in Thinking

Are developers capable of delivering beautiful designs?


“I don’t think that I’m capable of delivering beautiful design. I’ve got an idea in my head, but it basically stays there because I don’t want to spend tons of money on a designer but as a developers, I don’t have the skills to do it myself. So I end up in a vicious circle. And the idea is still not realised.”

I’m willing to bet that anyone reading this article has experienced something similar to the reader who wrote in above.

I have. In fact, I’d say it was responsible for 4 years of wanting to learn design, but not doing it.

I would look at inspiration, buy design books and magazines, read articles, get super motivated to start creating and then… nothing.

I’d either be so consumed by the blank screen that I’d start making all those excuses like “I need a tidy closet before I can think creatively” or “I can’t design without a cup of tea” or even “I should really sort my taxes out”.

Or worse, I’d start designing and half an hour into it I’d despair over how unbelievably amateur my creation looks. Then, feeling foolish, I’d decide that I just couldn’t do it and these people in the magazines had some special gene that I didn’t.

That second scenario is especially damaging because I tried and failed, rather than just not trying at all. So now I’ve gone from thinking there’s a possibility I can design something awesome to I’ve tried it and I was wrong.

Does that sound familiar?

Every developer-turned-designer I’ve spoken to has experienced something very similar to the above. As humans, we are constantly comparing ourselves to other people. We compare our work, our relationships, our homes. We look for inspiration and try to replicate it.

Comparing ourselves to others can be a very strong motivator for self-improvement. But it can also be detrimental. We’re drawn to get rich quick stories, overnight successes, or stories about children with insane talents at a very young age.

We’re drawn to them because we hope that something like that will happen to us. But it also allows us to forgive ourselves if we feel like we don’t match up: “I can’t design because I wasn’t ever artsy as a child. It’s not my fault I wasn’t born with the creative gene.

Deep down, we all know that these are excuses. We know that we are capable people and that there is no reason we can’t learn to do something we want to do.

Developers especially are amongst the most creative people I know. Their ability to problem solve and think outside of the box is the main reasons developers make such great designers.

For me, the only reason I ended up getting over this vicious cycle of not feeling good enough to design was because I put myself in situations where I didn’t have a choice but to produce something decent.

My job was to be a designer. I had clients who were counting on me (and paying me) to design something for them.

And unless I wanted the embarrassment of having to refund them, I had to make something look good. Even if it took a really, really long time.

That’s the hard part about being a developer who wants to learn design. You’re being paid to code, not design. Yes, you’d like to be able to make the things you code beautiful — but if you don’t, it’s not going to cost you your job.

Now there are a couple of ways you could take this anecdote:

You could decide that design isn’t and shouldn’t be your job. Your job is to code and you simply don’t think you have the motivation to learn design.

Or you could take comfort in the fact that design is all about perseverance rather than any kind of talent. For those of you who really do want to learn how to design, you can rest assured that you will get there.

It will take work. Lots of work. And you will go through phases where you think you simply can’t do it.

The only difference between the people who create great designs and those who don’t is that the ones who don’t give up.”

Just know that’s totally normal. The only difference between the people who create great designs and those who don’t is that the ones who don’t give up.

“But Laura, it’s all well and good giving me a ‘don’t give up’ power speech, but I need something more practical than a pep talk”

I hear you.

And as I’ve been writing on this blog for a while now, I’ve realised that everyone has different stories as to how they learned design. Everyone has a different ‘eureka’ moment, a different journey.

My story is different to most of the developers I speak to (both in my course and readers of this blog). You have different challenges and just hearing my version of learning design isn’t going to help you as much as hearing about others who have been where you are now, and managed to pull through.

That’s why I’m starting a series where I talk to people who have gone from struggling to learn design, to being someone who is fully competent and consistently producing amazing designs.

I’ve been digging deep into people’s stories, picking out both the internal and external factors that went into these people who doubted their ability to deliver good designs. And it’s going to be presented in a way that means you can learn from them and start to immediately apply their teachings to your products.

So stay tuned — I can’t wait to share the first one with you. I’m working on it right now and I know you’re going to get a lot out of it.

Read next:

Stop letting your lack of ‘design voodoo’ hold you back.

I’m Laura Elizabeth and I can finally call myself a designer without feeling like a fraud. Now, with Design Academy, I’m systemising my process so you can do the same.

If you’d like to read more articles like this one, type your email address below and I will send you more! (You can unsubscribe anytime).

Alex Bakoushin

This is the best explanation of design craft I’ve ever seen.

— Alex Bakoushin