Are we asking designers the right questions?

A look at the constraints and limitations we face

by Darian Rosebrook
April 03, 2017

We all love clickbait. There’s some sort of unsatisfying feeling where the shot of dopamine hits us before we even open the article. What we get in return is a let down or repurposed garbled content that spew out from the community faucet.

All of the titles you see around the question “should __ learn to __?” are doing just that. They want you to click through to find out the answer. Is this the design skill that has been missing from your life?

Really, our answer is no. We should be asking a different question. Before we get into an argument over this age old “should designers learn to code” question, understand that’s not holistically what this article is about. Designers should be in constant understanding of their selected discipline’s limitations.

So what question are they asking?

When you talk to a brand packaging designer, and you ask if he knows how to code, he’ll probably give you this look.

I’ve done a fair bit of coding during my time as a designer to build my own sites. That has been immensely helpful to me when I work with keySpark ( on their web projects.

I dont actually touch the code they make for the web apps they do. I leave it to the more experienced coders there to take the design and bring it to life.

This helps me understand a lot of the limitations my designs have to work around. Not every part of web code and front end development plays nice when you go crazy with angles, curves, responsiveness, interactivity, rendering… etc.

You have a set of limitations that just don’t translate well across platforms. So when I work on the project, throughout the design process, I have the developer taking a look and giving advice on what things may need to be changed or rearranged on my side.

Therefore it’s good my developer has a working knowledge of Design as well.

That works for me knowing this because my work is tied to user interface and user experience with web apps.

As I transition out of that role and release those reins to a more experienced web designer, I’m moving into brand identity design including logos, packaging, and light product design. There is nearly 0% of my coding knowledge being used to do so.

Realistically, not every designer needs to know how to code.

What we are trying to figure out is the answer to this question:

What limitations in their chosen medium should a designer learn about their design discipline?

Paraphrase how you would like it, this question dives closer to the root of what we would like our designers to know.

Every medium has it’s limitations.

A colleague had mentioned that “*if you don’t understand the constraints of your medium then you wont design effectively for it.*” This is why a lot of teachers in college will have you make your portfolio out of the materials in the shop.

When designers were working on typefaces for print, they had to work with wood, metal, the ink and paper of their time. Things weren’t as easy as creating vectors on the screen.

Designers who work with textiles have to understand the limitations of the fabrics, leathers and threads that they use.

Designers who work with webpages and web apps should know the limitations of what they are designing.

Does this require you to be an expert on what you choose to use as your medium?


You should spend some time working with the materials and have people to go to for questions about what you’re working with.

We need to understand that Design as a career is something that constantly evolves and constantly requires us to put our skills to new mediums. We hone in our craft through tools. Whether that’s pen and paper, or if it is with code and VR headsets. We use our design knowledge to work on our given discipline through whatever tools the medium requires.

Ask yourself the right question. What are the limitations of the things I design for and how can that be a positive thing to help achieve the goal?

Thanks for the discussions that lead to the conclusion: Sarah Federman, Jon Friesen, Sander Visser, Tony Lombardi, Tyrel Chambers