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Learning design as a developer

• Written by Uku Taht
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Working on plausible.io I often find myself doing things I have no clue how to do. I struggle massively with marketing, copywriting, and most of all, UX/UI design. Here are some tips I’ve found helpful when trying to design for the web as an unimaginative developer who hasn’t designed a single thing in his life.

1. Read Don’t make me think

This book basically lays out the common sense foundations for web design. It’s not a new book but it’s a classic for a reason. The principles laid out here are immediately applicable to anything you might be designing for the web. Recommended for any developer who is looking to get into design.

2. Copy designs you like

The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources. Let’s say I need to add a pricing section to my landing page. I could stare at a blank canvas for a whole afternoon, waiting for creativity to hit me, or I can just search ‘pricing page’ on Dribble and instantly see hundreds of pricing pages. This works for almost anything, unless whatever you’re designing is legitimately unique which is very rare.

3. Start without code

Once you have a couple of examples you like, get to the drawing board. I prefer starting either on paper on in Sketch. Some people like to dive into code right away but I find that this approach tends to lock me into the first thing I come up with. Since code is hard to change, I don’t play around with it as much as I would in Sketch or physical paper. On paper you can very quickly come up with 5 different options, show it to someone and start the process of elimination. This is hard to do with code.

4. Lose your ego and get some feedback

I find it really hard to share my design work with others. I feel like my work will be judged and my lack of skill will be exposed. I believe most makers have experienced these feelings and unfortunately, as you might already know, there is no cure for them. I manage these feelings by telling myself that I’m just a beginner and I’m supposed to have no skill. That’s why I’m asking for feedback: to get better. Feedback will expose your flaws but these flaws are there whether they’re pointed out or not.

5. Read Refactoring UI

I’m only halfway through the book and I’ve learned so much! What an amazing resource for developers who want to improve their design skills. This book includes countless of specific tips on UI principles. It will help you start creating design systems and speed you up massively. I would read it after you have already had some practice with design. After all, it’s about refactoring UI not creating a UI from scratch.

Start designing!

My final tip is to just do it. You will probably suck at it to begin with, but so does everyone as a beginner. When a developer says they suck at design they often think that they’re lacking an innate ability or talent to design. That’s like saying you can’t play the piano because you weren’t born with that skill. It’s absurd. Everyone cannot be Mozart but anyone can learn to play easier songs on the piano and have it sound relatively good. That’s where I’m trying to get to with my design skills. I won’t be winning design awards. I won’t be earning a living with design. I just want to be good enough to get by.

Written by Uku Taht

Hi! We are Uku and Marko. We're building a lightweight, non-intrusive alternative to Google Analytics. You can read about our journey and what we've learnt along the way on this blog.