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The stereotypical view of a programmer can't do graphics very well, from what I've read and seen. However, I love programming (preferably OOP, PHP, C++, Objective-C) and can't deny the fact I have a unique taste in web design and others have said I am doing well at it (CSS). I thought to myself "Hey, wait, I'm a programmer - how can I design well?". Question is: is it possible to be good at programming and designing? Does anyone here feel the same?

For the record: actual images I have created have been called programmer art several times before by friends

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closed as primarily opinion-based by gnat, MichaelT, Dan Pichelman, GlenH7, thorsten müller Sep 20 '13 at 8:02

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

The stereotypical view is exactly that: a stereotypical view. They exist for a reason but how often are they accurate really? – doppelgreener Nov 27 '10 at 18:46
Yes, but chances are that someone who can do both is no Donald Knuth of CS, and no Michelangelo of art - just someone who can pound good code as well as good graphics. This combination of skill is somewhat rare, and someone who can do both well is usually well-paid. – Job Nov 27 '10 at 19:00
@Job: Good developers can structure their application properly so that a designer can come in and prettify the application without breaking it, or requiring deep knowledge of the programming infrastructure. – Robert Harvey Nov 27 '10 at 19:11
What about <fireworks>*Game Programmers*</fireworks>? – Mateen Ulhaq Nov 28 '10 at 4:15
@Codemonkey – iamgopal Jan 21 '13 at 12:02

14 Answers 14

up vote 24 down vote accepted

Well, why not? Lots of people have multiple talents.

But the amount of time that you devote to a particular skill does make a difference. Spending more time one one skill means you have to spend less time on another, and spending less time means being less competent.

For my part, I have spent the vast majority of my time on coding, not design. As such, I am a pretty good programmer, but have stick-figure design skills (although I do believe I know good design when I see it).

Good design means more than just looking pretty; it also means making an application that is intuitive and easy to use.

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"intuitive and easy to use" - is more than design. It calls for an ability to adopt the mental patterns of different people and empathize with them, to know what reaction controls, screens, texts and colors will evoke. You need to be a good psychologist to do that. – user8685 Nov 27 '10 at 19:26
@Developer: Of course. But it helps to know some design; color and form are psychological too, as you well know. – Robert Harvey Nov 27 '10 at 19:29
Are graphic design and user interface design the same? – JeffO Nov 27 '10 at 21:20
@Jeff: Not really. There's a little bit of graphic design in user interface development, but the better part of it is things like data input and display, organization of workflow, things like that. – Robert Harvey Nov 27 '10 at 21:36
@Developer Art: I'm not totally sure what definition of design you are using but if you're talking about graphic design or the like aren't you doing the same thing anyway, but for color / esthetics / other stuff I'm forgetting? That's it, to know that you're graphic is good you must adopt the mental pattern of different people and empathize with them, to know what it will evoke in them, etc? – n1ckp Nov 29 '10 at 4:47

Yes. It is possible. Don't listen to anyone who says it's not.

I myself started with system programming then did some applied programming. All I did before was programming algorithms, designing data structures, designing database models and all the usual stuff. I thought I was a programmer with all the usual limitations.

Then I went programming for the web. I guess it only natural that the graphical thing found me. I got fascinated by a new realm and soon afterward discovered a designer gene in me. Now I'm more interested in design than in code.

Know this. If you possess la fibre du design, you need to nurture it, let it grow and blossom. Try things out, experiment, let it develop into whatever it is meant to be with you.

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+1 For me it means making games :) – adamk Nov 29 '10 at 0:42


I'm actually good at programming and at graphic design. I program since I was 10 and design since I was 16 (now I'm 31). I always liked both fields, and practiced and learned both. But I was able to raise to a professional level only programming. But my graphic skills this helped me a lot also in GUI design.

I know a lot of programmers that are stuck with the idea that a programmer can't do design. So they just skip that part. When they had to prototype a GUI or sketch some graphic, they do that with such a bad attitude, that the results are actually horrible. But isn't programming itself a creative work?

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But isn't programming itself a creative work? Precisely. – George Marian Nov 27 '10 at 19:24

The correct stereotype is "most programmers can't design"; which is generally true. However, it is not true that if you're a programmer that means you cannot design.

