Design and UX November 8, 2020

How do you approach design as an indie developer/IH?


Design matters a lot now. Well designed products (assuming they're useful) play a huge role in establishing credibility and trust with the user.

How do you design better products? I'm an indie developer and can't really afford a designer. Plus many freelance designers will just do cookie cutter work. The truly good ones are either out of reach or busy.

For eg, I love how well designed Indie Hacker the site is, and from what I've seen csallen is a dev but has a great eye for design. For the rest of us, are there any good books/articles that share good pointers? I've read Refactoring UI from the TailwindCSS guys and that has helped. But I generally struggle with "placing things on the page" and making the page look fuller or lending it some gravity. For eg drop shadows, colors, placement/layout, borders etc do add a lot to making a product look more real. In general, my screens look like things are just sort of floating randomly.

For context, what I'm building is a very simple tool so I get the feeling "there just isn't much here to see". Does that make sense?

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    The secret to getting decent at design or anything really is to do it over and over until it's good. Seriously, if you're having trouble doing layouts, just keep doing the layout over and over and eventually you'll get something good. Plus, you'll have learned more about how layouts work through lots and lots of trial and error. Look at other nicely designed sites (like this one) and get a feel for how they do their layouts and buttons, etc.

    Have patience and keep trying and you'll eventually have a nice looking design, and skills to match.

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      This. This is the process. Get it on paper (plan), design and move things around (iterate). What works? What doesn't? Try again. Even good designers still do this, though it might take them less tries to get it polished. It might take a bunch of iterations, and you might scrap a direction altogether. But in the end, it's do able.

      And few pointers to create something good.

      • Look for inspiration from multiple places, but make it your own.
      • If I had to pick one thing that makes it obvious that a beginner created the design, that would be whitespace... just give elements good padding or margin.
      • consistency is key, use repeating elements across your design... the same color buttons, one or two fonts, simply and neutral backgrounds, etc.
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    What about using already pre-made front-end templates / UI libraries? With those you can easily mix and match and you don't need to worry about smaller design details.

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      I am using tailwindcss and tailwind UI and they're great. But they solve element-level design problems (what should a button look like), not how do I put together all the various components on a page so it looks good and (almost) professionally done?

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        Real talk: if you're not a designer, don't try to leverage design. It's a tool to do a job-- you use software to do a job all day, every day. So just make something that works. I have a soft spot for really slick design, I admit, but I'm a crap designer and I know it, so I grab a template that I like and I focus all my efforts into making the thing usable, and make sure it looks ok.

        In terms of actionable steps, honestly, if you're unclear as to how things should work in terms of your flow, run through your UX process on mobile. (You have to design for mobile these days. It's not optional.). Looking at your work on the small screen will focus what you're doing at each stage. If it isn't usable, you're going to run out of screen really quickly and it'll turn into a big mess of menus and going back and forth while you're trying to get something done.

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        Tailwind UI has also larger components like full hero sections, pricing, even pages like dashboard, settings...
        Or do you need something specific that's not covered there?

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    Would you consider bringing a designer on as a cofounder? It would get you a quality (hopefully) designs and someone more invested than a freelancer.

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    After reading the title of your post, I immediately thought of Refactoring UI. It helped me a ton when learning about design.

    As others have mentioned, you need to practice. Daily UI is a great challenge for this, following designers on Dribbble, or copying sites you love (like IndieHackers) pixel by pixel to understand the decisions they're making. What font size, what spacing, etc. do they use to give it the feel you like? Erik Kennedy has a great blog post talking more about this:

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    Hey @v1l I am a web developer turned product designer turned indie hacker. I am more than happy to jump on a call together and guide you on anything you may need. I can share also how I made the switch and learned to design products.

    In a 30mins call I can communicate way more than in a comment here :-)

    Just for the record I am currently creating UX courses for indie devs and before that I was the design lead for - I am sure I have plenty of insights that could help you.

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      hey @jimzarkadas would love to schedule a short initial session with you. is the best way to do that through gumroad?

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        We could actually schedule a zoom call. Could you email me at [email protected] and find a time slot that works for both of us there?

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    I understand your concern. Even designers, especially beginners often struggle with what you mentioned above. Here are a few helpful resources that you can read to improve your design thinking process:

    Hope they help. If you are interested to know more design tools and resources, join us at: Doesign, an all-in-one design tool directory for UX/UI/graphic designers. Would love to have you there!

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      thanks for those links @musado. Checking them all out - they're super helpful!

  7. 1

    I take the approach that I'm a jack of all trades, master of some.

    I can create mobile apps (have a few live in both stores) and I can create SaaS applications. But I expect my code is awful and if a real developer saw it, they'd recoil in horror. But it works. And if I get any financial success then I can pay someone who knows more to improve it. But right now I'm doing everything so good enough will have to do.

    So to answer your question, I've stretched that analogy to all the things I need to do. I know nothing about design, so I picked up this course in a udemy sale:

    I don't expect it'll turn me into a professional UX designer. But there's enough content there to help me create something that doesn't look like a 3 year old made it with blunt crayons. That course suggested this book as a design bible:

    Short answer is that I'm learning that good enough will have to do, otherwise I'll never get anything launched. And once something is live, I can continue to iterate and polish it, perhaps with experts if I could afford it.

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