As a startup founder, one of the most common questions I’m asked is:
How can you do both design and development, as well as business tasks?
I’m an iOS & macOS developer first, having been coding since I was 13 y.o. However, currently, I’m doing all the design tasks for my startup — Flawless App. It’s a tool for iOS developers to compare original designs with the real app in Xcode’s iOS simulator. So I do UX research, website mockups, onboarding screens, ads, emails, presentations and many other design-related things. 😱
A long time ago, we did have two brilliant designers working with us but unfortunately, it didn’t work out for many reasons. Therefore, I decided to learn the basics of UX design back then. I didn’t expect to become a UX and UI magician or usability research expert overnight. Rather I wanted to develop the essential skill-set for creating designs fast and efficiently enough to make users happy.
So, can developer learn UX and UI design?
Well yes, we can learn anything we want. To help you get started, I will share some resources that helped me at the beginning of my journey: books, case studies and tutorials.
Get the taste of design thinking
Everything in the World around us is designed by somebody. You sit on a chair, that somebody designed. You work on the laptop, where every corner has a reason to be that specific shape. You read Medium, which has a UI that was crafted by a team of designers. Every element of the real or virtual world was designed to make you carry out a specific action.
My dive into design started with the following classical articles and books. They will teach you to focus on design as a method of solving problems:
📕 Dieter Rams: 10 principles for good design
Good design | About Vitsœ | Vitsœ
Dieter Rams's ten principles for good design (sometimes referred to as the 'Ten commandments').
I wasn’t even born when Dieter Rams, German iconic industrial designer, wrote this. It’s a manifesto of design mission for any product or service.
Read every line carefully. Does your design meets those principles? Dieter Rams is 85 now and he is the man, who designed Braun coffeemaker, shaver, stereo, calculator, speakers, alarm clock, Oral-B toothbrush and many more.
Design should not dominate things, should not dominate people. It should help people. That’s its role.
– Dieter Rams
📕 “The Design of Everyday Things” by Don Norman.
The book covers design methodologies, basic psychological concepts and usability. Norman deals mostly with the design of physical objects. He explores what makes the use of buildings, appliances, and technology easy or complicated. Norman shows the basic patterns, which are very well applied to the virtual touch screen of today’s UIs.
Originally the book was published in 1988. If you decide to read the first edition, you’ll find a lot of ancient tech stuff there (I loved it!). Back then, Norman predicted the success of iPads, tablet devices, and smartphones. You can also find updated versions, as Norman constantly adds to it. Alternatively, check out this brief Udacity course, “Intro to the Design of Everyday Things with Norman”.
Good design is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good designs fit our needs so well that the design is invisible.
― Donald A. Norman, The Design of Everyday Things
📕 “100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People” by Susan Weinschenk
This is a light overview read of neuroscience and behavioural psychology from a designer’s perspective. The book is divided into short chapters about how people see, read, remember, think, feel and form mental models. I found many new insights there! It’s relatively fresh (2011), well-written and contains practical advice on using these 100 principles in your designs. However, reserve the time for research after reading the book.
📕 Last but not least is “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug
It is an easy read with a focus on a common sense approach to web usability. Some of the stuff may be obvious or also found published around different UX blogs (the book was republished & updated in 2013). But if you are a total newbie, you will enjoy it. You can read it in over a weekend or two, as Krug’s writing style is really enjoyable!
Don’t make me think. Make things obvious and self-evident, or at least self-explanatory. People scan; they don’t read. People choose the first reasonable option. People muddle through things rather than figure them out.
― Steve Krug’s Laws of Usability
Do you wish to learn more on how to hack a user’s brain with product design? Then I strongly recommend you read these articles too:
- Mental Models and User Experience (2016). It’s a great overview of mental models, why they are important for design and how we used to construct them. There are some links to “Design of Everyday Things” by Don Norman. So I would suggest you to read Norman’s book first.
- How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds — from a Magician and Google’s Design Ethicist (2016). I loved this cool article on how technology affects our daily life, what psychological principles are behind it and how we can fix it with good design. Beside interesting insights, this article proves how it is important to take every detail of your design seriously!
- A behavioral approach to product design: Four steps to designing products with impact (2015). Step by step overview of behavior design principles with real world examples. Also, you can find a lot of practical techniques how to achieve specific behavioral tasks with the design in this article.
- Ask Less, Get More: The Behavioral Science of Limiting User Behavior (2016). I enjoyed this article a lot! It’s a comprehensive study how limits in your product can drive more users to do a specific action, complete a specific task or encourage a specific behavior. You can also find plenty of real world examples there.
- Why Product Thinking is the next big thing in UX Design (2015). An importance of product thinking and why it’s so crucial to constantly talk to your users in order to understand their true needs.
- Design for Humanity (2016). The article describes an emotional aspect of design decisions. And why we need to see the design through the emotional prism as well (instead of focusing on a practical part only).
- Mobile UX Design — Best Practices, Constraints, and Working with Developers.
The design process starts with a good understanding of people and their needs. Overall, this was just a small collection of excellent resources, which you can use to understand design before drawing your first UI. I will come back to you in a few weeks with the next part of this guide. Thanks for reading and happy learning!
There’s no learning without trying lots of ideas and failing lots of times.
– Jonathan Ive