By John Sonmez April 7, 2016

Can “Normal Developers” Learn Design?

Can “Normal Developers” Learn Design? This is a common question I get asked a lot: Can normal programmers learn design?

You're a programmer… You write code. What if you could step up your game and learn not only how to write code, but to design… Do you think this is possible?

Design is often seen as a mystical subject. It's 8 or 80: You either have “they eye” for design or you don't. What most programmers don't actually realize is that, in fact, they can learn ANYTHING, even design. If you're a programmer and you want to learn design, however, you'll have to commit. Learning design is a devotion and it is not something you become a master overnight. It takes time, it takes commitment and it can be tricky sometimes.

Transcript Of Video:

John: Hey, what’s up, John Sonmez from simpleprogrammer.com. I got this question I’ve sort of answered a little bit about this before. I did, I think, this video on like I hate web designs or something like that, I hate web development, why I hate web development. I wanted to specifically answer this question. This question coming from Michael, he says, “Hi John, I do have one more question.” He already asked me a question. You can ask me more than one question sometimes, if you ask a good one. “I’m not terrible at doing frontend per se. I can implement an interactive single page application but using a standard CSS framework like Bootstrap and it will look good, but that’s where it ends. Do you think anyone can get good at making things pretty designer stuff? Is it always an acquired skill? Keep pumping those videos. Kind regards, Fred.” His name is actually Fred, I don’t know why I said Michael, it’s Fred.

Can you become good at design? Yes! You can become good at anything that you want to except being taller. That is the one skill that you cannot become good at is being taller. I’ve tried to become taller. I want to be 7 feet tall but it’s just not working. No, in all honesty, yeah, I honestly believe that pretty much anything you can become good at.

A lot of people say, “Well, you don’t have the eye for it, design eye” and they wear turtle neck shirts and whatever and they have scraggly beards and nice thick glasses but that doesn’t make them special. You can do that too if you can grow a beard and you can buy the glasses, right? You could do that. You could wear really tight pants. You could do that. That’s fine.

What I’m saying is just like you could change your physical appearance it’s the same thing. In your brain you can an eye for design. You can get—I’m not a designer. I’m not good at design but I never devoted a whole lot of time to it, but I am good at drawing. I taught myself how to draw. I’ve got somewhat of that skill.

People can definitely develop this skill. I have learned enough about design to see classes on design that teach design and they teach it in the—it seems mystical to you and to me because we don’t do it, we don’t know it. Actually I read this really good book on typography. Now, I didn’t retain any of it because I wasn’t actually that interested in typography. What I was interested in is basically the question you were asking, it was like, “Could anyone actually learn how to make things pretty with typography?” There was this book, I can’t remember the name of it now, but it laid it out for you, buddy. I mean it totally laid it out. It told you how to do the kerning and how—different sizes of text and the fonts and how to space them on the page and it gave you this formula, like breaking the page into thirds and stuff like that. I’m sure that anyone who’s done photography is probably similar. There’s a science. There’s always—I mean in our profession as a software developer when you write code there’s a science to it, right? There’s also a creative aspect to it, but everyone has creativity. I don’t know one noncreative person. I know some people who don’t let their creative side out but we’ve got it. The real masters are the people that have the creative and they unleash that creative but they also have the practical, the knowledge of it.

When you look at great painters, you look at Rembrandt, you look at Van Gogh, I went through Van Gogh’s museum, in fact, I think I did a video about Van Gogh in Van Gogh’s museum. When I was in Amsterdam I went through his museum. You could see his old stuff where he sucked but he tried all these different styles. Even though when you look at art and you’re like, “Oh wow, it’s so creative and beautiful” there’s a lot going beyond that. There’s a lot of science and a lot of practicality.

When Michael Angelo painted some of his paintings he figured out a technique to make the feathers on angels come out from the page by layering down one level of paint and then another one on top of it and figuring that out. There’s a technical aspect to it. I think everything pretty much has a technical aspect to it.

I did acting for a while. I did acting classes. Acting, again, those are one of those things where you’d say, “You either have the talent or you don’t.” Not so true. There’s a very technical aspect to acting. There’s a lot of things to know in how to act and how to enunciate your voice and the stage presence. There’s a ton of stuff that’s technical. There’s the creative aspect, but you’ve got to combine it with the technical.

Honestly, if you want to learn design, I totally think you can, but it’s not something that you’re just going to be like picking up like that. It’s a devotion. If you’re willing to devote the time—I’ve always thought that if I continued down the road, if I didn’t go and build simple programmer I probably would have devoted some time and learn design because I always thought the most useful software developer is someone who can write out the code and has a really good eye for design. Those are like magic unicorns. You can’t find those people. When you do they’re so valuable because they’re awesome because they can build anything and they can make it look good.

Anyway, great question. Thanks for asking that Fred. I really appreciate it. If you’ve got a question for me, email me at john@simpleprogrammer.com. If you like this video subscribe to the channel. Take care.

About the author

John Sonmez

John Sonmez is the founder of Simple Programmer and a life coach for software developers. He is the best selling author of the book "Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual."