I want more design and less web.
June 7, 2008 2:29 PM   Subscribe

I want to learn about Web Design. Emphasis on the design part.

Most resources about the topic concentrate on XHTML and CSS and how to create a layout from a design. They take as a fact that the user knows how to create a design. The book "The Principles of Beautiful Web Design" is an exception, explaining color, composition, texture, among other things; but I would like more resources.

I know how to code a page. If you gave me a screenshot of any page from any CSS gallery, I could probably duplicate it with valid XHTML, CSS, etc. However, when I want to 'design' something similar, I can't really do it. It overwhelms me.
I can make a functional website but I can't make it as good looking as I would like.

Is it possible to learn this or is it something innate that I lack?

- If it has to be a book, make it a really, really good one as books+shipping are expensive.
- I can't take a class. I'm already in college studying something else and there's no related classes.
posted by Memo to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
Oh it's definitely not innate, though some people may express it better than others.

I think you're looking in the wrong place, however, when you try to look up "web design" for design principles. You need to look for design principles specifically - which, depending on what kind of designs you want to produce, can be universal toward any medium. You need to understand which colors work well together, and then translate that knowledge into how it applies to the web - i.e. not all monitors are going to display these colors the same way, so you need to make some sacrifices.

You need to decide for yourself what kind of designs you want to produce. Will you work in illustrative elements? Will you go with your simplicity foot forward? Would you like to design to cater to a younger audience or an older audience or every audience? What's your niche? What's your preference? And who are you designing for?
posted by tybeet at 2:43 PM on June 7, 2008

Design Basics Index by Jim Krause was a *very* useful tool in helping me understand some of the basics of design and web design. NOTE: The Web Design section of the book is SHAMEFULLY outdated, but everything else is timeless.
posted by SansPoint at 2:54 PM on June 7, 2008

Is it possible to learn this or is it something innate that I lack?

You can. No one is born knowing how to design. It cannot be innate.

What you probably are behind on, though, is intuition about what would look good and what won't look good. This intuition is built up over years and years for designers because they look at art, photographs, fashion, magazines, book covers, architecture and just through simple repetition learn about which colors work together, how to convey ideas through shapes, form, texture, etc.

You already know a few of the popular (and sometimes poorly used) themes: the red/black/white color scheme is effective and popular and associated with film noir and murder mysteries. Square, blocky designs with desaturated blues look more professional whereas curves, odd angles, and bright colors (orange, neon green) can suggest progressive, fun. Silver and bright blue suggest high-tech, brown/orangey earthy tones denote a feeling of comfort and familiarity.

Go to your nearest bookstore. They all sell coffee now too so go grab a latte and biscotti and swipe a few design magazines. Drink coffee, eat biscotti, look through the magazines. Whenever you see something that catches your eye, really look at it. What's its color scheme? Do you see a balanced design or are there strong, dynamic diagonals? Is it centrally oriented? Is it asymmetrical? What exactly is it about the image that makes your eye linger? What clues did the designer leave behind that tell you where your eye should focus? Is there a lot of empty space? Is it cluttered?

Remember that good designers have spent their entire lives focusing on what looks good and why, so don't be discouraged if you flip though some magazines, come back, and still can't design.

Good luck.
posted by reebear at 2:58 PM on June 7, 2008 [4 favorites]

My favorite thing to do is just browse the web for designs that strike me and then ask myself questions about why I feel the design works. The fundamentals of design can easily be found (and learned) by google alone, so I wouldn't recommend buying any expensive design books unless you really feel like it. Here are a couple of links to get you going:

Web 2.0 Style Guide

Design Is Kinky
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 3:05 PM on June 7, 2008

My boyfriend would like to suggest Smashing Magazine.
posted by divabat at 4:22 PM on June 7, 2008

Go to your nearest bookstore.

Seriously. If you're low on cash, it seems like B&N and Borders are happy to have you sit there and drink a coffee while reading their books. I've been reading the Non-Designers Design Book recently, and also keeping my eyes open about design in general, and my skills are improving.

I come from a CS / Physics background, paying no particular attention to design, for 28 years. Recently I've had to broaden my horizons, as doing any kind of business in the real world requires you to be a sort of renaissance man. I just finished the logo and business card design for my new business, and people have been reacting really positively to it, so it must mean I'm making some progress. :)

Just screwing around in a program like Adobe Illustrator (or Inkscape, which is free and passable), will give you some much needed practice. Writing a web page just to see what a design looks like is too time consuming. You need instant feedback. Design may seem a bit esoteric from the outside, but it's a skill that develops with practice like any other. Show your designs to artsy friends for feedback, but overall, just keep at it!
posted by knave at 5:58 PM on June 7, 2008

You may want to get involved with some appropriate deviantart design clubs so when you create something you can get some much-needed feedback. Getting critiques from people who you especially feel are good designers themselves will show you just how and what you're growing towards becoming as a designer.
posted by tybeet at 6:45 PM on June 7, 2008

I was in very much the same position as you a while back and I got a lot out of Robyn Williams' books: The Non-Designer's Design Book and The Non-Designer's Web Book.

It's been years since I read them and I can still remember her helpful mnemonic for the basic principles of Contrast, Repetition, Alignment and Proximity (!) and her admonition to Not Be A Wimp.

It's not like I became a great designer, but after reading these book, at least I had a vocabulary and some rules and principles to follow, and could be articulate about the choices I'd made, rather than just picking fonts, colours and layouts at random.

They're quite cheap, and although it sounds strange, if you have to pick just one, buy the one which isn't web-specific. You sound like you know a lot of the stuff in it already.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 8:04 PM on June 7, 2008

Oops. You sound like you know a lot of the stuff in the web-specific book, I meant to say.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 8:05 PM on June 7, 2008

My suggestion is iterate your designs on paper or via a ppt / visio mockup several times before doing any work. Also, I am a designer of sorts, an information architect, and I always, always, look at other sites and applications related to what I am doing and borrow heavily from their good ideas. I'll bet you do the same thing with code, am I right? Hardly anyone creates a design completely from scratch. I wonder if its even possible. Every idea comes from somewhere.

I'll second the Non Designer's Design Book. It's like an hour's read, but really taught me a lot. Also, take a look at Tufte's books for inspiration.
posted by xammerboy at 9:05 PM on June 7, 2008

Design is a wide-reaching thing, even if we're narrowing it down to web design.

I am a working designer and developer with no formal training. I am in no way any kind of design guru, but I punch solidly in my weight class, have always worked consistently, and there are only two clients in my history who probably spit when they hear my name. (Given the number of cowboys in this business, that's really pretty good.)

In 1997, when I decided this was what I was going to do for a living, I read Roger Black's Websites that Work. That was the sum total of my design education studies until 2004. Some of the very little technical information is obviously out of date but the design principles are still sound.

When I moved in with my husband, who has a background in print design, he came with several books on Neville Brody and typography. That would be the second half of my design education studies to date.

I think the skillsets around good design break into two parts: those everyone must learn, and those some people just have.

Skills you may just have but that are possible to learn:

* Colour scheming
* Layout
* Typography

Skills we all need to acquire, through education or practice:

* Photoshop or similar
* User interface design
* Accessibility

I do think there are people who may have a technical grasp on each of these areas, but are unable to pull them together in a cohesive manner. The web overfloweth with bad designs done by people who just love them, which is sad. This may just be lack of experience, though.

By the way, I draw a distinction between studying and learning. I bought books to study the fundamentals of specific areas. I learn through daily exposure to good design and through conversation and tutorials about it. For daily learning, the ALA and Evolt mailing lists were the resources that were the most educational for me.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:07 AM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Principals of Beautiful Web Design from SitePoint is a great book on the exact topics you are asking about.
posted by punkrockrat at 6:49 AM on June 8, 2008

i'd recommend Universal Principles of Design. lightweight yet academic, and not exclusively web. reassuringly straightforward. good for reminding one's self.
posted by iboxifoo at 11:51 AM on June 8, 2008

Since Web Design is 95% Typography, I suggest you read The Elements of Typographic Style. This website attempts to explain how to achieve some of those techniques, which may or may not be useful to you, given your stated skill level.
posted by kpmcguire at 12:21 PM on June 9, 2008

maybe this link will help
posted by freddymetz at 3:31 AM on June 10, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your answers!
posted by Memo at 2:12 PM on June 10, 2008

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