘easy’ and every designer should ‘just do it’. I’ve tried to learn how to code for years, and it just doesn’t come to me naturally or stick with me. I’m a very visual person, and those rows and rows of words just don’t translate to a design in my brain. I keep trying to pick up coding as a skill set, because I know that at this point people won’t hire designers who don’t code, but I’m so sick of feeling ‘not good enough’ because I don’t think coding is easy."

Most of the commenters in the forum agreed with her, even the hardcore coders, with one, "Awesome Justin," saying succinctly: "HTML and CSS. Easy to learn. Difficult to master."


Web designers should know HTML/CSS — even if it’s just limited to the fundamentals — for the sake of being able to create web designs and web interfaces that work on the medium. Web designers may choose not to write the HTML/CSS themselves, but knowing how markup and CSS works is essential to being a web designer. Web designers might not need to be HTML/CSS ninjas, but it serves them well to know (at least) how their web layout comps are converted to a website.

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About the Author

Michael Tuck is an educator, writer, and freelance web designer. He serves as an advisor to the Web Design forum on SitePoint. When he isn’t teaching or designing sites, he is doing research for the History Commons. You can contact him through his website, Black Max Web Design.

This was published on Nov 4, 2010


Jamie Nov 04 2010

Before designers learn html and css they should learn basic skills such as naming layers in Photoshop correctly, using layer comps correctly, a decent file naming system on their hard drives and other general housekeeping skills. I am not tarring all designers with the same brush but a lot of them struggle to find files on their computers and adjust layers due to poor file, directory and layer naming.

Some designers have asked me to code their sites and have given me a flat JPG or PDF file and they have not made their PSD file in a way that allows easy modification of headers, banners etc due to poor layer use and naming. I am not saying designers need to layer their designs perfectly tuned to what the coder would want in a perfect world but a bit of management would benefit both parties.

Mirko Nov 04 2010

Do architects need to be engineers? Nope, but they learn enough engineering principles to build stuff that doesn’t collapse suddenly. For me the same applies to web designers, HTML & CSS are necessary to be a good web designer…

Mariusz Nov 04 2010

“Architect doesn’t have to know how to build buildings” is a moot point. Architects have to have in-depth knowledge of materials their buildings will be made of or else they will end up in jail for causing death while the building collapsed. The same way, web designer has to know _how_ HTML & CSS work, to not make developers die in laughter saying “They want to implement *that*?!”.

Alex Crooks Nov 04 2010

(I am a developer) While I agree it helps if the designer knows how to code, it is also benefitial if he doesn’t.

A designer who can’t code knows no boundaries of web development, and is always pushing the limits of what we can do/display on a website. Innovation is often found because he is not limiting the design because he knows it might be very hard to code.

Of course they should code, a designer should know how a webpage is constructed and what the limitations of HTML/CSS are.

With the rise of HTML5 and CSS3 I believe design will begin to take place within the browser more than ever before and so it will become even more vital.

I’m a media designer and I wish I’d be better at HTML/CSS. it somehow works, but I don’t see any reason in being a web designer without that knowledge as it’s really really easy to at least learn the basics. of course you can draw a website and then pass it on tho the web developer but in the end, you’ll be a better web designer if you could do what he does.

I agree that web designers should have a fundamental understanding of HTML and CSS, and there are certainly enough resources out there to learn (w3 has a free course on both!) However I disagree that they should code their own designs. There is a big difference in the mind of a deisgner/graphic artist and that of a coder. Sometimes a person is great a both – that makes them that much more successful – but expecting a designer to be able to code is too general of an expectation. Should they be able to mockup their own design and wireframe it in basic html? Sure! Code their own platform, theme, or jQuery? Not likely. To reverse the argument, should all programmers know how to create art?

Anterpreet Nov 04 2010

Very nice article. Web designers should know HTML and CSS

Chris Nov 04 2010

A good web designer will only become a great web designer once they know how to code and fully understand the possibilities and limitations involved in coding.

Iain van der Wiel Nov 04 2010

I agree with you.

I believe that webdesigners don’t have to know how to completely code their designs, but know what the limits of HTML and CSS are. Advanced knowledge of HTML and CSS is a very big plus while designing.

Andy Piddock Nov 04 2010

To code or not to code, hmm, I’ve been a pro web designer for the best part of 10 years now and 99% of the time do the HTML and CSS work.

I can understand why some designers agree with not having to code, if you use the likes of SiteGrinder etc you can ‘knock up’ a pretty good site for all but the most standard stuff. But and it’s a big BUT, even when these tools are used there comes a time when you will need to get your hand dirty with code.

I think it really comes down to the client and their expectations. It’s all about giving them what the want, the way you deliver it is secondary. After all you are offering a service and it’s the result that’s important not the method.


Peter Nov 04 2010

Yes! Web designers should know basic HTML/CSS :)

James Young Nov 04 2010

I steered clear of the original “debate” on the matter raised by Elliot’s tweet partly because I don’t think there’s a definitive answer and Mark Boulton taking the fence straddling option is as close as you’ll get to being “correct” on this issue.

(I’m commenting as someone who’s been involved in front end design and production for the best part of 7 years now)

From my personal experience as Creative Director in a small agency along with having worked freelance a few years before that is that project requirements mean different skills are needed all the time and for example as a freelancer I needed to be able to be a bit of a jack of all trades in order to take on projects.

This meant taking on client work where I could go from brief to launch and often involved plugging in wordpress as well as designing, writing the HTML/CSS and a bit of theme work etc.

Now at work, I still handle all of the front end production because we’re a small agency and I have developed those skills over time to be able to handle it but I wouldn’t look unkindly on an excellent designer who couldn’t write brilliantly efficient HTML and CSS in the same way as I wouldn’t look unkindly on a producer who couldn’t design that well.

It’s probably a bit of a reflection on the industry that people are expected to excel in several areas (you only have to look at the number of job posts listing things like OOP PHP devs with illustrator + ps + video animation experience for £20k) instead of focusing on one and being the best you can.

It’s great if you can deal with design and front end production but were do you draw the line these days? jQuery is becoming more popular by the day, should we also expect a “designer” to become more and more proficient in JS as well?

All designers should without doubt have a grasp of what’s possible and working as part of a team is a vital skill.

Pritam Nov 04 2010

There might be web designers who cannot code, but to me that’s a handicap. While designing with Photoshop or Illustrator, you may not be able to realise the limitations of the Web. For example, you have a limited set of fonts to work with if you are not using any additional service or script. And then there are certain functions like a hover button, tool tip, etc. that can’t be implemented in Photoshop. Designing for the Web means working with codes and viewing it in the browser, or numerous browsers to be more accurate. If your only skill is Photoshop or Illustrator, you can be a good designer who dabbles with Web designing as well. Don’t call yourself a specialist Web designer.

I think it’s a good idea for designers to know some html/css purely for the fact that know the constraints of browsers and how elements will render once coded. So many times i’ve coded designs from PSDs that end up looking significantly different because of the styling they have applied to copy such as letter spacing and anti-aliasing, that doesn’t render consistently across browsers.

So I think they should know some code to make them better designers, not necessarily because they should be coding up their designs themselves.

Since the first moment I wanted to have full control of my designs I started to consider to design the code itself.
Nice structured, accesible tags, comments, well formed modular css and code poetry are part of the good design too, IMHO.

Kevin Nov 04 2010

I totally agree, it’s like being a mechanic and not knowing how an engine works. To be a successful website designer surely you need to know the fundamentals of HTML/CSS design. Nice post =)

Andreas Nov 04 2010

Of course a webworker has to know html and css! Its the basic frontend technology!
But fire him? I wouldn’t do that!
Teach him! A bit basics from selfhtml, reading the smashing book, doning 1-2 projects with the assist of a master and he is ready for doing it on his own…

Charlotte Babb Nov 04 2010

The thing that designers, especially print designers don’t get is that unlike a piece of paper that will lie still and let you draw whatever you like, a browser window will fight you every pixel of the way.

My boss only got the understanding of this when I showed her the differences in the same design on two different monitors on two different browsers. Her comment was “I prefer Quark.”

I am hoping that our experience with the newest version of our website will tip the balance in favor of a CMS for the next iteration, since no body at my college understands that Adobe Contribute is not one. Now I have to learn how to use it so I can teach the rest of them how to use it. Good thing I am fast at learning software.

HTML and CSS require burning some new pathways in one’s brain. I an an artist, a bit of a Photoshop magician, and an English teacher by trade–and I have beat my head bloody on the monitor learning what I know. But I can do it on the backside of Dreamweaver and make it work, even for the fiddly designs that my boss makes in Quark.

Michael Hubbard Nov 04 2010

While I am both a webdesigner and a PHP developer I believe even strictly web designers should know HTML and CSS. The term design does not specify that it has to imagery and fonts. The web designer not only designs the interface, but the code structure. How can you call yourself a webdesigner if you can’t implement SEO best practices in your code and explain to a coder, if you’re not coding it yourself, how you think it would be implemented? Creating the interface is just one small part of the design process, coding it, testing it, ensuring high usability, is just as much a part of it, even though web design and coders are often two seperate groups that operate semi-independently of one another.

Alicia Nov 04 2010

Web designers should know their way around code for two reasons.

-They need to know the limits of code so they don’t design things they know will be a pain to render in code or that brings up some hard things to fix. This ties into the architect thing. You might not need to know how to build a house, but you need to know enough about building to know what will keep a building from falling over or being impossible to build in the first place.

-They need to know code because they need to know badly rendered code if they see it. Some might argue that it’s not the designers worry about whether or not it’s built well, but it takes a whole team to build a single product, and if a designer is outsourcing their code and getting crap back without knowing it, that’s worrisome for them, their business image and their clients. Like the old adage- a boss should always know more than his employees so then he knows if he’s being ripped off.

Adam Renklint Nov 04 2010

Good article and I agree fully with your conclusion. Taking a road where designers and developers have no understand for the others task and endgame will have no positive consequences, imo.

Chief Alchemist Nov 04 2010

Hey Michael. Nice job. Cheers.

To know or not to know? To code or not to code? Obviously, there are quite a few views of this cube out there. Apparently there is no THE question .

Allow me to flip the question over…If you’re a “designer” and you wish to stay employed (i.e., add value to your employer and/or clients) what’s necessary to do that?

Or put another way, being able to code is not going to lessen your value. Understanding the basics of coding is not going to lessen your value. Having no idea about even the fundamentals of HTML / CSS (and even some scripting) could very well be the difference between you and the next guy/gal.

IMHO, we live in a world that is increasing less and less silo’ed. Your immediate role might not require some tools, but that’s not to say knowing them and how they fit isn’t important. (Pardon the double negative, please.) The less you understand the less likely you are to be part of key project conversations.

No way do “Web” designers need to know the language of the Web, that’s just crazy! Only chance of being employed by a company as a Web designer is to know a bit of everything and a lot of the important stuff (which includes the presentation side of a web design).

Rebecca Gill Nov 04 2010

Michael I agree with you in part. I am a web designer and I use WordPress. I need some knowledge of HTML and CSS and PHP, but I don’t need to know everything. When I’m over my head I have a “guy” for that. I am very transparent with my skill set and my guy with prospects.

My clients – typically small businesses – come to me because I know marketing and I am very good at organic SEO. It is more important to them that I can help formulate their marketing message and help bring in relevant traffic than the fact that I bought a theme and modified it. They don’t care. They just need experienced marketing help and traffic and in those cases, because they don’t have internal marketing teams. In those cases, I’m a perfect fit.

I will agree that larger companies with internal marketing teams and SEO staff seek the coder, the guy who can whip up a mean HTML page. Or the girl that can make amazing designs in Photoshop. For those clients, I would not be a good fit, because I would be under qualified or have a mismatch of qualifications.

It all boils down to a client’s needs and their in house abilities.

Guy McLaren Nov 04 2010

Well I learned to code HTML a loong time ago. I code PHP adequately but CSS is a pain in the proverbial. Every bloody browser has different needs, Why can’t I just go back to tables, they worked.

jonathan Nov 04 2010

I think you’re spot on. Web designers need to understand the constraints of the medium, just as print designers need to understand the print process.

Edson Nov 04 2010

I’m so glad to read this article. A priceless contribution for anyone who want to be a complete pro. Let’s spread it!

Asher Nov 04 2010

Dreamweaver must die!!!!

Well, okay, if they’re *JUST* a designer (and I use the word “just” in the sense of that’s all that they do, and not in a condescending way — graphic design is important, and hard, and not my own personal strength, and I respect someone who does it well, a *lot*) and someone else is converting their designs into code, *maybe* they don’t need to be hard-core coding experts, but they need to know at least a little about it, just to know the difference between designs that are translatable and appropriate for a particular situation and those that aren’t.

But anyone who can’t get under the hood and massage the code, anyone who doesn’t understand the code that they’re writing, ain’t gonna be building any pages that will be going on any websites *I* run.

This issue arose about a year ago when my technical writer expressed an interest in getting into the web development end of the job. I like her a lot, and was very supportive of the idea (in no small part because I am *massively* overworked, and the idea of having a willing student that I could hand off appropriate tasks to was very attractive), right up until the moment that she stopped playing with the cute little WYSIWYG freeware app her teenaged son had found and started looking at the intro tutorials I had sent to her and declared, “Oh yeah, I just remembered; I hate code.”

*sigh* So much for that. Not on my site, chiquita.

Dave Sparks Nov 04 2010

I think it should also be pointed out from the start of this piece, that if you manage to interview and hire someone without finding out if they can code you should really look at your interview technique!

As other knows how to use and implement HTML,CSS and programming languages, softwares about easy coding lead to almost enveloping the skeletal form of html and css codes. Designers this time don’t need to fully understand each tags but how to use the software is what they believe it should be.

But i still adhere to the importance of learning the very basic and fundamentals of html-css before anything else. Nice! I learn new thoughts about being a genuine designer.

Jim Cook Nov 04 2010

Bottom line: I would not hire a web designer who didn’t know HTML/CSS. Doesn’t have to be an nth degree mastery but without some markup skills they can’t pull their weight in a small firm.

Theresa Dickison Nov 04 2010

I’m currently a freelancer and a continuing education student at Milwaukee Area Technical College and I’m in a design course right now that is right up this discussion’s alley.

HTML and CSS came astonishingly easy to me – much easier than design actually. But then, I know I’m a right-brain person so it wasn’t really a surprise. In the class I’m in now, though, which concentrates on designing websites in Dreamweaver, I’m running into fellow students who have no idea what the professor means when he mentions tags, divs, or the box model. Once I explain it in “user-friendly” terms, though, I see the light go on and the inevitable “well, if somebody had just told me that to begin with, I wouldn’t have had such problems trying to get this to work!”

I specialize in designing for small businesses who never thought they could have a website like the “big boys” or are overwhelmed by the sheer complexity of trying to create a website. Part of my job is to make the process as easy for them as possible and that means that I’m it. I’m the one that designs the site, I’m the one that codes it, tests it, validates it, and maintains it. The chief comment I get back from every client is that they were relieved to only be talking to one person instead of several people or a team or a committee – they feel taken care of.

To be sure, my approach isn’t nearly possible for a large company that needs a 1000 page website. It just wouldn’t work in a lot of situations. What it comes down to is not who knows what code or script or this or that because it’s just not possible to know everything there is to know about creating websites.

What IS important is that the client is getting what they need (which is often not the same as what they wan, by the way :). Whatever structure a firm comes up with to accomplish that is up to them. Like ’em or hate ’em, the client feeds me and pays the rent so a firm needs to do what it needs to do to get the job done. If you need a designer AND a coder, then go get one of each. If you luck out and hire somebody who can do both, fantastic. Just get the work done, make the client happy and get recommendations from them so you can get more clients.

Grand Dame Nov 04 2010

I am a web designer and I dont CODE
I know Html and Css because I studied Web design.
so I know not to push the design to a limit where someone cannot actually code it

but as a designer I would rather push my designs instead of limit it to what code I know or feel safe using.

I live in Africa and believe in creating employment, if it wasn’t for me how would all the coders who CANNOT design get their work.

osuss Nov 04 2010

Web designers should know how to code period.

Chris Huff Nov 04 2010

As much as I think knowing coding languages is important, I’m going to have to be in the “It depends” camp on this one. There are many factors that would play into this. Is the person a solo web designer, or part of a team? Is the person’s job description clearly outlined so that he knows and does his job well without impeding the jobs of those he is working with? Does he represent himself as being knowledgeable in these areas? Though I still think it’s important to at least have a basic knowledge of coding languages, I can conceive of some situations where it would not be necessary.

Brian Cody Nov 04 2010

Use Fireworks and write your own code! I would argue that web designers should not only be master Frond-End devs, but should also have working knowledge of back-end technologies.

I can’t believe there are web designers that think they *don’t* have to know at least the basics of HTML and CSS. If you don’t know the limitations of your medium, how can you create a great design?

Julesfrog Nov 04 2010

The bottom line is: how competitive do you want to be? If I interview for a job and my competition only knows design, I stand a much better chance to get the job, first because of my additional skills and second because I understand better the process of website building.

We were recently looking for a print designer. Many of them applied, but we went with someone who not only knew print, but also knew some web. When it comes to employment, you want to stay ahead of your competition. Your skills must reflect what the market demands and the market demands designers who can design and code.

Jeffrey Nov 04 2010

I agree with just about every aspect of this article. What it makes me wonder is why no one considers the flip side. Good developers need to know a bit about design. They (we) don’t need to be the best designers in the world, but do need to know some basic design principles. The best designers I have worked with know a bit about the code, and the best developers I have worked with know a bit about design. Creating good web experiences require a skill set that walks the line between technical and creative.

Adam Pieniazek Nov 04 2010

An analogy I frequently use is that HTML is like vocabulary and CSS is grammar. Just like you don’t need a great vocabulary and impeccable grammar to write an article/book, you also don’t need perfect HTML/CSS skills to create a design for a site BUT it helps, A LOT. Maybe if we de-emphasize the code aspect and emphasize how HTML & CSS are the basic building blocks of the web we can encourage more people to get a grasp of the topics.

Henrique Blefari Nov 04 2010

a standard “web designer” must know how to code a layout, if he cant do it he is just a “graphic designer” trying to make some money on the web!

Web designer is a graphic designer with html/css knowledge.

Fanelli argues, though, that “[a]n architect doesn’t have to know how to build buildings.”

this statement proves that Fanelli knows jack squat about being an architect. @Mirko said it right: architects need to know physics, math, engineering and how to get their hands dirty on the job site. one of the reasons I moved from architecture into design was a sucked at physics…you can’t just sit around and draw pretty structures…you have to know how they will work.

same applies to web design. a designer can’t just put things wherever he wants them to w/out knowing how a website is built or how it works. it will be a disaster.

so yes, web designers NEED to know how to build their sites.

