How much code you need to know as a UX designer

This question has been looming around for quite a while and even today, UX designers who are new to the industry fail to understand how UX and coding are related. Here are four fundamental rules to keep in mind when thinking about coding as a UX designer.

Rule #1 — You’re only focusing on frontend work

Non-technical people often think of ‘code’ or ‘programming’ as this universal term. The first thing you need to realize that is there are myriads of frameworks and programming languages. The most fundamental rule of programming is understanding the difference between frontend and backend development. The frontend aspect of the product development process focuses only on the visual aspect of the product while the backend focuses on the logic that goes into the functioning and technical stability of the product.

As a UX designer, you’re expected to know frontend languages only. The basics would be HTML, CSS, and JavaScript and if you’re really ambitious, you can go deeper into JS libraries like jQuery UI and AngularJS.

If the word ‘designer’ and not ‘developer’ is in your job role, your focus will always be on the frontend side. That’s because the final deliverable as a UX designer will always be the prototype which can either be designed through prototyping tools or frontend code.

Rule #2 — You’re not writing code for a living

There’s a massive difference between knowing frontend languages and actually writing code on a regular basis. Developers can end up writing tens of thousands of lines of code over a few months because that’s what they’re paid for. You’re not expected to do that and if your employer requires you to spend 3–4 hours a day writing code, they’re treating you as UX developer and not a UX designer. Knowing how to code is different from actually being good at it. That takes practice and experience. Think about the 10,000 hour rule. You need to spend 10,000 hours to become a master of any craft. If your goal is to become a world-class UX designer, it’s better to spend more time on the design and less on the code.

If you’re working as a UX designer for a tech company, you’re going to spend quite a bit of time with frontend developers because they need to build the frontend based on your prototypes. You probably will not write any code, but will need to be able to communicate and understand things such as complications of replicating certain UI components with CSS or JS. This is where having frontend knowledge works. It allows you to understand certain technical limitations that you may need to abide by in designing prototypes.

Rule #3— Don’t dive too deep into coding

Knowing JavaScript is one thing, but sometimes coding can be so intellectually stimulating that you start reading about the long list of JS libraries. Soon, you’ll be working on React components or building you first application with the Angular framework.

As a UX designer, you’re expected to only know the surface level code that goes into the UI. You’re not expected to know advanced features that go into different versions of JS. The same applies to any frontend language or framework. An exceptional depth of knowledge is not what you’re required to have as a UX designer when it comes to frontend languages. Focus on the fundamentals and do them well.

Rule #4— JavaScript needs special attention

HTML and CSS are not scripting languages and are easier to pick up than JavaScript (especially for designers). With HTML and CSS, you’re working directly with interface elements that border on the visual design aspect of the product.

However, with JavaScript, you’re diving more into the logic that goes into the product’s functionality. JavaScript uses more of your left brain than CSS or HTML and often, it’s more about solving problems than thinking about the visuals.

As a UX designer, you need to think systematically and creatively. However, JavaScript’s algorithms can go from basic to extremely complex and can be overwhelming for a UX designer with minimal programming experience. Learning and having a reasonable understand of JavaScript is more time-consuming than CSS or HTML and designers need to be prepared for that.

I’m currently a UX designer for Verizon and have a deep interest in Enterprise UX.