Design

I’m a CSE student, so I program as a hobby. I like to think I’m good at writing code, deploying applications, fixing errors, and visual design.

Unfortunately, I am not good at visual design (I’ll use design in the rest of this article to mean visual design, aesthetics, etc. Interaction design is very different [1]). I simply haven’t practiced enough to improve, and I don’t foresee myself working on it in the future.

This is a problem, because bad design will cause a negative first impression because it’s not visually appealing. I don’t want my lack of design skill to limit the viability of my applications. I also don’t want to dedicate more time than is necessary to aesthetics when I could be improving the product’s power or ease of use.

Because of this contrasting duality, I worked on a system for visual design that is simple and flexible enough to be applied to any GUI application and visually appealing enough that it doesn’t (significantly) detract from a first impression.

That system has the following steps.

  1. Minimalism

  2. Existing design

  3. Personality

  4. Minimalism (again)

  5. Feedback

Minimalism

Nine out of ten times, removing elements or colors improves my design. Everything I read about design (when I do read about design) says that perfection is the absence of anything extra.

Good design is as little design as possible.

— Dieter Rams

I remove all the elements of a design that I can without hurting the functionality. Then I remove some more.

— Hectóre Blivand

So, I always start with minimalism in my mind. No colors, no shadows, no icons, etc.

Existing design

I am bad at design but good (better) at programming. One things programmers do well is copying other people’s work. Thus, whenever possible, use someone else’s successful design ability. For TicketBay, we used iOS system design as our starting point. Every component on the screen is modeled after iOS system applications for two reasons.

Note: these same reasons apply to using Material Design.

  1. They look good (or most people think they look good). Apple has brilliant designers, and they share their finished designs for free with us through iOS.

  2. Many people are familiar with iOS. As soon as an iPhone customer opens TicketBay, they are greeted with a familiar interface where everything is where they expect.

However, this doesn’t take into account the though process behind the visual design of iOS. Without the reasoning, we are missing an understanding that would improve our design. But for the purpose of not scaring people off with poor aesthetics, it works very well.

Personality

Sometimes I take minimalism to an extreme: I’ll use only black text on a white background with nothing to break up the space. It’s minimalist for sure, but it’s unappealing. Adding a little personality will improve the visual appeal. On my personal website, I added some bold, bright splashes of color. It’s much better than no color.

Minimalism (again)

Once again, take a critical eye to the website or application and remove unnecessary icons, color or text. Since I’m not a good designer, the less design I do, the better.

Feedback

More than anything, feedback from other people, users, and real designers will help. Get feedback. Design is for other people. Show it to other people.

Footnotes

[1] The Inmates are Running the Asylum by Alan Cooper explains interaction design very well, and is an excellent book.


Sam Stevens, 2019

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