Nowadays as the market gets bigger you can be just a designer without knowing how to code. Just get someone to do it for you, that is acceptable.

You can also code HTML, CSS and JavaScript and not know how to design. That is acceptable too.

I don’t see the issue, I have come across many great designers who can’t code but do a great job desiging for the web and print. And I have also come across Front End Developers who can’t design but are excellent with SEO and marketing also.

At the end of the day, if you think your design skills are enough to carry you through, then it is enough. However, it’s certainly a big fat plus to know how to code.

Marida Nov 04 2010

Web designers should code, for the simple reason that the artist’s medium has always dictated the design.

Think of the cave paintings of Lascaux with their beautiful pastel shading; the stunning colors and abstract shapes of the stained glass at Chartres cathedral; the delicate nuance of a watercolor landscape painting, or the power of Michelangelo’s David. All of these get draw their artistic power and style from the medium the artist used to express him/herself through.

Revolutions in art have often followed on the heels of technical innovation. The Impressionists use of color was strongly influenced by contemporary research into the nature of light and color. When photography first came on the scene, people tried to use it to imitate the allegorical paintings of the era, and the results were silly (at worst) or a workaround (at best). Only when the inherent characteristics of the medium were recognized as an advantage did we start seeing photographs that were art in their own right, such as the images of Ansel Adams and Edward Steichen.

I have been designing websites for years, but only when I learned to code did my designs really take off. I’m not where I want to be yet, and I am continually thrown off balance by some new technology that I know will suck up time to learn about…but I also know that striving within the limitations of the medium are often what makes an artist innovate and create truly great work.

diego Nov 04 2010

Designer should know, the limitations on web design with HTML and CSS.

dloop Nov 04 2010

i work in a mid sized agency. i design and i code both. we have designers who do not know how to code. there’s a fairly large difference in designs when a project comes through with myself and non-coding designers pitching mock ups.

100% of the time when i receive a design from a non-coding designer, i have to spend a few hours doing “post design” clean up. fixing backgrounds, fixing spacing, fixing fonts that are not supported, you name it, i’ll probably have to fix it before the design gets put into a browser.

you can assume they are bad designers or we aren’t directing the non-coding designers on proper web design practices, but truth is they are fantastic designers, and we are directing, we do constantly… they do not remember, or maybe don’t care. and i think if they actually were to code and understand why and how these things work, my “post design” clean up would drastically reduce.

Kiran K. Nov 04 2010

Brilliant Stuff! The more we code the better we get . Updating ourselves with the new and improved always helps us design better too . So sometimes its not just the knowledge of coding that helps but coding helps to design a lot too .

Dan Howard Nov 04 2010

In the same way that a builder needs to know the basics of plumbing and electics, a designer needs to know at least the THEORY of the other coding languages – I’m a designer, know HTML/CSS quite well, but also know the principles behind PHP, MySQL and JS. I find that when working on larger projects with others, this helps massively.

Think of it like this – what would you do if you were having a meal in a restaurant, and the cook only knew how to make the vegetables for the dish, not the meat (or vice versa)?

Brett Nov 04 2010

Designers should know how to write HTML/CSS.

I have to disagree with the quotes above saying that HTML and CSS are difficult. HTML is a very visual language compared to something like PHP. Every div is a box, and then you just use CSS to dress it up. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

Jesse Nov 04 2010

This whole argument comes down to seperation of skillsets, and “what is the difference between a graphic designer and a web designer?” A person who creates a photoshop mockup and doesn’t code it into a functional website is really a “graphic designer working on the design of a website”. Without the requirement of knowing how to code any graphic designer can call himself a web designer.

There may be value in using a good graphic designer, but it is the person who makes it a functioning site who is the “web designer” or “front end web developer”.

jamEs Nov 04 2010

I am baffled by people who don’t know how to code and would claim to be a web designer. No, you are a graphic designer making a picture of a website if you cannot code.

The biggest problem with these kinds of designers is that they don’t understand the fundamental boundaries of a website, techniques and how things can be implemented. I find myself I push the boundaries of my designs, but I also understand what it’s going to take to implement my design in the end. I can envision the project from starting with a 960 grid design to finished product.

I have implemented some absolutely garbage, pie in the sky designs by graphic designers who think they can just make a PSD then pass their mess to someone to code. Sure there are tools out there that help making coding simpler, but in the end there is no substitute for quality coding.

John Garrett Nov 04 2010

I definitely think designers should have a basic understanding of the code.

To me it’s the same as when I was working in prepress years ago. We always had a spec-book for each different press and we set-up the design to print on that particular press.

A web designer should know their medium, and they should know what’s possible, what’s difficult, and what’s just plain impossible to implement.

I started out using wysiwyg programs and I felt like I was held hostage by the programs. I determined to learn the basic HTML and CSS and never looked back.

No, it’s not easy but it’s well worth it!

Girish Nov 04 2010

I have no problem with the people who can ‘design’ websites in photoshop; as long as they ar prototyping or drawing one of those beautiful fixed backgrounds. Designing should end there. Since websites are lots of lines of codes, it is obvious that a designer should be able to understand and manipulate code.

One main problem is that how you look towards ‘Web Designing’. If you approach it as a job, you won’t learn that much. When I came out of college, I did the ‘Photoshop + Dreamweaver’ thing, and only had a little idea of CSS. But soon I was able to get rid of it. And today, I can hard code html, css and php. and I’m working on JS.

If you love web designing, no will will ever have to force you to learn anything.

Craig Nov 04 2010

So what am I? My job title is “Web Designer”, but a lot (not all) of the actual design is done by graphic designers. I spend most of my time writing HTML/CSS, maintaining websites, creating blog posts and coding a few wordpress templates. I dabble in jQuery and PHP, but have not mastered either. I think I am in between a designer and a developer. I never know what to call myself, and I can never choose what I want to be.

I think, in anything but the largest shops, it’s necessary for designers to know html/css for the reasons many people have said above – you have to know what’s possible, what’s probable, and what’s not. It’s great if you can create a design that pushes the limits of what’s currently being done on the web – but it takes a whole separate skill set to evaluate and implement that.

My guess is that even in shops big enough to have a designer (who knows no html/css) a front-end developer to handle the transition from psd to html mockup, and a back-end developer to work with the front-end on final templates and implementation, most designs are tweaked by the front-end people between psd and mockup, so you’re still not necessarily getting the exact psd design as final implementation.

andna Nov 04 2010

I am currently taking a multimedia design/web development education where we have design, programming and project management classes. I can handle html/css/php/mysql as well as manage photoshop/illustrator/3d studio max well…

But I am worried that it would be easier to get a job being a great designer with no coding skills instead of what i am now “jack of all trades, master of none”…

Chilion Nov 04 2010

Is a McDonalds, which is not selling hamburgers still a McDonalds?


So, is a webdesigner, who’s not coding, still a webdesigner?


Dan Moriarty Nov 04 2010

Great discussion. I have been both designing and building websites for 12 years, but for the first 2 years of those, I actually didn’t know even the most basic HTML. I started off using WYSYWIG software, figuring that it was the best way for a print designer to build websites.

At some point, I wanted more control over what I was doing, and I started to learn HTML, CSS, PHP, MySQL… I felt a bit scared jumping into coding, but with time and experience comes confidence.

Occasionally I will build a site that a print designer designed. And while I can make the designs work as websites, there are absolutely decisions made in the design process that would be best made by someone who knows code.
A print designer who has never built a website doesn’t know how to design for the web. Once you’ve built websites, you start to design with the end process in mind.

In addition to the good analogies of a architect or mechanic, I also think of a fashion designer who doesn’t know how to sew. Sure, once you’re established you don’t have to do the sewing. But should have an understanding of what goes in to the thing you are creating.

Gabriele Maidecchi Nov 04 2010

I think a good web designer should know how to code its designs, helped by a programmer for the javascript (well nowadays, jquery) integrations.
I never personally hired a web designer who didn’t know how to code HTML/CSS, not ’cause I chose to, I just never met a non-coding designer at all.

I really find this all interesting and a little scary. I am just about to go back to school for web design, after many years of being an arborist and photographer.
I find that code hurts my brain. The school assures me they can teach even old guys to write code. Sixrevisions has been great to read and immerse myself in and prepare myself for the things I wiil soon be facing.

I would direct a critical eye at someone arguing the point that knowing less about how something works is better for getting things done properly. I guess the debate hangs on the phrase “need to know”, but I think in a business if you’ve got an employee trying to justify why they don’t need to know something — that’s somebody you don’t want to keep around for long.

webtechbc Nov 04 2010

Half of web design is knowing how to de-code and trouble-shoot. If you don’t know html & css learn it.

It’s like being a driver and not knowing how to drive.

Curtis Scott Nov 04 2010

I think that having a solid understanding of css/xhtml is more important than having a solid understanding of UI design.

While I understand both do go hand and hand, having design skill in web design is pointless if you can’t code the front end yourself. I have found out that design is funner to do when compared to coding and many people would rather just design. Being able to efficiently do both is what sets you apart.

Julian Nov 04 2010

I am a web developer. I believe it’s necessary for web designers to understand the limitations and capabilities of xhtml/css and even JavaScript but no, it shouldn’t be a requirement for them to know how to code their designs.

If that happens, the web well be flooded by non-standard compliant, un-optimized, not robust websites. The designer class of websites – taking us back 5 to 10 years in the wrong direction.

