Does Graphic Design Require Coding?
A question that comes up frequently on forums and career advice websites: does graphic design require coding?
The job description of a graphic designer has changed a lot over the years and branched out into many specialized areas.
Nowadays, graphic designers mostly do work on development of websites.
Their role is no longer just confined to the creative process of producing images, layouts, and texts.
It has become unavoidable for graphic designers to be exposed to coding at some point in their careers.
However, it is important to recognize that graphic design is an extremely diverse field.
One needs to qualify the specific type of graphic design work one is talking about.
This should be done before deciding whether coding is likely to form a part of it.
In this article, we’ll take a look firstly at what graphic design generally entails.
And then we’ll try to answer the question: does graphic design require coding?
Table of Contents
An Overview Of Graphic Design
In the most general sense, a graphic designer uses a visual medium to communicate an idea or a message.
This can be anything from a sale to safety information or a company brand.
The scope of graphic design work is immense.
Thankfully, there are many software that focuses on layout, drawing, and text formatting.
Most of these software packages, like CorelDraw or Adobe Illustrator, or Photoshop, require no coding skills.
However, mastery of these tools still requires a considerable amount of technical know-how and general computer literacy.
They sometimes even require a greater degree of I.T. proficiency.
Apart from the technical requirements, graphic design is a skill that requires creativity.
What the work entails can differ substantially depending on the context.
Applications of graphic design include many products.
They are not limited to packaging, billboards, advertisements, logos, branding, product brochures, and much more.
Of course, this list isn’t nearly exhaustive, and the list of applications is as long as one’s imagination.
Very importantly, graphic design is also put to use in the development of websites and mobile applications.
These are two ever-expanding areas with a big demand for graphic design and also the two areas that heavily require coding.
Mobile apps benefit from graphic designers who create user interfaces to provide an intuitive and hassle-free user experience.
To learn more about the different areas and applications of graphic design, look here.
Web design and development is one of those where graphic design plays an important role.
Therefore, websites play a key role in the branding and communication of a company.
Presentation to customers and first impressions are important.
While bigger companies could easily have a team of people working on their websites, many smaller companies cannot afford to employ a team to do the same job.
In these instances, it makes sense that they would try and hire someone who is cross-skilled both in graphic design and coding.
Smaller companies’ needs are generally more limited, and often the requirement is simply for a static website that needs to be maintained over time.
In such cases, it is often possible to use website builders such as Wix or Google Sites.
These allow the design and authoring of websites without the need for coding.
They are tools often come with certain limitations on the amount of customization that can be done on a website.
In such cases, the solution is generally to resort to coding to achieve the fine-tuned results customers desire.
Some other cases, a website needs to do more than just display static content.
For example, if it needs to provide online shopping, companies have a few more options.
This includes building an interactive website themselves or using an off-the-shelf product, such as Magento, for an e-commerce website.
However, with pre-packaged solutions, there is always a trade-off between the amount of customization that can be done.
In cases where websites need to be interactive, coding is non-negotiable.
What Web Development Entails
Earlier on, we said that, although several software solutions exist that allow you to build websites without having to write code, more specialized requirements will inevitably require coding.
The creation of websites from scratch is a task that requires skill in primarily three different technologies.
- Hypertext Markup Language (HTML)
- Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)
Note that each of the technology above plays a different role in building a website:
- HTML provides the content and structure
- CSS enhances the appearance
While HTML and CSS are strictly not considered programming languages but rather markup, they are still quite technical.
Authoring in them is, for all intents, considered coding.
More and more companies are hiring graphic designers and stipulating a need for at least HTML and CSS.
On the bright side, many of the challenges associated with HTML and CSS have been addressed numerous times.
There are frameworks, like Bootstrap, that make the job of both designers and developers a lot easier.
They require only a superficial understanding of HTML and CSS.
Although these three technologies are very distinct from one another, they are inseparable.
Here’s a useful resource for learning more about the various technologies that make up the web.
Mobile applications are another area where graphic design plays a very prominent part.
They are very much code-driven and much of the work is done by programmers.
Graphic designers fulfill a very important role by designing apps that provide smooth and intuitive user experiences.
This is a specialization referred to as “UX.”
In most cases, a team of people develops mobile applications rather than a single individual.
As a result, there is, for the most part, a clear separation of concerns between programmers and designers.
In such cases, graphic designers and developers normally work hand-in-hand.
The design is often expected to conform to certain restrictions imposed by the platform.
It is also necessary to consider that for mobile applications, platform vendors such as Google and Apple have very detailed guidelines that prescribe a certain look and feel.
This is so that applications look and behave consistently in line with user expectations.
In some cases, this can eliminate the need for graphic design in developing the app.
Developers can simply adhere to the given guidelines provided by the platform vendors.
This process minimizes the need to create a new design from scratch each time a new application is developed.
