|Take a look at the Rails Rumble 2010 entries: http://railsrumble.com/|
There's a whole stack of apps there, developed within 48 hours by small groups of people. They're not all beautiful, but there is (to my eye) a pretty high standard of presentation for most of them.
I am sure I am not alone in feeling like there's this chunk of knowledge I'm missing - in terms of how, and when, to go about making something beautiful.
I'm fascinated by the concept of optimizing user experience - it certainly has the potential to make or break an application's popularity. If you can spend valuable time tweaking code to make it more appealing to the compiler, why can't it work in the other direction too? Though I don't think it's reasonable to expect myself to be incredible at both, I'd like to be able to put together a prototype that looks nice. After all, I wouldn't show people code that I knew was bad and ugly.
Part A - I would love to know - how does this aspect fit into the flow of the project? At what point do you start turning things from black-text-on-white-background into a beautiful and intelligent layout? I'm sure it's usually incremental, but is there a specific point at which you decide to shift focus over to implementing your UI? I know I usually go through many notebook pages of UI ideas even before I've written any code. Is it worthwhile doing mockups in photoshop at this stage? Showing different designs to people and asking for feedback? Or do you usually do this after your core functionality is built? And where do you draw the line, say 'this is ready enough for now!' and release the thing?
Part D - Finally - I'm interested in any of you people who can see BOTH sides of the coin. If you started off as a programmer and then learned how to make stuff sexy and usable - what put you on that path? Where did you start learning? What were your major obstacles, and how did you overcome them?
Looking forward to hearing what everyone has to say.