Of course they should know how to code, otherwise they’re just “Graphic” Designers! It’s not much of a stretch for Web Designers to know Javascript/PHP as well.

Colin Clark Nov 04 2010

In my mind the whole argument is pretty silly. A great web designer should be able to design great websites that delight users and clients. The real question for web design firms is what you actually need help with the most. If you already have people who are awesome coders and you need someone who is a master at creating designs, then you should hire that person and have them work hand in hand with the developers.

My real question is why would anyone let a brand new employee or intern spend hours creating a design in photoshop without keeping an eye on them to make sure they’re creating a design that can actually be implemented. That just seems silly to me.

I’m a full time freelance web designer, and I’m a big fan of Andy Clarke’s process of designing in the browser. Doing so, makes it possible to make the best experience for every browser, adaptive designs, something which you cannot do in Photoshop.
You can flesh out the general layout and look and feel, the logo and graphics in Photoshop, but go to the browser as soon as possible.
Need to change the font? just change one declaration in your CSS file, if you have to do that in Photoshop, it would take much longer to go in and change all the layers.
Also, how do you represent liquid layouts in photoshop?
One problem, is that a real web design software does not yet exist. There are tools such as Stylizer, Expression Web, CSSEdit that come close but lack in certain respects. Jason Santa Maria has an in depth article about the subject :

Good post. I believe you have go with the technical side, web designers are not responsible for code. It’s not really a problem though, most web designers know enough html or css.

Coding skills will soon be obsolete anyways with companies like Joomla, WordPress, and template/theme teams.

Peter Nov 04 2010

I believe “Web Designer” is an outdated title. With the web moving so rapidly toward dynamic functionality (especially with Rails, Python, PHP, Java, etc) those who “design” only would be lucky to be employed.

As it stands now, even knowing HTML & CSS is and will not be adequate enough to find & keep employment (unless you’re strictly freelance.)

Peter Nov 04 2010

One more thing – a “Web Designer” who doesn’t think learning basic coding is necessary is just plain lazy.

Leanen Nov 04 2010

Interesting discussion! I agree a Web Designer is a Graphic Designer with HTML/CSS skills. I don’t think you need to be an expert coder like a developer but you should understand the difference between print & web and be able to build/code what you design.

Being a Web Designer myself, I have worked with several Graphic Designers over the years who don’t have a clear understanding of how design translates to the Web – this is where knowing how to code comes into play.

Slightly off topic but someone mentioned developers should know basic design principles – I couldn’t agree more! One thing I have noticed, in working with multi-disciplinary teams, developers can code like crazy but don’t always respect the design in terms of pixel alignment. What good is a site if the graphics are a few pixels off? To some developers, this isn’t a concern but to us Web Designers we want a site to look the way we intended – every pixel matters.

Brian Nov 04 2010

It’s necessary for a designer to know HTML/CSS just to understand the various limitations/capabilities and this goes for javascript too i.e jQuery libraries too.

I would say that designers don’t need to be experts at HTML/CSS although it helps if you can build a site too.

It’s better to be an expert in your own particular field i.e. designer with knowledge in other areas i.e. html and not a jack of all.

elise Nov 04 2010

Okay, so a web designer has to know how to code. But at what point do we know enough code? Know too much and you’re on the low end of a developer — seen by recruiters as some kind of wannabe. I know some javascript, some php, mostly design of course, I call myself a web designer, and employers still don’t seem to know what to do with me. I get looked down upon by “real developers.” Seriously?

What I really find fascinating is how the community continually creates what it means to be a web designer. It’s taking quite some time for us to carve out a niche that doesn’t anger graphic designers or developers.

Laura Hogarth Nov 04 2010

IMO, if you just create the mockups and don’t do the code then you’re not a web designer, sorry. As others have said, you’re a designer who creates pictures of websites – not the same thing!

I’m a programmer and I’m glad that the opposite debating isn’t happening. “Programmers should know how to be a web designer”.

I know how to open Photoshop and crop, even do some typography. However, for me, it is a waste of time to be using Photoshop when a designer can handle all that.

I do see more and more designers wanting to learn HTML and CSS. That is totally fine and I don’t think there is anything wrong with requiring that for a job.

The problem arises when a designer is asked to take on an intermediate to difficult Javascript/Actionscript/Cold Fusion/php task. They shouldn’t have to do that. :)

Phillipe Calmet Williams Nov 04 2010

I also agree that a “true” web designer should know how to code (X)HTML & CSS. And, if possible but not required, some basic knowledge of how to apply a JS framework (like JQuery).

anonymous Nov 04 2010

I’m an architect. We very definitely have to know how to build a building, down to the last detail. The exam for registered architects is in two parts. One 12-hour part is to prove you know how to design. Another part, also 12 hours long, is to prove you know all the technical stuff. The whole process takes at least 8 years.

I’m also a web designer. I write my own code from scratch. Wouldn’t have it any other way. When I look at a “designer” using a template, I see a little kid on a bike with training wheels.

Dustin Dyer Nov 04 2010

I’ve been a “web designer” for about a year and a half. six months ago all I knew about code was what a was. I got a job at an internet marketing company about six months ago. I was forced to learn it. It was so incredibly frustrating I wanted to give up many times.

Now, it’s pretty easy. New concepts are also easy. But it wasn’t at first at all. I’m just glad my boss was patient with me.

I’m kinda going through the same thing with php now but I know that it will come.

“Should Web Designers Know HTML and CSS?”

“Should car engineers know how to drive?”

Since its not hard to learn (yes, but hard to master) i think its essential for every webdesigenr to learn atleast some basics of the css box model and valid html markup.

But sadly i know eneugh designers (even around me and in my town) that dont know a bit about code -> may not a problem if they would have a good coder beside them, but they dont

they slice, they open dreamweaver, and they are satisified with their junk :(

Dustin Dyer Nov 04 2010

oh, and i left out “div” in my first sentence…

Scott Brown Nov 04 2010

HTML and CSS = Web Design. You can’t have web design without them.

Without HTML and CSS, you’re just drawing pictures in Photoshop.

James George Nov 04 2010

This is a great article, and is open to a lot of debate. Honestly, in plain terms, if you dub yourself as a web designer, the debate of whether you should or shouldn’t know code is a personal choice. The fact of whether you “need” to know it is another issue. If a client comes to you and wants you to edit and add a few things to an existing site, and it is built with CSS, then you NEED to know the code to be able to edit it properly. Otherwise, the job will be a nightmare and you might ruin the look of their site.
The honest truth of the matter for me is this: I don’t always write ALL of my own code. Sometimes I simply allow Dreamweaver to write the basics for me. There is no point in reinventing the wheel. However, without the knowledge of code, I would not be able to create a custom wordpress theme, and your flexibility and capabilities are limited. It really depends on the level of work that you do. If you need a web designer to create fresh, clean, truly unique designs from scratch, then they need to know the code, SEO, and how the entire structure works. if you are building fairly small sites that are more personal without a ton of functionality, then simple sites don’t require code.

Of course at least a basic knowledge of both i would consider necessary. HTML and now CSS are the backbone of web design You can’t have a website with out it!

Leanne Nov 04 2010

In my opinion too many designers are relying on WordPress and Blogger to do their work. Even with the ability to customize blog templates that’s still doesn’t classify as a custom site. A Web Designer designs and codes their own designs WITHOUT the use of a template.

While Dreamweaver can be helpful with the initial framework it’s important to understand Dreamweaver also adds in unnecessary code that should be stripped out.

Jamie Maing Nov 04 2010

Being a web designer, I think it’s definitely important to understand at least the fundamentals of HTML, CSS and Javascript. That last one it important especially as the web becomes more and more dynamic and interactive.

At a fundamental level, it’s impossible to design if you don’t know how it will be built. You wouldn’t hire an architect to design a building if he doesn’t know how to build one. So why do it with a website? ;-)

Steve Nov 04 2010

A good web designer should – in my opinion – have a basic grasp of both HTML and CSS. Having that knowledge helps greatly when creating mockups in Photoshop and/or Illustrator. Having said that, I’d rather not have to spend too much of my time dealing with coding issues to address the ‘movable target’ of different browser rendering capabilities. Leave that to the programmers.

Whether you work as a freelance web designer or as part of a team in an agency or studio setting, the key is to be able to collaborate with those who have a skill set that complements your own, all the while being able to understand the issues the programmer has to deal with once you hand off the prototype to them.

Just a side note… did any of us have to deal with code when working with Quark XPress, inDesign, Photoshop or Illustrator? No, we were content to work within the GUI using design palettes etc. Imagine having to code in Photoshop in order to render a gradient fill or transparency (alpha property)?

There are now workflows for prototyping in both Fireworks and Illustrator (using SVG) that give the web designer the ability to simulate interactivity without having to ‘go all the way’ with XHTML/CSS, javascript, PHP, jQuery etc.

It’s all macho b.s. Whoever has the longest list of skills wins I guess. At the end of the day, it comes down to coming up with design solutions and ideas that move product, and/or mobilize people. If Actionscript 3 makes your head explode, it doesn’t make you any less of a designer of any sort.

Just my humble opinion. I will continue to learn as much as I can with the time that I have.

Cedric Weatherly Nov 04 2010

As a front-end developer, I agree that designers should know how to code their designs and understand how things work on a basic level

…first off, the more you know the better off you will be in the industry finding work, keeping a job, or increasing your freelance worth. Most employers, in my experience, rarely hire designers that don’t do some basic Front-End development e.g. HTML/CSS/JQuery…and those jobs are very rare to find due to companies mostly looking for “all in One” programmer type workers, who are not particularly designers but can, and develop back-end modules, apps, widgets, etc.

