The ultimate guide for mobile developers, who want to design.

Part 1: Design Thinking

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

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.

It’s so popular, that you can even find Swift talk about clean code and API design article based on ideas from this book!

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:

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

Special thanks to our friends & great designers, Alex Kukharenko and Anton Diatlov, for giving useful advice on our guide.