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Ask HN: How do you learn to design?
23 points by sarbogast on July 25, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 9 comments
You can see a lot of resources and experiences out there showing how non-tech people can learn to code using things like codecademy, treehouse and so on. But I'm already a coder. The skill I miss the most is design, and I'm not talking about how to organize elements on a page. I know this kind of things is very important but it's also pretty easy to learn. The hardest part for me is how to make a user interface beautiful, how to choose colors, how to make gradients, how to add bevels and other 3D-looking effects. For me this is the equivalent of coding and I find it hard to locate resources on how to learn those.

And given how hard it is to find a good designer these days (and how expensive it can be), I would really love to be able to do it myself, at least be able to throw together an MVP that doesn't make users bored to death.

How would you go about learning those skills? What are some of the best resources for that? Is it even possible to learn those skills quickly or is it just experience?




First thing first, design it's the opposite of codding. Codding (as far as I know) is like math : 1+1=2 and there is no other way around. In design, for one project, there are plenty of way to make it. You need to learn the basis of the colors, what there mean, how to use it together, witch colors goes together and witch does not. Do the same with de shapes. Then tries to analyse good design and why they are good. A bit of art history is good too if you want to go further. After that, it's mostly experience and feeling.


It's not obvious, but there is also aesthetics in code, although relatively few people ever see it. You can give a coding assignment to two people, they can both deliver as specified, but one's code might be a pleasure to read while another's hurts your brain.

Some of my greatest pleasures have been compliments on my coding style.


Designing takes some time to understand if you don't have "innate good taste".

I really really recommend the book Design for Hackers by David Kadavy: http://designforhackers.com/ It gives you a really good idea of most parts of design and its history. Once you've read that you should then look for things you like how they are designed and try to understand the decisions made by the author.

IMHO, learning by copying works good on design.


Hey, thanks for the mention!


I would also add that the study of art and design history was the key thing that liberated me from the fear of copying. Extremely valuable.


http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4316967 Look for a comment by msutherl, a great compilation of the design resources. Worth looking at it :)


For technical skills, I would recommend using Photoshop for web/ui design. Unfortunately at the moment it's the best out there. Some good things to seek out are adjustment layers and layer effects. Bjango has some great tutorials, although they are focused on UI design: http://bjango.com/articles/

In terms aesthetics, the most import thing is to develop your 'design palate'. Seek out excellent craftsmanship and learn to distinguish it from the mediocre. An excellent place to start is SiteInspire: http://siteinspire.com/

I would also recommend learning the fundamentals of design. Typography and grid systems are very important study areas. A great place to start is this forum thread: http://www.designerstalk.com/forums/graphic-design/42390-des...

For empirical testing of designs, I would highly recommend Lukas Mathis' Designed for Use: http://pragprog.com/book/lmuse/designed-for-use Be warned however that the print version is horridly designed, just get the .epub to bypass the ugly formatting.

And always have in the back of your mind: 'less is more'. Just because you've learned how to do fancy gradients, reflections and rounded corners, doesn't mean you should.


Thankyou for such an informative post, I have ordered the book. The forum posting on designerstalk is pretty awesome.


No worries! Designerstalk is also an excellent place to get harsh, truthful feedback on your work as opposed to the unhelpful 'that's great' replies. That said, I haven't been on there in a while so things might have changed.

The important thing is to seek out folks who give honest, constructive critiques and aren't afraid of 'offending' you in the process. The most annoying thing when seeking out design critiques is to be told over and over, 'that's really good'.




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