Jamie Maing said it best “At a fundamental level, it’s impossible to design if you don’t know how it will be built”

Kyle Mechler Nov 04 2010

As someone who’s career is positioned exactly at the intersection of these two skills, I dno’t think that a designer is a web designer unless they have a relatively good understanding of CSS standards, at least. Likewise, a web developer isn’t a web designer unless they have an understanding of standard design practices and understand some advanced principals of print design.

I’m not saying that I’m in the better side of either position, but I know that when I’m working with my designer to churn out a WordPress or Drupal or Joomla theme, it’s really hard to get the right deliverables. “That design looks great!” is often followed by a breakdown in my head of how I’m going to achieve all of the radial gradients and rounded corners and exactly what I can turn in to sprites and what kind of grid system we’ll have to build (or start from) for the layout and…

Do you see what I mean? Knowing what is possible and reasonable is what makes a designer’s DESIGN useful for the practice of WEB DESIGN. That reasonably advanced knowledge of both fields is how you get to that point. It’s understanding what the building blocks are so that it can be both a great design _and_ great on the web.

KandilJ Nov 04 2010

In the early days of the net, designers and coders were fairly mutually exclusive groups. People came at projects with the skills they had acquired through their experiences developing traditional design or software products.

I think it was more understandable back then for a designer to be someone who may not have yet acquired coding or programming skills. However given the 15+ years of our collective experience with the web, I think now we have had enough time to realize that with this medium, a great designer and a great developer should include strong mix of both.

This is a fairly unique medium (like product design) where form must not only follow function, but actually enhance its usability. We even have terms for this (unique to our industry) such as UI and UX.

Speaking as a person who is currently working as both a designer and a developer/programmer, I can certainly say it’s not easy to bend your natural instincts as a designer to buckle down and learn how to code/program. In order to do so, I have worked strictly as a designer and strictly as a developer in the past. I now am beginning to find, as someone who can do both, I have become uniquely suited to some pretty cool roles on projects.

Ultimately, learning both (and mastering both) takes time and practice. But it will make you that much stronger of a designer, and even then, viable as someone who can lead or produce entire projects. :D

I’m shocked this even became a debate. OF COURSE web designers should know how to code. Otherwise they are just moving images around and pretending to know what they’re doing. Don’t get me wrong, designing the look of a website is valuable, but that doesn’t make you a web developer!

Sharon Nov 04 2010

I have never created a website design in Photoshop I have always built in the browser. That way I can see what works and what doesn’t immediately. If you are creating websites then I feel that you need to know the code to do so.

Maybe I should take that as my job title? “Freelance Website Creator”

I have my education in design and have learned coding as a necessary skill. This article hits home for me.

Saying “you should know code” is such a simplified statement. What is “code”? With web technology there is always another “do you want fries with that” skill to have.

Example. My strength is design, but I know html/css and recently picked up jquery… well my boss now wants me to learn ajax… then javascript… then php… then… actionscript3.0… then video…

The point is, learn what you have to know, but master what you’re good at. Stand your ground. I rarely design now because of the new skills I’ve learned. I code other designers work because they can’t. That’s not a good situation when it is designing that I love.

This was a very good article. I agree that web designers should know how to code. In my humble opinion, anyone who designs for the web without knowing how to code should more appropriately be referred to as a graphic designer and not a web designer.

Marcell Purham | Webdevtuts Nov 04 2010

I think every designer should know how to write cold but taken the time to become proficient in one then the other is the way to go. So I would recommend knowing how to create the design then code after. Also you could be a great designer and work with a coder. It depends what works best for you.

Asoto Adeola Nov 04 2010

Its vital to learn the basics of html/ css in eventual you are a freelancer. Being an interactive art director, I have found that learning coding helps reduce cost of hiring a programmer though not beneficial to them. For budding designer, I recommend learning asap.

I constantly see the argument that not knowing how to code enables a Designer to be more creative because they don’t know the limitations. I call bullshit on that. I always thought the key to being a great designer is producing great work within the boundaries of the medium you are working. How can you push things past the limit if you have no clue what they are. Web Designers should know how to code. Stop looking at HTML/CSS like they an advanced programming language they aren’t. They are design tools just as much as Photoshop is. HTML is the structure, CSS is the style. That said we coders need to learn how to design as well. Too often we sacrifice great design for clean code and as a result our work is boring and same samey. Eventually there is going to be a Designer friendly WYSIWYG tool that outputs great code which will only need to be tweaked. Once that day comes those whom only know how to code others designs are going to be left behind.

Michael Tuck Nov 04 2010

There are some tremendously insightful comments here. I wrote this, not to try to provide a “definitive” answer, but to spark conversation and debate. This is great! I think my favorite comment comes from Marida, who wrote about the artist’s medium dictating the design.

With the web design methods ever changing, web designers HAVE TO CODE. If they don’t they are providing sub standard work.

Think about it, we all use CSS for everything these days.
How can you possible “slice” PSD’s or do anything without knowing the code. Why? Because when I look at a PSD I see minimal images, tiny 1px snippets that I will use to make the website, and I’m pretty sure thats what every other “real” web designer does too.


The only reason anybody ever says that Web designers MUST know code front to back is because the “cool kids” in the Web design “community” say so.

Visual design, information architecture, and coding are three separate and distinct skill sets, and most people are not going to be good at all three at the same time. It’s a left brain vs. right brain thing, and while it can be overcome, it’s not easily done.

If you have the ability to translate visuals to code, or code to visuals, and understand both very well, good for you. 99% of people aren’t like you, though. Some visual designers are never going to understand how to code, because it doesn’t make sense to them, just like some coders are never going to understand visual design, because it doesn’t make sense to them.

If a designer works on a your team, teach them principles about coding that translate to them visually so that they give you designs that actually will work and aren’t a pain in the behind to code. Figure out a way to explain it to them that they understand, instead of being a typical code monkey and talking over their head, being condescending and saying, “This is easy! You should be able to learn this in 3 hours like I did!!”

Web Design and Print Design should be looked at in exactly the same way. Print designers are designing for the finished product to be printed and web designers are designing for the finished product to be on the web. In more cases than not is more important to talk the talk than walk the walk.

No “real” agency/studio/firm is going to expect a print design to be running a press because frankly they don’t know how, but they sure as hell better know how to communicate what they want the finished product to be.

Same is said for web designers. They don’t need to know how to code start to finish. They just need to understand the limitations of web and how to communicate to someone that will develop their design.

To truly succeed their should always be a design and developer working together not one person doing both. They can and will learn from each other but let them excel in what they are paid to do, design or develop.

Notepad/visual studios/etc is the printer press of the digital press. Pay the experts to produce your design. More often than not, it be done quicker and exactly what you want.

To me a lot of this question of manual coding and manual CSS is the old question of “John Henry” desperately laying railroad ties in a race to beat the machine by beating the spikes into the ties one at a time using his sledge hammer. In the majority of cases I do not deal with code except to rewrite certain sections of it in areas where I want to plug it in to look or act differently.

I look at WYSIWYG as the basics to begin with and then, just as in stock car racing, modifying the stock end product to be more competitive. But I wouldn’t waste my time coding a whole site from scratch, or recommend that path to anyone else just because the majority of coders out there are outraged that they’re being replaced by some (various quality) machines that can design sites so much faster. Top that off with the growth explosion in WordPress based sites and variable themes like THESIS and there’s precious little need to learn years of coding skills that are only going to be used occasionally.

Though John Henry died and the machine has permanently replaced him I’m sure the railroads still keep a few guys on who can swing a hammer – that’s progress.

Dallas Nov 04 2010

@Sharon – I build in the browser as well. Much faster than the traditional slice and dice, but I think the framework designs come out a little”templatey”.

There is nothing quite like a completely custom design that has been hand-coded for a specific business. It just looks more original, and is much more aligned with the company’s Content Strategy (assuming they have that going into the project).

Aaron Moody Nov 04 2010

I really enjoyed this post.

I’m a designer, I know the basics of code, and know how websites ‘work’ but I just can’t seem to “get to grips” with coding, no matter how hard I try, I am simply not passionate about it, and don’t enjoy it.

My personal belief is that along as you understand what works, and what doesn’t work on a website, and keep up to date with the technologies available via coding (HTML5 / CSS3 for example having much more interactivity, and visual styling than ever before) I feel that you can get by.

I certainly haven’t lost a client simply because I don’t code myself, I offer coding to clients via outsourcing, I am open about this and they have all (so far) been happy with the situation. I feel my portfolio speaks for itself to show I know what I am doing.

i agree with Kathleen completely. coding is hard. i have been a web designer for 10+ years and still struggle with coding. but i can do it. slow, yes, but it will get done.

my biggest beef is people who i see advertising online as freelance web designers who are nothing more than blog template customizers.

yes there is a big business out there for people and small companies who aren’t particularly picky when it comes to their website.

but just because u know how to create a new shiny header, dosen’t mean you know how to design a website, organize the content logically and code the design.

i urge this group of people to seriously stay in their lane.

You know I’ve number of sites but I also don’t know coding, all my work is going fine without knowing coding, but I still said that coding is necessary and I am very shy that I don’t know coding.
as you all know that these days we’ve too much coded material already so we don’t need to do any thing and all should have rely on that things, but what if all coders stop that means there will be nothing in coded form.

so I think the one who knows coding he/she surely do.

that’s all I can say.