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Makes it sound like one of those logic questions 'If some pogs are pegs, and some pegs are pugs, are some pogs definitely pugs?' – adamk Nov 29 '10 at 0:52

You can be good at anything you wish. It just takes enough practice. But we're talking practice on the level of thousands of hours, so it takes some dedication.

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I want to be good at flying but my arms get too tired. – the Tin Man Nov 28 '10 at 3:28
@Greg That's just because you haven't done it enough to build up your arm strength. And you can always build up your arm endurance in other ways with out the danger of flying (simulator, or other arm exercises). Like I said, we're talking practice on the order of 1000s of hours. Admittedly, that's hard to achieve with flying. – Daniel Bingham Nov 28 '10 at 3:52
@Greg , if we keep trying to fly...can it be possible for 100000th generation to have wings ? – iamgopal Nov 28 '10 at 10:09
Ahh, I missed the joke. You failed to specify "Flying with out equipment." Because with a little technological brilliance, humans are perfectly capable of flying:… – Daniel Bingham Nov 28 '10 at 17:06
Ah, but he wasn't flying, the wing he was attached to was. I consider this closer to flying though technically it is gliding. ;-) – the Tin Man Nov 28 '10 at 17:33

Sure you can be good at both. Prior to being a programmer I was an Architect, a building Architect. I've designed plenty of great, professional looking web sites (as described by clients, not techy people). Now while this sites looked great, I'm by no means as skilled at graphic design as someone who does it full time, nor do I desire to be...

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User Experience Design could be considered the combination of both.

Yes, there are people who can do it. There are many who practice only one discipline due to time constraints or personal preference but can cross over easily.

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Also user experience developer! – adamk Nov 29 '10 at 0:50

An individual can excel at both, but typically you can get more production out of one programmer and one graphic designer than one person doing both (Assuming the two are talented enough). On the other hand, it may be easier to get one person to understand what the client really wants.

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Yes, it is possible.

Are programming and graphic extremes to each other?

I am both an artist and programmer, I spent 5 years self-studying programming, 1 year at manga, 4 years at Web design and less than 1 year at optical illusions.

Some people are talented at art, but decided to learn programming all the time and let talent guide his designs.

The problem for learning both is not only time, but your brain may be re-wired to be optimized at art but not programming, please be aware of.

There is "programmer art", but why there is no "artist's program"? That is the stereotype.

See also:

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Its more like Jack of all trades vs Master of one. I do both quite well but its tough to be an expert/up to date in both. Most of the times one is primary and the other is secondary.

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At work I work with WPF, I don't have a copy of Photoshop and I hate GIMP.. so what do I do when I need icons? I write them in XAML and use them in a VisualBrush. So not only can you do both and be good at both, you can do it at the same time!

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An area to look to for people who are both technically proficient and good at art is effects work and lighting/compositing in film and commercial visual effects. In a production pipeline, you can very easily find the full spectrum of software developers to Technical Directors to CG artists, all of whom are technically proficient, and have as well the ability to communicate visual ideas, with a sense for color, layout, or timing in use, depending on specialty.

Particular areas that draw people good on both ends: effects TD's (particularly fluids, and cloth/hair), shading TD's, vfx supervisors.

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Yes, C'est Moi. But my dual expertise is the result of inadvertence for the most part. I got side-tracked in high school and ended up going to art school for 4 years instead of a regular university. Then I painted portraits for a living until I decided that my I wanted my artistic side to be an avocation not a vocation, so I went back to school and studied engineering. I find it hard to imagine someone starting with the idea of being good at both design and programming.

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I personally believe you can have a talent for both but.... any person claiming they are actually good in both fields I would seriously question his or her professionalism. The amount of work and dedication it takes to be good at one just doesnt add for me.

Now if that person is claiming they're decent at both fields, sure I can believe that. But then again, why would you want to be just decent in programming and graphic design?

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Um. What? What do you define as good? Is good: World class, or just better than 98% of the population? – Nailer Nov 28 '10 at 11:54
@Nailer: you can be better than 98% of the population just by showing up and trying ;-) – Steven A. Lowe Nov 28 '10 at 17:01
Let me rephrase then. You can have a professional level in both design and programming. Professional meaning you make money doing it. I'm pretty sure I could get work as a graphics designer if I wanted to. – Nailer Nov 28 '10 at 19:27

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