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Ask HN: I'm terrible at design (back end dev)

Over the years I've started many, many side projects and most of them were completed but never launched because I didn't like the way they looked and couldn't improve them.

Common advice for people like me is to use a framework and/or template. I've used bootstrap in the past which is fine for very simple apps, but I struggle with anything even remotely complicated. I've spent money on premium bootstrap themes but the end result never looks the way I imagined.

I've also hired a couple of designers on odesk with no success. I showed them what I was working on and explained how it worked. I basically got back the same thing with different colors.

It's hard for me to express exactly what I find difficult. I see webapps like notion, github, basecamp etc and by comparison, my stuff just looks terrible. Has anyone here struggled with design before and what did you do about it?

  • 4 points
  • 2 days ago

  • @throwaway2279
  • Created a post
  • • 5 comments

Ask HN: I'm terrible at design (back end dev)


@roosgit 2 days

Replying to @throwaway2279 🎙

You might be having both a UI and a UX problem. One way to go about this is to copy one big website you like(as long as you're not building a competing product) and before launch to tweak the UI (different typography, colors, shadows...) while preserving the consistency.

Also, when it launched, GitHub didn't really have a design to write home about, at least, in my opinion and according to these screenshots: https://github.blog/2008-11-03-github-code-search/

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@saluki 2 days

Checkout Tailwind CSS.

Specifically TailwindUI.com, it's paid but it's modular so you can build pretty much anything with it.

And it's way better to work with than bootstrap was.

It's a little tough to get on board with in the beginning, just give it a chance.

TailwindUI is well worth the money.

You'll have to swap out the default indigo, I usually just swap with gray for new apps till you're ready to expand the design further.

And if something you have does takeoff Tailwind has became really popular so you can easily improve the design in the future.

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@dexwiz 2 days

Without actually seeing the work, it's hard to give specific feedback.

Design is an iterative process. Designers are never going to hand you a great looking product on the first time around. Also I find there is a sort of meta iteration in design, because very few designers start from scratch. They start by looking a similar popular product. This is why UX Design has fashion cycles just like any other artform.

As a developer I do have a few tips that I try to to use when building UIs:

- Learn what the gold ratio is, and how to use it to layout a view. It's ubiquitous in nature and art. Something deep in our brains can look at two similar images and find that one that follows the golden ratio better without us even consciously knowing. We just know it looks better.

- Use consistent margins and borders, 4px, 6px, 8px, 12px, 16px is a good place to start if you are unsure.

- Pay attention to negative space. Most of the websites you mentioned, and even HN, have a great amount of unused space. This really isn't a waste, it allows users to focus on the remaining used spaced.

- Start simple, and then go simpler. Your favorite software or IDE may be jammed packed with buttons and views, but that is software for a poweruser. It was built up over years with the expectation that a user will invest time into learning the interface, but these views are overwhelming the first time you see them and look cluttered and confusing. Instead focus on pairing down your UI to the minimum number of elements, and then cut even more. I'm talking way down, to the point that user may only have 1 or 2 things to look at and interact with. Your users will tell you want they want from there.

- Read a design book. Graphic Design and UX predates computers and there is a ton of research and material on it. It is a soft science, so much of its bunk, but you can definitely pick up some nice tidbits.

- Learn how to polish a design. Overall your layout might be nice, but little details could ruin it. It sounds like you have somewhat of an eye since you know your designs look bad. This could come down to simple things like consistent sizing, spacing, and alignment.

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@_448 2 days

Hopefully this will encourage you to launch:

https://www.versionmuseum.com/websites

Looking at the old websites of Yahoo, MSN and Google and comparing them, I remember a quote I read sometime back regarding these companies: "The revenue of the company is inversely proportional to the clutter on the company's homepage" :)

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