Yes in a perfect world it would be great if designers could program. Then there would be no need for developers right? Why is it that developers are never expected to be great designers? They are never expected to create beautiful designs that take into consideration a brand, or color theory, or composition. But designers are often expected to know HTML 4 and 5, CSS, cross-browser compatibility issues, how to set up a database, oh and know how to implement a CMS. Why can’t developers learn all of the intricate principals that go into design, that way us “pretty picture people” can go away and they can do it all themselves. Peoples expectations are rediculous these days.

alvin Nov 05 2010

Not so long ago, I received a very nice-looking website design created in Illustrator. It is designed with a “hand-made paper” as page background with diagonal gradients and ragged edges.

Unfortunately, the ragged edges have no repeating pattern. Just imagine coding it for a CMS-based website… and add to that that the template should be fluid.

Yeah the design looks good and I understand the “need” to push the limits.

But web designers are so called because they design for the web. They should have a good grasp of its limits and possibilities.

Because no matter how beautiful a design is, if it can’t be coded for its intended use, then it is not designed for the web.

Coders/developers are then confronted with the task of either trying to make it work, or make adjustments to the design themselves, or just return it back to the designer.

kumbi Nov 05 2010

i would say say yes they should know how to code.. but then again, its different for “designers” in Africa – you usually learn how to code before you get into the nifty design theory topics like

Marco Nov 05 2010

Web designers should know a little of coding, they don’t need to be gurus, but need at last to know principles of how to do things for web and how to make their design posible to work.

I’ve worked on realy bad designs that don’t fit for web, but they are still good just not for a website.

As long as developers don’t know how to design, I dont’ have to know how to code. Basta.

jbohaj Nov 05 2010

Those, who dont stress upon HTML & CSS, have their own excuses.

An architect is not comparable in the same sense. They are more like both designer and developer in one. You can’t be an architect without having extensive knowledge of construction methods, regulations, materials, etc.

I’ll go along with the general consensus and say designers need to at least have an understanding of front end code to appreciate certain limitations.

Having a designer point at the screen and say “just move that over there” is quite annoying.

On the flip side, there are tons of developers out there that could really do with learning front end design.

I straddle both and as such will admit to being a master of neither, but pretty solid all round.

Lets be honest, only real high end designs need to have someone dedicated to just the design.

Govpatel Nov 05 2010

I would say yes a designer should have basic knowledge of html amd css as once he has designed the page it still needs to be layed out for web page using css and if has no knowledge of css then it will be just be a image.

I had one instance where a graphic designer designed the all pages in images and then owner of website asked me to add those pages to his website.

I looked at those pages and they did not have way to navigate as it was just one image with navigation images no way to click and when it loads it loads like image.

I said to the owner this not the way to have website it needs to broken up and use html and css to lay it out so he went back to designer ask to break it up and he did not know what I was talking about so he called me I said to him to lay out and as he had no knowledge of html or css it was talking to stone he is just graphic designer.

Govindji Patel

Ayush Kumar Nov 05 2010

Everything has already been said. I don’t know how I can add to the discussion except by saying ‘A great and thought provoking read’. I really havn’t started with webdesign so I can’t contribute much to this great discussion anyway..


I luckily got hired as a designer after I took some post-college webdesign classes, but had to learn the hard way how to code front-end designs by hand. HTML and CSS coupled with browser quirks and accessibility can rack your brain and drive you off the nearest cliff, but without that knowledge I feel my designs would be worthless heaps of pixels with no direction other than the recycle bin. Thus far, I have had 2 yrs and 2 months of on the job training that helped me to grasp many integral concepts with html and css. My first menu designs were created with FireWorks and boy were they a pain to update or change. Now I do it on the fly with CSS and life is good again. Next up relational databases – see you again in ten years :)

Steven De Coeyer Nov 05 2010

The future is code and even coded designs instead photoshop designs.
CSS3, HTML5 and Javascript (libraries) will replace a large portion of design (even animation design). One-page, bookmarkable, javascript-driven web applications, for example with images dynamically merged to a sprite, get and post request in the background through ajax, .. Also, in the future websites will not necessarily be limited to a web browser, think of mobile applications and stuff.

No, a web designer should know the minimum of HTML and CSS and even Javascript, IMHO.

Kelly Nov 05 2010

Chris Howard says it best: “Great web design can be done by people with no coding experience. Knowing the mechanics of web pages is much more important than knowing how to build one.”

That’s the basic level of understanding you can have as a web designer, knowing HTML and CSS is a plus! I got into web design 12 years ago by toying around with HTML. I’m not a developer/programmer but when I design for web I understand what our constraints are and I keep up with new technologies.

The problem I’ve had lately are web developers and programmers that don’t understand that websites are dynamic… go figure. And let’s admit that programmers aren’t always good designers!

Meshack Nov 05 2010

A web designer is not the same thing as a designer who creates websites. I wish we had a better way to distinguish this.

Here’s the way I think of it.

Some people are using the analogy of an architect, who doesn’t need to know how a building is made to call herself an architect. This isn’t very precise. A designer who can’t code but calls herself a web designer is more like an architect who calls herself a construction manager because the tools exist now that don’t necessitate a construction manager on a building project.

Or… maybe closer to home. It’s sort of like a designer calling themselves a production artist now that we have pdfs and smarter software that do most of the work a production artist used to do.

I think the muddling of these two things, a web designer vs a designer that creates websites, isn’t good for anyone in the long run.

It’s a disservice to clients who may be getting a poorly coded site that doesn’t rank well with search engines or will break with the next generation of browser upgrades.

It’s a disservice to web designers who have to try and sell the benefits of a well coded site to clients in a world of $99 websites.

And it’s a disservice to the internet, where ideally sites would still be usable when you take the lipstick off the pig… turning off all the CSS, the images, the javascript and the flash junkiness.

After all, at it’s, the internet is about information and the EASE of accessing that information. The more non-coders that enter the webspace and do a bad job about it. The more it hampers the internet in this core function.

Jason C. Levine Nov 05 2010

I think the question of whether or not a web designer should know the coding aspect can be solved by a simple breakdown of the job title. Web designer includes the word web which describes what media you will be designing for. A web designer should have atleast a working knowledge of HTML/CSS and even dabble in jQuery. If you do not possess to aspire to learn those skills, one should market themselves as a graphic designer not a web designer.

Nick Yeoman Nov 05 2010

Someone who doesn’t know css an html is a “graphic designer” not a “Web designer”.

If you don’t know how CSS works, you can’t your design for the web, your designing print.

This conversation made me think of the design controversy over the World Trade Center memorial design. I remember after Daniel Libeskind’s design was chosen for the new building there was a big noise around the practicality of his design. Some critics said Liebskind designed it without giving too much thought into how it’ll be actually built. So, the design had to have many revisions to make everyone happy.

I think designing website is kind of like that. In the ideal world, web designers shouldn’t have to code. Everything will be drag and drop. No mess no fuss. But we don’t live in the world yet. Web designers can’t just be creative without considering how the design will turn into an actual working site.

Like good architects who think about construction process and even the livability of the building they design, web designers should be mindful of the processes after the design is done.

Daquan Wright Nov 05 2010

If you look at all the job openings for “web designer,” there are much more languages listed than HTML/CSS. For that reason alone, learning HTML/CSS should be among the top of their goals. If you’re primarily a designer, you don’t need to “master” it. But you should know it well enough to do basic pages at the least so you understand the technology you’re working with. HTML and CSS are the backbone of the web, and it will only make you a stronger designer once you understand the possibilities and restrictions of how your design would translate on the world wide web.

Imagine you’re in a physics class and you’re just trying to get by, not understanding the limits and what situations particular formulas apply to. Your performance would suffer because of a lack of understanding.

Honestly, it takes years to learn software/programming/music/many things. There’s an article that states it takes about 10,000 hours or ten years to master a skill and I pretty much agree with that. Photoshop is a huge but impressive program, that took me a couple of years to get comfortable with. You should not expect to learn things over night, know that it’ll take at least a year or two to become proficient with these technologies. “Slow and steady wins the race.” ;)

Lars Ebert Nov 05 2010

I often have to work with web designers who not know how to use HTML and CSS. I think this is horrible, as the only thing they can do is send me some Photoshop sketches. I always had to script it all by myself.

So I think it is very important to be good at HTML and CSS when you are a web designer. But maybe this is just my opinion, as I am scripting my designs on my own!

Richie Nov 06 2010

I work alongside a graphic designer, and consider myself a web developer. My designer knows very little code at all, she just designs the site as a PSD and hands it over to me.

Her lack of understanding of code has pushed me to being a much better developer, by creating her visions, pushing me out of my comfort zone.

We live by the rule, “if it can be spec’d, it can be built”. I think someone with both the skillsets that we have as a pair is worthy of the title “web designer.

We also work alongside a copywriter and an Adwords Specialist. Is there anyone out there who can really do it all?

I think another question can be posed.

Is the jack of all trades “web designer” as good as a team of people, each with a concentrated skill set?

Alexander Filatov Nov 06 2010

Just like the architect who absolutely has to know every quirk of the materials that are going to be used in the building he’s designing so should a web designer know the quirks of HTML and CSS. But that knowledge only comes with experience.
So if a pure designer came up to me and said he knows how HTML and CSS work but he doesn’t know how to code I’d drop my coke too.

Web designers should know HTML/CSS, the concepts behind Javascript are also handy. Life is a journey and how you develop along that journey. Specialize in one thing most definetley, but have the foresight to learn and develop along the way.

