Tired of other designers telling you whether you should learn to code? Me too! And I've been coding all 15+ years of my design career. Well I'm about to do it to you again—but I'm pretty certain you've never heard this take on it.
Here's the final answer to that tired debate over whether designers should learn code:
You most definitely should not learn to code. Not unless you really, really want to.
If you don't really, really want to get good at coding, then you absolutely shouldn't try. Because it takes a lot of time. And while anyone can learn it, it does take some work.
So instead, you should learn to hack.
What's the difference? My friend, let me tell you, the difference is profound.
To learn to code, you have to learn all the 'proper' methods and do things the 'right' way. Your code will be used in live websites and in important situations where it absolutely cannot fail. That's a lot of pressure—no wonder developers are such a grumpy bunch! (Kidding!)
But if all you want to do is experiment and try out ideas using code, you don't need to learn all that. You can learn to write simple code that doesn't have to be perfect. It doesn't need to earn the developer stamp of approval. It doesn't need to work on a real server, website, or nuclear missile launch software workstation.
While learning to code is intimidating and complex, learning to hack is simple and fun because there are no expectations.
You can learn to hack for your own reasons. Perhaps you want to be able to ask developers for design edits in a more helpful way. Or you've always wondered what Google.com would look like with a black background color. Or you want to hack your AdBlocker rules to hide all those annoying Intercom-style chat widgets that every website has now.
It's just hacking, why not try it! Crack open devtools and hack apart a site to look the way you want it. There's no risk, and it doesn't matter if you do it the 'wrong' way. You got to try out your idea, and that's all that really matters.
Sure, you could open Sketch or Photoshop to mock up your idea, but that could take an hour or two of editing a screenshot or tracing the interface. By hacking directly on the website's code, you can see your idea in action much faster.
This, my friend, is why learning to hack is so great. The potential is limitless. The effects are immediate. Learning to hack is better than learning to code when your goal is different. Hacking is about creative exploration, and it's a tool every designer should get to use.
So now, we finally have an answer to that old debate. Designer, do not learn to code. Embrace your inner hacker. Don thy hoodie. Open thy devtools and tinker away with divine impunity, loosing thy creativity upon the earth. The web is thine, go take it!
You'll find that hacking just a little bit of code here and there is surprisingly fun and creative. But don't call it coding.
If you’re ready to get started, grab my free ebook and learn to code and hack in devtools.
Written by Jarrod Drysdale, creator of Mod&Dot