I'm a pretty good programmer, and I am trying to get better at design.

I have a really tough time putting my thoughts onto paper or really just making sites 'flow' and look professional.

Does anyone have any tips or any good online resources with tips and practices to learn web design? How can I become a a better designer?

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    Get some really hard/tough comment on the website and keep improving it. After a while you should get into the groove of things to improve and see whats better. – Barfieldmv Sep 16 '11 at 7:44
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this is not an UX question and answer is too broad – Devin Mar 31 '16 at 15:17

If you don't have formal education (College, Univ, etc.) in design, I advice you to start by looking at inspirational sites, such as Dribbble or looking for "interface" on Flickr, for example.

Also, subscribe to design magazines (smashing magazine, for instance) and look at what other people design. Also, try getting some good design books dealing with basic theory (principles of separation, repetition, etc.)

Think about what do you like about your favorite designs and go in that direction. For example, if you like a "clean and simple page" try designing something that way.

From there, just keep designing! Practice is the key!


Read Jakob Nielsen's website on Usability and Web Design.

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    Nielsen is a worthy read for usability issues...but has a reputation for being a rather crappy visual designer. – DA01 Sep 16 '11 at 13:49
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    The creator of useit.com has a reputation for crappy visual design? I am shocked, shocked. – Ben Brocka Sep 16 '11 at 14:03
  • Nielsen is a human factors guy. He's excellent at usability and interface analysis. Norman is surely a good designer but very geared towards psychology/HF as well and little towards felt experience, cultural contextual or emotional design and so on. Reading the academic arguments between Norman and Bodker is useful in realising who is good at providing you with what resources. They're typically not doing all there is to UX, but are among the most renown specialists on some aspects of UX. – Steve Dodier-Lazaro Aug 15 '14 at 18:31

For me design is three things: understanding the user, nice looking graphics, and usable systems.

I like to take a user's requirements, strip it back to the bare minimum, optimize it for what they actually want to do, then built it back up into a concept.

From a programmer's point of view design can seem quite different and difficult. My suggestion is that it's just a collection of rules and techniques like everything else.

I follow the Shu Ha Ri model of mastery:

  1. Shu - First know the rules. In this situation the rules are how users act, what makes a good design, and how to build user interfaces.
  2. Ha - Know the rules so well you know when to break them. Design isn't something that can be completely learnt from a book. Try techniques, push the limits of concepts.
  3. Ri - Make your own rules. At this point you understand how everything comes together well enough to forge ahead in a new direction.

I suggest doing research in the following areas:

  • "Understanding the user" is a prerequisite to usability research as well. Nice looking graphics is very vague as well, and poorly encompasses the fact that a designer should not do things to their tastes but to please the sense of aesthetics and cultural expectations of their users. A typical example would be that if you want to make a mobile app for your fast food chain you don't want it to use the aesthetics of e.g. a Roman temple even if you like it or your fast food chain is located in Italy. – Steve Dodier-Lazaro Aug 15 '14 at 18:29

This is a pretty broad question. But, in general google web sites and buy books on any/all of the following subjects:

  • typography
  • color
  • drawing
  • graphic design
  • art history
  • commercial art
  • logo design
  • branding
  • package design
  • web/interaction design
  • usability
  • accessibility

Or, if ambition, check out local art schools. Lots of places have continuing education classes on graphic design.


I suppose it depends on what you mean and understand by "design". If you mean putting together web pages ( and applications, but that is part of the normal development approach ), then treat it as a new programming language, which it is, and learn how to use html, css, js/jq/ajax. They are languages where the output is visual, not data. Then you can study or explore graphic design even more to pursue this - doing some "formal"* training is worth while, if you want to pursue it more.

  • If you mean usability, and designing sites for usability, then read some of the classics - Donald Norman, Steve Crug, Edward Tufte - and get your head around the concepts in there. They are the core aspects of usability design, and if you can grasp the principles in there, you will do well. – Schroedingers Cat Sep 16 '11 at 15:28
  • And, FWIW, I am a programmer by training, but and doing study in HCI to get my head around this stuff, because I realised that it was a big issue in what I was producing. So it was the problems I saw in my work, that drove me to look into it more, and use some of the insights from here and other places to produce better and more user-driven applications. – Schroedingers Cat Sep 16 '11 at 15:28
  • *Formal just means some form of led training - a short course or suchlike. Not necessarily a full-time study course. It just ensures that you are going in the right direction. – Schroedingers Cat Sep 16 '11 at 15:28
  • It just wouldn;t let me add this into my answer. Like Duh??? – Schroedingers Cat Sep 16 '11 at 15:29

Design is subjective and that’s the reason it is difficult to explain. I often think that it is easy to Design and get better with it. But actually it is very difficult to articulate the thought process behind the design decision. Designing can be learnt from lot of resources stated above. But here is a book that teaches a Designer to Articulate his design decisions. A book by Tom Greever. ‘Articulating Design Decisions‘. Recently I came across this book and was totally convinced of its usefulness for Designers. This is a must buy for Designers who Design and have to communicate with different stakeholders.

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