If you are freelancing, wouldn’t you rather keep the money spent on outsourcing for yourself? Unless you needed back end technologies to handle the heavy lifting for shopping carts and other complex elements.

If you are seeking a job with a company, why would a company pay a programmer 50K+/Yr. to translate a PSD into a functional design (HTML/CSS) for something the web designer should be knowledgeable enough to do.

To those saying it’s too difficult, I believe you are not trying that hard. I came from food service prior to entering multimedia design. I never so much as took an art course in High school. 8 Months later I have the ability to create graphics, code up the sites (HTML/CSS), build/code in Flash, and render/integrate video. (Oh and checked out 3D along the way)! Still a junior – mid level designer yes, but a testament that it’s possible if you put the time in.

There will always be things you prefer not to do, but when you refuse to do what it takes, you don’t grow period. Even if you learn the basics, you can build on what you know.

A strong building starts with a strong foundation!

Stephen James Nov 06 2010

There’s an advantage of someone (who doesn’t know how ‘to code’) visually designing a page. There is sometimes a wall that is put up when a programmer lays out a page. It is that they know how the page will be produced and therefore choose visual elements that correlate with HTML tags, etc.

Often, you get a better product when the designer does not know all the details that the producer does.

Raul Ochoa Nov 07 2010

I believe HTML and CSS are the basics of web design. If you don’t know that then all you are doing is designing graphics. Should probably be called a graphic designer then. There is no excuse. Knowing HTML and CSS is a must for a web designer.

Jessie Daryl Cacafranca Nov 07 2010

Good Article! I agree that a web designer should be a CSS ninja too!

Umesh Nov 07 2010

With the gargantuan growth of Facebook and the mindboggling implications of Facebook Places & Deals (at least I’m excited by what this could mean for local small businesses), maybe it’s time to say goodbye to ‘website’ designers as such and say hello to Facebook Page Designers ;)

Cesar Noel Nov 07 2010

It’s an advantage for a designer to learn at the very least HTML and CSS

menno Nov 07 2010

The one who has to know whats possible is the person who makes the technical plan. The designer only has to know whats in that plan. So he can design all stuff needed. The coders need to know their code so that they can make the technical plan work. Then the work of the coders and the designer should be joined.

Imo its better that the designer doesn’t know the boundaries of code. At my old job the designer didn’t know anything about codes. He made unique sites that did not look like any other site. A designer who knows coding will use that little knowledge to narrow his possibilities.

Only when you work freelance alone you will need to know more about coding so that you can give orders to programmers and html coders.

Marco Nov 08 2010

I actually wrote a similar article on the subject a while ago. If you want you can see what I think about it here

Well, in my opinion, i dont particularly insists that web designers or graphic designers should necessarily know how to code. I know designers who team up with coders and work together creating wonderful websites. But it’s always good to learn more and more skills so there’s nothing wrong in that.

cheesygrin Nov 08 2010

I think it all depends on the circumstances. There is a very real danger of lots of “wannabe” web designers designing – and coding – poorly, granted. But a very skilled designer may be able to fill his time just with design work. For him, coding would be a waste of his time. The opposite would be true of a very skilled coder.

Arguably, the end result could be better if someone who JUST designs designed it and someone who JUST codes coded it. That designer would need an in-depth knowledge of web standards and good practices – but I don’t think necessarily an in-depth knowledge of actual code.

Personally, I’m new to the design world and don’t have the luxury of focussing on one aspect of web development. But sometimes I wish I could.

Martin Nov 08 2010

What a stupid question! Of course they need to know that’s the difference between a good one and a lame web designer.

plaskov Nov 08 2010

webdesigners who don’t know what is going on when a sitebuilder try to make workin’ their design, can’t design perfectly a real site.. they just drawing “something” looks like a site.. EVERY designer must know the limits of a html/css site (don’t talk about flash now, it is a way different thing).. okay, i agree, nowadays with css sitebuilders can make (almost) anything.. but designers must know what is CODING about!

Belive me! Im a graphic artist/webdesigner.. and in the bigger part of my job im coding.. sometimes i design a site AND coding.. (i wish i could just designing, but if i want to pay the bills, i have to do what i have to :) )

But! when i worked with other “wannabe-designers” before, and when he gave me his design to sitebuild it, i pushed it back many times, to think it over again..

There is a minimum html/css skill to understand the options and make a fittable/acceptable/usable design.. my honest opinion ;)

mellie Nov 08 2010

I’m a web designer and I know how to code. It is an essential part of the job to at least know fundamentals. However, the opposite should apply as well: If programmers want to design web sites, they should learn some fundamental design skills. I have seen hideous web sites designed by people who excel at coding, but fall flat in the realm of design. These sites are visually disturbing, very unfriendly to the user and pollute our computers. : D

So, what I’m reading is web designers should be one stop shops. As a developer, I don’t care what code the designer has had – I care how effective they are about communication. I could care less if they can tell an in-line from a block element, I’d love if they knew how much a pain it is to do non-JavaScript solutions for css3 effects for IE.

End of the day – if *you* can communicate well with the “just a” designer, you can create some pretty effective sites. Don’t blame your poor communication skills on to the designer just because you can’t tell the designer dimensions, specs, or requirements in a manner outside of “…but my code…”

Web designers should know how to design for the web. That may be “thinking in the box” or not. But by not limiting to their understanding of code allows them to work with a developer to push the limits and not churn out the current standard faire.

Alison Whelan Nov 09 2010

No debate, if “Web Designers” charge fees for their ‘web design’ services, then they should know how to code to some degree and have a good working knowledge of HTML/CSS, best practices and standards.

They may not be “Ninjas” or “Masters” but at least they should have some respect for the standards and best practices……

This is coming from a graphic designer with 7 years
of practice, 3 of which include web design, which began as front end only, but then I asked myself why do I only know to design in PS/Ill/FW, what about the back end and why should I have to hand over my design to someone who knows nothing about design but is a master at coding?

I may never be a master at this, but at least I can code and have made it an important aspect of my web design skills to know the best practices and strive to achieve good/pretty coding and know when I can’t do it, then at least I know where to look to learn how. It really all boils down to common sense!

Saifu Nov 09 2010

I agree with your conlusion……………….
“Web designers may choose not to write the HTML/CSS themselves, but knowing how markup and CSS works is essential to being a web designer”

Julie Nelson Nov 09 2010

I’ve been a very successful print and web designer for almost three years and I have very limited knowledge of HTML and CSS. However, I can produce a great looking web design that is completely development friendly. I can also slice up a design for my developer.

I’ve accomplished that through working closely with my coding developers. I know what is difficult and time intensive, and what design elements transfer well into development.

I don’t expect my developers to know how to create a cool design, so why should they except me to know how to completely code my own site. Yes it is good to have basic knowledge, and I do. However, often times those who are great developers are not great designers, and vice versa.

I think strong partnerships are the keys and stick to doing what you do best.

Guy Arbus Nov 09 2010

I think any webdesigner HAVE TO know html and css. Now, any people can say : “I’m a webdesigner” (for example, if you buy a template or use a website generator, softwares, …).

Learning html and css is not so easy but it’s realy necessary.

Evan Skuthorpe Nov 10 2010

if a web designer doesn’t know how to markup their sites, they’re not web designers.

Josh Cagwin Nov 10 2010

Well written, but this is becoming another pointless argument like the PS vs. FW debate.

And to say that someone is not a web designer because they may not code sites they have designed is pure ignorance.

Avangelist Nov 11 2010

I wouldn’t say it is ignorance Josh.

You are designing for the web, it is in the title. To display content on the web you have to use html & css, even to display that lovely flash site you have to use html to get it there.

The problem I have with a lot of designers is that they only consider a single instance, it is far closer to the experience of writing a film, or creating mood boards.

Too often we see single stock images that do not convey the interactivity of the design which would not be so much of an issue if it wasn’t that the designs are very rarely accompanied by a written brief that explains the mechanics of it.

Web designers should know how to code html and css. You will never be a great web designer unless you know how to structure your own designs.

Excellent write up. Knowing at least the basics of HTML & CSS should be part of the web designer’s cannon. They don’t necessary need to be a coding guru, but they should know how everything works at a fundamental level.

joel k Nov 11 2010

Ha Ha
The question should be “does a designer need to know Photoshop”

you can do amazing things today with basic CSS. if i would overhear somebody not knowing code; i’ll kick him out, not knowing how to use PS ill need to think.

great post

Araen Nov 11 2010

To add to all that has been said and is quite pertinent, but that I don’t remember having read, one thing that is vital and cannot be grasped solely via design in photoshop is ergonomy. I understand people can manage that aspect mentally with experience and all, but having faced those types of problems/interrogations within the code usually helps to attain results that will avoid both parties quite some headaches.

That and I love how you bring up some points that are so implicit that no one ever gives them enough thinking!

Pippin Nov 11 2010

I’ve been a graphic designer for over 10 years. I started learning web design from day one and there was no such thing as WYSIWYG editors, so we coded. I’m glad we did. The trouble is, keeping up with all the technologies and languages. Picked up CSS no problem but then came CSS2 and which browser rendered properly and which didn’t, now CSS3. We started out with just HTML and now the dynamic SharePoint sites we have to deal with are just beasts and we have to sift through .NET, .ASP, Javascript, JQuery, AJAX, and on and on. Where does it end?

I don’t have the time anymore to sit and come up with a really nice design because I have to spend so much time on the back end. I do like it, but that really wasn’t in my original job description.

The ad said, “Wanted: someone to create original clip art for schools.”

