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Design for Hackers: Reverse Engineering Beauty Paperback – 21 Oct 2011
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From the Back Cover
"If you want to learn to create great design yourself...there simply is no way to do so with lists of rules. Instead, I want to provide you with a new set of eyes through which you can see the world anew."––– DAVID KADAVY
WHY DID MONET NEVER USE THE COLOR BLACK IN HIS PAINTINGS?
WHY IS THE GOLDEN RATIO NOT ALL IT′S CRACKED UP TO BE?
WHY IS COMIC SANS SUCH A HATED FONT?
It′s amazing what you can learn about great web design by asking questions like these. Award–winning designer David Kadavy uses this "reverse–engineering" process in Design for Hackers to deconstruct classical design principles and techniques from web designers. Using an eclectic array of reverse–engineered examples, ranging from Twitter′s latest redesign, to Target′s red shopping carts, and ancient graffiti from the walls of Pompeii, he explains:
- COLOR THEORY: How can you enliven your designs by understanding how colors interact?
- PROPORTION AND GEOMETRY: How can you establish a grid that is suitable for the device on which your design will be displayed?
- SIZE AND SCALE: How can you create clean design just by choosing the right type sizes?
- WHITE SPACE: How can you use it elegantly to communicate clearly?
- COMPOSITION AND DESIGN PRINCIPLES: How can you use them to make your designs more compelling?
- TYPOGRAPHIC ETIQUETTE: What tiny typographic details can make a huge difference in what you′re communicating?
About the Author
David Kadavy is a user interface designer whose clients include Silicon Valley startups such as oDesk, UserVoice, and PBworks. He led the design departments at two Silicon Valley startups and an architecture firm, taught a college course in typography, and studied ancient typography in Rome. David blogs about design at kadavy.net, and his Twitter handle is @kadavy.
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
This isn't a guidebook to tell you how to design awesome stuff (not sure that could ever really exist), instead it guides you on how to make better decisions. Why should you use X font instead of Y font? Why is iconography important? It is an easy to read book that is worthwhile. It has some heft to it, but I found I was blasting through chapters very quickly -- so it seems well balanced. I feel like it was a smart purchase.
If you are a total beginner looking for a book to tell you how to get a super slick site that will be revered by all, well good luck finding that book. But if you want to learn, pick it up. It isn't that expensive and you'll have a better understanding of design.
Having designed several web sites and applications before without any form of design training or knowledge, I always felt like my designs were grossly lacking in a lot of ways. Designs seemed to always be based off of my gut feeling, and the opinions of other non-designers. While a gut check was good, my designs still sorely lacked.
After reading this book, I feel as though Kadavy makes it clear how I can approach my designs with a different perspective. His chapters on typography, proportion and color are fantastic examples of this. I no longer feel like I will be stabbing in the dark to find that perfect color, but now have some tools in my arsenal to get good jobs done quickly.
When I need the heady parts of design done and refined, I will still probably need to hire a designer, BUT with this book, as a hacker, It has set me off in the right direction to either leave my knowledge as is, and put out really good designs, or pursue a greater understanding of design but with a solid foundation.
As a hacker, my time is money, and every day fiddling around with something is another day lost in terms of making great applications. This book will reduce my time fiddling with design, and increase my time focusing on my apps' functionality.
That said, it isn't a perfect text (though still gets 5 stars in my opinion). There is a very fine line between a lot of information and too much information. Kadavy walks this line VERY well in this book, but at some points I felt as though it was a little too much info that was not giving me any more practical information. Also, it seemed like every figure in the book was a page ahead of where it was being referenced, so I was constantly flipping back and forth.
With that said, these negatives are extremely small compared to how much practical information I pulled from the text. The book is excellently written and designed.
This led me to confusion. I opened photoshop to design a website I already had plans for. This book gave me a reference for which fonts to use, what color schemes would work well with the message of the site, and that everything — the fonts, the images, the boxes — should be proportional to each other. The book taught me to use all these things to create a hierarchy to show the reader what’s most important. But I still felt unsure about some critical design decisions: whats a good width layout to use for a website? I use a 5K monitor, and I see a lot of well designed sites that either expand to take up the whole width of the screen or expand to a maximum width and then stop. What goes in to making that decision? What about adjusting for mobile? But then I remembered that Kadavy said at the end of the introduction, “After reading this book, you still may not be totally satisfied with the very next design that you create.” He also brushes off the importance of giving you concrete rules to follow and instead wants you to know the more abstract principles that go into design.
So am I wrong to want to critique him for not doing something that he said he wasn’t going to do in the book? He did a great job at what he said he was going to do in the introduction. This is a beautiful and well written book.
Could it be that I misinterpreted the purpose of the book? He clearly states it’s about understanding the principles that go into design and not a how-to manual for web design. But the title “Design for Hackers” and the subtitle “reverse-engineering beauty” imply that he’s going to go over concrete examples of beautiful designs. It even states that’s what he’s going to do on the back of the book for web design. Could it be that I missed these examples in the book? No. I read his section on reverse-engineering Twitter. It’s six pages. He mentions it uses the golden ratio for proportions (which he says later is not all its cracked up to be), and then offers user personas, use cases, and wireframes for the Twitter design. Those last three things he never mentions again in the book (I checked the index). The bit on Target isn’t even about web design. It just talks about the power of the color red.
Maybe Kadavy didn’t write the back of the book. Or come up with the title. It doesn’t match the message of the book and it’s great advertising for persuading readers to buy the book. The title grabs the attention of any engineer who wants to learn design by speaking their language. The back of the book asks questions that you want to know the answers to, and you’ll get them if you buy the book. Or maybe he’s just a great salesman and wrote it himself. Either way, what he’s selling on the cover is a subtle bait-and-switch from what he’s selling in the intro — which he fulfills greatly.
My theory is that Kadavy wanted to write a book on the principles of design that are used on the web (which he does a great job of in the book), but for some reason felt like it would sell better if he promised to “reverse-engineer beauty”, which he half-heartedly attempts to do. I think it’s a great book for introducing the principles of web/graphic design, but the title, blurb, and back of the book duped me into thinking I would be ready to design a beautiful website after reading it. So since you’ve read this far, you’ve been warned.