Discovering Digital Design: A beginner’s guide

Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel



noun: design; plural noun: designs

the combination of details or features of a picture, building, etc.; the pattern or motif of artistic work

I have always believed in the “left brained vs right brained” theory. The idea that some people are more analytical and logical whereas others are imaginative and intuitive is something we all often see. In the digital world we live in, most of us have had what we think to be the next great idea for an app or product but how are these ideas turned into reality? Cue design thinking- specifically digital design. In a more practical sense, a harmonious blend of logic and imagination is showcased within digital design and is currently a highly lucrative space as well as fascinating. So, like myself, for those looking to expand their design literacy, below is a roundup of a few of the resources which got me right on track (click the headers to be directed to each resource’s site).

Hack Design

This has been one of my favorite resources so far. Hack Design sends a specially curated, practical lesson directly to your email each week covering a range of topics under the design umbrella. Each of the lessons provide an overview as well as links to external resources great for building technical and conceptual know-how. I have particularly enjoyed the lessons covering typography, iconography, and color “confidence”. As opposed to other online learning courses, Hack Design lessons have no deadlines so you can work and learn at your own pace.

Just in Mind

For someone who is just starting to build a digital skill-set and has minimal technical expertise, tools and resources which are simple to use and produce expressive, dynamic prototypes are essential. Just in Mind is super flexible as it allows for the creation of hi-Fi or lo-Fi prototypes for a range of different devices. Personally, I found the interface to be very user-friendly and I was able to navigate pretty well after playing around a bit, but in the case that it throws you for a curve, there is a tutorial to help you get acquainted with the program. With no coding required, Just in Mind helped me create the prototype for an Android app that my good friend is considering developing. I was able to share my edits with her as we collaborated through development in essentially real time. There is a “free forever” version as well as a paid version, but I was able to get the job done with the free version and do it well. For those who are just looking to get their feet wet in app development or experienced developers alike, Just in Mind is convenient and effective.

Designers + Geeks

I am the self-proclaimed queen of newletters. As long as there is room to move on my subway commute to and from work, I cherish this time to catch up on all of the good reads delivered straight to my inbox. My two favorites are The Hustle and Dezeen Mail as well as a few others but in my quest for digital knowledge, I have been looking into expanding my inbox with even more digital resources. I highly recommend these two as well as Fast Company and Medium for supplemental reading (it is argued that Medium is the Holy Grail) but I would like to take a moment to shed some spotlight on Designers + Geeks.

As opposed to solely publishing content, Designers + Geeks is a community of creatives who frequently hosts meet-ups in San Francisco, Boston, Los Angeles and New York. I had the pleasure of attending an event this past July in Brooklyn, New York featuring Nir Eyal, the author of “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” (also the name of the event). Eyal is a master when it comes to the intersection of business, technology and psychology and his presentation echoed the importance of these three in unison when increasing user engagement and developing the most desired technologies. The talk as well as the as the atmosphere was really inspiring for a curious creative like myself so I highly recommend the Designers + Geeks events for those looking to learn more about design. Before and after the presentation, there was time allotted for networking as well as food and drink. In my opinion, as opposed to a mindless happy hour, my ticket for an enlightening Brooklyn evening was a $20 well spent.


Whether you are looking to learn about paleobiology or machine learning, there is something for everyone on Coursera. For our purposes, Coursera offers a variety of courses geared toward digital competency development. Some of the most relevant classes include Agile Development, Human Centered Design: An Introduction, Introduction to User Experience Design and Prototyping and Design to name a few. Courses are very reasonably priced (from $29-$99) or students are allowed to audit most classes for free. If you’re especially dedicated, the ability to become specialized in a certain area and/or earn an online degree is also available.

Code Academy

It is debated whether or not designers must also be developers (I say an architect does not need to know how to build buildings). But if you are looking to understand front-end coding concepts or become a developer for that matter, Code Academy is a great resource. Users are guided through lessons and later given quizzes and projects to test their newfound skills. Languages available include HTML & CSS, JavaScript, Python, and Ruby to name a few. I will say that Code Academy is not perfect; it is good for grasping core concepts but users may find themselves looking for additional reading to supplement their learning. However, as opposed to other pricier options, $19.99 a month isn’t a bad price to pay to really enhance your technical know-how.

Have additional resources that you love? Drop a note below.