However, companies value the personalized look and feel which their brand lends to a mobile app over and above the platform guidelines.
In such cases, developers are very much reliant on the input of a designer.
On the other hand, the design can entirely dictate both the look and functionality of a mobile application.
In such cases, prototyping of a mobile application can be done purely by UX designers.
It is then subsequently passed on to a team of developers to implement the design.
Other Applications Of Graphic Design
We have so far spoken of two of the bigger areas in which graphic design plays a role where coding is quite likely to be involved.
One needs to consider its many other applications and recognize that coding is completely optional for many of those.
Some basic examples include packaging and label design, logo design, brochures, poster design, etc.
But these are all static media.
Another specialized area is animation.
It is the border between purely artistic output and technical know-how starts to blur.
An example of an animation software package is Adobe Animate.
While much can be achieved through the software’s graphical functions, certain things are more easily achieved through scripting, for which it also caters.
The same applies to 3D modeling.
It requires both artistic leanings and a good foundation in mathematics.
3D software packages often rely heavily on scripting to augment the software’s functionality and produce the desired results.
Who Can Code
Opinions are divided on the subject of whether everyone can code.
The number of online courses that teach coding has snowballed in the last few years, while the demand for them keeps growing.
Many courses tout the importance of coding in the digital age and give the impression that coding is a skill that everyone ought to have.
As with graphic design, it is important to understand that coding is also a vast field and takes on different forms.
Coding isn’t restricted to programming in text editors.
However, a substantial and increasing number of applications allow graphical programming.
That is, using drag-and-drop in a graphical environment to connect blocks and implement coding logic without actually typing code into editors.
This may seem like the ultimate solution to allow everyone to code.
Even such tools require an appreciation of programming logic.
The technical challenges remain the sam.
Not to mention that graphical programming is more tedious and slower than writing code in a text editor.
The truth is that, even if anyone can code, coding does not have the same appeal for everyone.
And while some people simply take to it naturally and excel at it, others actively try to avoid it or see it as a skill reserved for the elite few.
Nonetheless, some understanding of coding is advantageous, and we will shortly see why.
Why Coding Is Useful
Apart from coding in areas like web development, coding isn’t strictly necessary for graphic design.
There are enough graphic design areas where a person can draw on their artistic talent so that they would never need to code.
However, having the ability to code opens up many new possibilities.
This comes into play, for example, in being able to generate images using scripting or applying mathematical rules to generate visuals.
Most drawing applications can be extended with code through so-called “plugins” to script visual effects or generators.
But the coding applications are even more numerous.
For example, writing a batch script to convert a folder of documents from one format to another is an activity that can be achieved much faster by automating it with coding than can be done manually.
Another example of where coding could come in handy would be to programmatically generate patterns in an image.
These kinds of tricks can be very useful.
If the person tasked with the graphic design can do these themselves, it can save both time and money.
Trends In The Marketplace
A brief survey of graphic design jobs leads one to conclude that more and more employers are starting to require graphic designers to have some sort of coding skills.
Still, normally, all that is expected is for them to have a simple understanding of at least HTML and CSS.
As discussed, many companies don’t need a large team to maintain their website.
So purely from a cost-saving standpoint, it makes more sense to employ people with all-rounded experience.
Another factor to consider is the demand for graphic design.
Depending on how much demand may affect one’s choice to choose it as a career path.
There are conflicting opinions about where the demand for graphic designers is headed.
A report published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics states the following datum.
There is expected to be a 4% decline in graphic designers’ demand between 2019 and 2029.
If this is true, then one should expect that, as a general rule, graphic designers should work at adopting additional skills, like coding, to remain competitive in the marketplace.
The full report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is available here.
By contrast, IBISWorld predicts growth globally over the next few years for graphic design as an industry.
Suppose the latter is correct, and demand for graphic design continues to grow.
In that case, it follows logically that individuals choosing it as a career path will likely specialize in a branch of graphic design.
Instead of having to augment their skillset with additional skills.
Separation Of Concerns
Being able to do both graphic design and coding is useful in many scenarios.
However, it is more desirable to achieve mastery in one area than having only a superficial understanding of both.
Ideally, it would be preferable for different people to focus on the different aspects of either graphic design or coding.
These normally represent very specialized areas with a significant amount of complexity and responsibility in each.
Many artists understand how to make a beautiful drawing but lack the technical know-how to put it to use in a technical medium.
Finding individuals that are equally adept at each is less common.
We have looked at the question of “does graphic design require coding”.
While coding is a useful skill to have, graphic design represents a broad spectrum of specializations, of which many don’t require coding.
Certain ones, particularly involving the web and mobile apps, make some degree of knowledge and understanding of coding almost unavoidable.
However, having the ability to code brings an extra dynamic into play.
This is done by opening up numerous possibilities and increasing an individual’s marketability.
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