Web design for programmers : A 10 minutes crash course

I’m not a designer, and I’d rather not be one. However, there are times when programmers who don’t like to design (or draw, for that matter) are forced into that tedious act. I was responsible for designing the front end of a product at a company I interned at for the last 2 months.

Needless to say, html + css was terrifying for me. There were days where I spent entire mornings trying to align the bloody divs. Also, my choice of colors and “ui elements” were not at all pleasing. I had to pull this together somehow. I scoured the web for some intro to design. So here’s what 2 months of front-end taught me :

1. For the love of God, use bootstrap. No matter how promising the control and flexibility of pure css looks, use bootstrap and save the headache – at least when you start out.

2. Use a pen and paper to sketch your design. If you don’t like pens or papers, use a wireframing tool such as wireframe.cc. I spent some considerable time building wireframes, and then threw them away when I changed the design. Lesson learned – use pen and paper. Wireframes are useful when you want a more detailed/accurate layout of your web app.

3. Chances are that you are terrible at choosing colors. Use a tool like paletton to find the right colors, and the right combination of colors.

4. Use good fonts. Microsoft’s Segoe UI is now my favourite font. Segoe UI wasn’t featured in even a single article that discussed the “best free web fonts”. Experiment.

5. Don’t use too many colors, and don’t use too many fonts. Try to keep it simple whenever possible.

6. The official bootstrap docs does not contain references of some really useful bootstrap components like “panel” and “panel-default”. So be sure to double check before you decide that bootstrap doesn’t have it already.

7. You can’t come up with a “mind blowing, innovative, revolutionary design” over night. You might, but chances are that you won’t. Always try to build upon designs (please don’t use templates) that already exist. Here are some useful links for you to ‘build-upon’ :

8. Don’t be afraid to rewrite the HTML. I had to design a signup form and my first implementation sucked. The HTML was a mess and I couldn’t even think of modifying it. So I just wrote that page again, from scratch. Not only did I come up with a wonderful new design and styling (hint: tiles and css shadow on hover), the HTML was much much more readable. Break and build, break and build.

Good luck.

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