Episode 7


Design tips for developers - Part One30 July, 2020

Show notes

In this weeks episode I share five fundamental tips aimed at developers who want to build their design skills and design appreciation.


  • Welcome new listeners
  • Top 5 tips
  • Thanks

Think and plan

As a developer, you wouldn't start building an app or Website without some planning! It's the same for design. Give it the time it deserves.

Establish requirements...

So before jumping straight to the code, establish a plan. I'd suggest downloading and printing out some gridded PDFs, but using sticky notes, a whiteboard, or sketching in a notepad are all great options. Don't skip this step even if you think you have all the details in your head. When you finalize your wireframes, review it and you will probably notice you are missing something.

Develop a solid understanding of UX principles

One of the most important tips I can give is to get a decent understanding of user experience design. If you can always design with the user in mind, and not your own personal preference (because you aren't usually the target audience) then the slightly less important user interface design will be able to absorb some perhaps more quirky design choices. This might seem like common sense, but I've worked with many CEOs, product owners, project managers and developers who don't appreciate the value of good UX, and it shows.

There are a series of ‘laws' associated with UX design, and I'd recommend digesting these over time. Pick one a day and keep it in your mind throughout your work day.

'Laws of UX' defines twenty laws, with a few examples being:

  • Aesthetic Usability Effect: Users often perceive aesthetically pleasing design as design that's more usable.
  • Fitts's Law: The time to acquire a target is a function of the distance to and size of the target.
  • Law of Proximity: Objects that are near, or proximate to each other, tend to be grouped together.
  • Law of Similarity: The human eye tends to perceive similar elements in a design as a complete picture, shape, or group, even if those elements are separated.

Use a colour palette

Unless you've studied colour theory, colour harmony doesn't come naturally to most of us. And trying to come up with colour combinations that complement one another during the design process can be a real bottleneck to beautiful aesthetics or at least seriously slow down the process whilst you try to work out if this colours works here and there... As a solid starting point for a new project I'd suggest a tool like Coolors, and check their Trending palettes... which gives you seemingly endless options.

Over time, you'll develop your own preferences and learn to recognise which colours complement each other, but this is a great starting point.

Learn from others and research

The landscape of design is ever-changing. I'd suggest spending some time every week doing some research on what's happening in design on Designer News, Codepen, Dribble. If you can make the researching design part of your standard toolkit, then over time you will build a natural appreciation for aesthetics and designer intuition. I talk at depth on Intuition in Episode 4, which is called ‘Thoughts on creativity, innovation and intuition in design'. Also in there I talk about Quantitative and Qualitative design.

To summarise these two concepts succinctly:

  • Quantitative is the design language that is everywhere, you can think of this as the trending design landscape. Tools like Bootstrap and Material UI are examples of this.
  • Qualitative design is where the magic happens. Successful designs in this sphere change the world in tangible ways, and realise new forms of interaction and societal changes.

I'd suggest listening to that episode to get a much deeper understanding around these concepts.

Give it a rest

Think you've finished your design. Think again. There have been many occasions where I've been sure that the design was finished and then began the process of building it, only to realise that it just didn't feel right on the next day. Then you have to design in developer tools, which is FAR from ideal.

I'd suggest a day break from even looking at your design, and at least overnight. It's incredibly important to view your ‘finished' design with fresh eyes.


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