My problems are mainly visual. I can't come up with a good design. I don't understand how colors work together, how elements should be laid out on a page, the best way to present different types of content, etc. I'm not artsy. But now that I'm working on numerous side projects for myself, I really would like to be able to whip something up myself that was actually good enough to ship (I normally just give up and pay someone $100 at a site like 99designs).
Can anyone recommend some good starting material? I have a strong understanding of the underlying mechanics (CSS, Photoshop, Illustrator), just not how to actually make anything that doesn't look like a piece of garbage.
I'm probably going to grab Web Design for Developers from Pragmatic Programmers, since it looks up my alley. Any other ideas?
Since it sounds like your problems are mostly aesthetic, I'd recommend educating yourself a bit about the history of traditional arts and design. There are a few different ways to do this.
- Audit an art appreciation or art history course at a local college
- Consider purchasing video courses on those subjects. (The Teaching Company has some nice ones.)
- Take a few weeks to learn the basics of drawing and visual composition. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is a good book for beginners.
- Familiarize yourself with the rules of typography.
Of course, continue to keep an eye on web design blogs, but I think that getting these foundations in place will help you understand the "why" behind web design practice.
I'm more the opposite - designer/front-ender trying to get better with back-end tasks, but in addition to the PragProg book you mentioned, you might want to check out The Principles of Beautiful Web Design by Jason Beaird.
I can't personally endorse it as I've not read it, but it seems to get pretty good praise.
Also, you can't go wrong by following some web designers' blogs. People like Khoi Vinh, Jon Tan, Jason Santa Maria, and Elliot Jay Stocks just to name a few often share insightful and well thought-out ideas.
Yep, Joshua is bang on. Once you can understand why something looks good, it's easier to create something that does.
Another thing to do is to look at everything around you, web sites, the view out your window, a country scene, advertisements that come in the junk-snail-mail, your food on your plate, everything.
First decide, does it look good or not good. Then try to get into scientist mode and pick it apart and see why it looks good or not. Is it that the green beans look too close in color to the baked beans? Do the purple wildflowers look good against the green grass? How would they look over plain dirt? As good? Better/worse?
You can also check out the Color Scheme Designer to see the basic color wheel combinations or the Color Palette Generator to feed in a pleasingly colored photo to generate a palette of colors to use designing your site.
Don't forget to check out things like template sites - see what looks good and why and duplicate the elements of each that you like rather than buying it.
I dont understand it, you should be one of the top lucky 5% of popuplation, because you know what you are NOT GOOD AT! no one said you have to be good at everything, and if you ask me, I would rather spend that money to work around a weekness, rather than spend time and more money working On my weeknesses... choose your battles mate, its a gift, you cannot breed gifts... that is in my most hubmle openion... but to be of use in this wonderful site, my suggestion is, look at other beautiful designs, first copy, then learn how to steal :) dont be noble, all ideas are out there, they all steal from each other whether they know it or not, its how fresh you present new ideas that makes the difference... start here: http://old.screenfluent.com/