Learning to code (or sort of) will make you a better product designer

Ok, keep calm. Let me explain. I’m not suggesting product designers should also code, or that developers job should be taken over by designers.
BUT… Learning enough to have a grasp on code logics will just benefit you as a digital product designer. But to really have a good sense of what coding means, you should try to do it. There’s no other way.

Now, time for a little outing: I studied coding quite extensively in high school and then a little bit on my own later. But this doesn’t mean you have to go to school to learn the basics.

What’s really important here, for you as a product designer, is not the syntax of code. What you need to understand is the logic behind it.

All of my memories on C, C++, Visual Basic are long gone, in terms of command lines and actual syntax of the languages. But once you get a sense of the logic, you won’t forget it, it’ll be yours forever. And this will benefit you immensely as a digital product designer. And it will also make you popular among developers as their favorite designer to work with.

If you really want to commit (pun intended) you can try learning real coding, like Javascript or maybe C#. Both of these works with Unity 3D, which is a tremendous engine to make games (also in 2D, despite the name), if you’re interested in such products. Or maybe you can try Swift if you aim to release on Apple devices.

Any of those, despite how simple they are (according to engineers) will most probably scare the s**t out of you, once you step a little further from the very basic stuff. That requires dedication and, most of all, TIME. A thing that, if you’re a full-time employed designer, probably don’t have to spare.

There’s a shortcut, though.

As I said in the beginning, you don’t need to really be able to drop lines of codes like you’re coding the Matrix. You need enough to just have a taste of coding and get more conscious of what developers you’ll work with are facing every single day.

To do so there are engines, mostly made for games, that don’t require you to write down code or remember a Klingon-like series of words.

Now, if you’re an engineer reading, I know “TH4T’S N07 COD1NG!!!” 🤬
but bear with us for a second, we’re trying to help you.

These amazing products work with behaviors and logic blocks to put together in order to make something happen. Imagine like a flowchart, you use these blocks to create the code (without actually seeing the code).

It’s not as simple as you might think, though. You’ll still have to understand what variables are, what kind of variables you’ll need (integer, boolean, text…), if a variable has to be global or local, how an IF works and how to make a series of IFs work, “repeat” cycles, “while” cycles, find bugs (oh, there’ll be plenty), etc etc. Before you can come up with a real working product you’ll need to spend a really good amount of time, sweat, headaches and bad words.

BUT

It’ll be immensely faster than learning a programming language. And it will serve the purpose. 
You’ll finally understand how hard it is to code, and when you’ll go to a dev asking for even “the most teeny-tiny change” and they’ll look at you like you just keyed their Tesla, you’ll know why. 
(But it also works the other way around. You won’t be fooled as easily when they tell you they need 2 weeks “to make that button a little more bouncy”. But this is our secret, engineers stopped reading when I said “there’s a shortcut”, so we’re safe).

Some names:

Unity 3D with PlayMaker

Unity 3D is a full fledged game engine, used for real games on home consoles, PC and mobile devices.
As I mentioned above it requires you to know Javascript or C#. But there are TONS of extensions and libraries and plugins (called asset) you can add to it from Unity Assets store. One of the most popular ever is called PlayMaker
PlayMaker is what it’s called a visual states machine.

Some less “pro” solutions:

Gamesalad

I made a bunch of games with this. Three of them are on the App Store (in chronological [and complexity] order: one, two, three). These are quite simple casual arcade games, but full games nonetheless, that required a lot of work. 
Gamesalad is on Windows and Mac (the Mac app is better, honestly). Can export to App Store, Google Play, HTML5, Windows, Kindle Fire.
There are games made with this that have been featured on the App Store and made some money. So it can be a real deal. Plus there’s a pretty big community of people ready to help and share knowledge on Udemy, Youtube, blogs, etc…

Construct

This can be now used in the browser too (with some limitations). I don’t have much experience with this, as my choice was for Gamesalad. Take a look here:

Stencyl

Stencyl is similar to GameSalad and Construct. It works on a pixel grid, unlike the other 2, so it’s indicated for this retro style of games. There are minor differences in how these engines works, but it’s basically a matter of personal taste.

In conclusion

Either you’re interested in making games or not, learning to use one of these and make a simple one just as an exercise, will teach you LOTS of stuff about the logic behind coding. It’s something I strongly advice, it’ll change your mindset on so many things, you’ll get a renovated respect for developers and you’ll think more like one when designing apps and features.

Claps appreciated (and they’re FREE)