As my question eludes to I am a desktop developer with an engineering background that is looking to get into the web arena. Recently I've spent a lot of time reading up on the subjects involved and trying out examples. It appears that my road map is taking me down the path of HTML > CSS > Design principles > Layout via Gimp/Inkscape > JS > PHP/mySQL.
I'm having a hard time with laying out color schemes, backgrounds and icons. I use sites like kuler to get a scheme, but I'm having a hard time taking those colors and making appealing layouts. Is it inspiration or stealing to use color schemes from other sites that appeal to me? Also, I'm confused on choosing background or header images. I look through template sites for ideas and run across templates that all use the images. Should I be staying away from these type of public domain images or is it OK to use them if they work with a design I'm working on? On the subject of icons, it looks like many use very similar internal elements, but the overall shape of the icon may be from a certain web style. I can draw my own but - again - where does the line between inspiration and copying get drawn especially when so many icon packs use similar images.
My question (finally) is with the design principles. Are there any suggestions / recommendations for my current stumbling blocks? From a designer's perspective, is there any shame in purchasing background, color scheme packs and icons packs and using those in your design? My goal is to be able to follow a project through its complete life-cycle.
It's quite hard to move from development to design, why not just become expert at front-end development and work with another designer?
A good route to those skills would be to get hold of the free PSD designs and cheap templates and recode them.
I'm not suggestng you abandon your quest, just speaking from personal experience that if you don't have the gift for visual design, it's much harder and more frustrating to attempt it.