I’m a long way from there.

musback Nov 12 2010

Well, I know some coding, and if necessairy, i can code my own site, but I say: “keep the designing to a full-time designer and the coding to a full-time coder”. I think you can’t be the best of both. As a designer, you should know about the structure of a website and the way it’s being build to deliver the right kind of files to a coder (png’s, gifs and jpg’s, fonts in exact sizes, transparancy if needed, and so on. But Lord knows I’ll never be able to code a php site as rock-solid as some of my colleagues can. I focus 100% on design and developing my skills in that, but leave the coding to someone passionate about coding. There’s no harm in working together, hell, we usually get great new ideas together because they know what’s possible in 2011 and I don’t know it as well. They also know better how to estimate the working time compared to me. If I start “coding” I spend more time on Google than actually writing code :D

Michael Willems Nov 14 2010

I think that webdesigners don’t have to be experts in html and css but they do have to know what the edges are of HTML and CSS!

Mari Rosa Nov 14 2010

I personally think it’s good that Web Designers know the code, even if it’s not the crazy advanced stuff like Javascript. I leave the advanced scripting to the developers and share their code. I think it’s good to know both as a designer, especially if you were hired by smaller companies, the Designer knows how to get a website up and running in no time without having to pay a coder and a designer. I am an artist, visually driven, but I do have an interest in code and I have tried my best to keep up with the HTML & CSS every year. I think it’s handy to know and you can do alot more artistically because you can understand code. I think that’s what I would call a GOOD Web Designer. I’m not advanced in code but I do understand most of it.
To me, the situation is like telling someone they don’t have to learn communication skills or proper English because all they do is decorate. I mean who are you going to hire? The one who can do more or less?

Gary R Boodhoo Nov 20 2010

seriously – how can you call yourself a designer if you never touch the medium you are designing for? The web isnt photoshop damn it. The cost of entry is low (Firebug, Chrome developer tools menu, etc…) You can play with CSS and gain understanding of how documents are structured easily in this context. Not saying you have to be a master at structuring and styling documents, but 2 weeks spent deconstructing the sites you’d be visiting anyway will have an immediate payoff.

Zudie Nov 24 2010

I’m a web developer and make simple designs myself. However, I prefer to work with a designer. None of the designers I have worked with knows any html/css. And that’s fine with me, as long as they understand web usability, different browsers, screens and resolutions, and as long as they listen to me.
I pride myself in being able to create a web site looking almost exactly like the PSD.
Problems only start with designers that are arrogant and that want to treat web like a printed brochure.

Good designers should know usability principles strongly, human psychology to build right computer- human relationships, art references to use appropriate style and build reasonable concepts. They need to posses good knowledge of drawing, color theory, proportions,etc – all that most important art principles to make web usable And esthetic. Knowing photoshop and managing a few layers is not a design )) Yes, we should understand how CSS/HTML as well as many other things in programing works , but knowing syntax is not essential. I can learn CSS/HTML but it will not bring me to higher level as web-designer, if I implement ugly and meaningless things in my concepts.

Timber Dec 01 2010

In order to design for web you must have an understanding how to build it. You must be aware of what tools are available to you in order to design properly. Not only for esthetics but usability.

Gemma Harris Dec 02 2010

Ah, the time old classic discussion. Personally, my answer is quite simple – YES.

I’m pretty much going to agree and repeat points mentioned by those who have commented prior to me but I still think it needs to be said. Someone who creates a design for a website but does not know how to code it up for the web cannot call themselves a web designer. For me, the web part is self explanatory. As with most web designers, I’m self taught and got started web designing from a young age out of curisoity. I wanted to know how pages were constructed, how lines of copy and markup could produce interactive pages we call websites. Fundamentally, creating a flat image is graphic design, turning it into a website is web design.

I work with web developers who take care of the programming (PHP, C+, .Net etc etc), they don’t touch my stylesheets as it’s part of the design, but I’m pretty sure they can follow the logic just the same as I can follow the logic in their code.

Knowledge is the key to understanding.

James Radford Dec 09 2010

Very true, very useful article. When you’ve got a pixel pedantic manage the transition from a powerpoint/ psd file to a working html template can be painful..
Thank you,

bob quinn Dec 10 2010

Yes, they should. The more, the better.

Furthermore, since “web design” implies interactivity, and because so many web designers are one-man-show freelancers, I would say they should know the Document Object Model (DOM) and Javascript too! With the many, quality js libraries (like jQuery and, learning and using js is much easier (though, I would not say it’s easy). Specifically, they should understand Object Oriented Programming (OOP) fundamentals.

I’d go even further to say that they should learn how to code Actionscript (and/or Silverlight), or even Java, if needed. Basically, a web designer should know everything dealing with the user interaction. I’d only draw the line at the backend stuff, the server-side code in PHP, ASP, or JSP (Perl, Python, Ruby, etc) and SQL, all of which are in the realm of a “web developer.”

Bottom line is that the best web designers can code, and when I say that I mean beyond the declarative HTML/CSS into the procedural and OOP. Conversely, the best web developers these days know something about design! Websites, webapps and mobile apps are *interactives*, which implies two things that are inseparable: 1) A design that make purpose and method obvious, and 2) Actions that reinforce the purpose and method, reacting in ways that are expected, reassuring, friendly and fun for the user.

Paulo Dec 10 2010

Yes and no. Should a coder be good at design? Some people work better with images, and some people work better with words and numbers. They are 2 totally different concepts. I can understand the point of knowing how something works, but to fully understand it is a little much, at least for me. I don’t expect a coder to understand conceptual/visual design as someone else who has a bachelors in visual arts.

LSultani Dec 16 2010

If web design is your intended career then Yes! The web is evolving yet again. HTML5 is coming and it is all about interactivity and functionality. The web is not static anymore companies want results. More and more web design postings are requiring designers with some front-end development experience and really as a designer the more you know the better you design.

Julius Domingo Dec 24 2010

What web designers should learn to do is to design all elements of the web page, not just the “skin” of the page. Things like hovered state of buttons and popups are what designers miss sometimes. The designer should anticipate all view state of the website and create a corresponding design for each state. It is better for a company to hire an HTML/CSS developer who specializes in slicing web designs into web templates.

Julius Domingo Dec 24 2010

A designer who knows how to code is a flash game developer. lol

It’s advisable for a designer be able to code with html/css. though its not mandatory but its necessary and its for the good of person.

Joseph Chambers Feb 12 2011

I feel like the clients who get the best products for websites are the ones who hire a real team of experts. You’re not going to goto one guy who is a really good gfx designer, who does the coding for your cart, and seo’s it too. I’m a programmer who converted into the marketing field.. but I’m not going to jump on the band wagon for design now.. no, I will focus on what I do best.

I’m a self taught designer, and at the moment I know very little code, But my works are pretty great, I’ve always had instances where people say they love my work, or companies that think I do have a lot of skill with making web sites look beautiful.. But yes I think knowing xhtml/css is required, because often with my work I find that I don’t understand the limitations of css or xhtml, my websites may look beautiful but if they can’t be coded or be functional then they become kind of useless..

So yeah I am learning xhtml/css now, and honestly being a photoshop guy It’s not an enjoyable experience :P.. But I think its a must for every web designer.. You need knowledge of what html/css can and cannot do, otherwise you’ll run into problems all the time..

But I do realize that it is very difficult to excel in more then one tool, I think most designers will agree you often find that people who focus on coding/photoshop/illustrator/javascript etc.. they often have very poor quality of work..

Xacto01 Jun 21 2011

It’s crucial for a web designer to know how to code. Else, they will design some gradient or element that isn’t compatible with markup. They need to know how the box model works else, they forget about scalability in their designs.

Another problem is that developers will most likely not want to slice their photoshop designs because that is out of the norm of their normal workflow. Also the designer will complain because the final sliced design will not match their photoshop.

Solution: Designers should code front end. Why would you be titled a Web Designer. If not, your just a graphic designer.


If web design is your intended career then Yes! The web is evolving yet again. HTML5 is coming and it is all about interactivity and functionality. The web is not static anymore companies want results.You can play with CSS and gain understanding of how documents are structured easily in this context. Not saying you have to be a master at structuring and styling documents, but 2 weeks spent deconstructing the sites you’d be visiting anyway will have an immediate payoff.

dr mustafa eraslan Aug 16 2011

But Lord knows I’ll never be able to code a php site as rock-solid as some of my colleagues can. I focus 100% on design and developing my skills in that, but leave the coding to someone passionate about coding.

Karolis Nov 11 2011

I am studying web design myself for 4months. I got few offers to join project, because my works looks great. My opinion is, web-designer can make great work w/o css/html knowledge, but he should know “how website works” or keep in touch with a coder, who can explain some mistakes of design. It means if you won’t learn code, you should find a coder, as consultant.

Thank you, Karolis.

Vakas Siddiqui Jun 15 2012

Web designers should only ‘know’ how HTML and CSS works, not only this but also need to have an idea about whats possible in Javascripts and in CSS.

A designer should have good idea about what he/she is designing and is that possible in coding or not. If you are designing without the knowledge of HTML and CSS you are just the designer not web or UX/UI designer.

Its 2012 i dont think web designers exists, there are user experience and interface designers performing these jobs.

UX designer should know more of a design part with knowledge of HTML and CSS. UX developer should know how to translate the design pixel perfect from artwork to HTML and CSS.

Just like UX designer should know some HTML and CSS the UX developer should know some design. This way both can gel in quite well and produce great user experience.

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