You Should Learn Design

Most people don't know how to design. It's an unfortunate truth, yet one that can be [at least partially] remedied fairly easily. For example, I've already mentioned The Non-Designers Design Book as an easy way to get started. It clocks in at a whopping 216 pages, is full of pictures and big fonts yet reading it has improved my design skills considerably. There are little things you can do that will make big improvements (e.g., check out our original product landing page versus the one I've been working on recently). Don't get me wrong, I don't think that I am an excellent designer by any means. In fact, it's quite the opposite, but I am constantly trying to improve my skills by reading up on design, trying new things, etc.

However, not enough people are learning about design. So let's take a look as some people could benefit from taking a crash course.


I think lawyers should be required to take a design course. Legal documents, contracts and anything else that lawyers "draw up" tend to use words as the only means of communication. Yet time and again, we find that pictures make things easier to understand (and more precise at the same time!). For example, I was recently going through some deal documents on a consulting project where there was a corporate restructuring. There was somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 different (but related) entities involved in the transaction and the only way to figure out who was doing what was to go through the verbiage in the agreements and draw a picture for myself. Can you imagine how much easier it would be for everyone involved if a design expert was utilized in drawing up legal documents? The world would be a better place.

Recommended reading: The Non-Designers Design Book.


I am a finance professional myself, and I can assure you most finance professionals would benefit from design courses. All too often finance and accounting professionals think that the only way to communicate is with tables and numbers. While many do realize that graphs help you understand the data better, most aren't aware of best practices when it comes to developing such charts. For example, there is almost always a better way to convey part-to-whole relationships than the ubiquitous pie chart, yet time and again you will find pie charts in finance presentations. In fact, based on my experience I might even argue that the pie chart is the most prevalent type of chart in a finance presentation! But there are more problems then just using a pie chart too often. Other areas like tables could often be improved by using some sort of contrast (bigger fonts, colors, etc.) when the readers attention should be focused on a particular part of the document.

Recommended Reading: Information Dashboard Design or Now You See It: Simple Visualization Techniques for Quantitative Analysis.

Entrepreneurs and Management

If you are an entrepreneur and have not read up on design, go out and start learning immediately. As an entrepreneur, you need to sell. You need to sell to new or existing employees, investors, customers, partners, etc. And in my opinion, you need to have at least some level of design knowledge in order to do so. Even if you hire people to build your website, have finance people to make your presentations to investors, human resources people to do your hiring you could still benefit from knowing about design. You can help guide decisions if your employees are building a website or a smartphone app. You will be able to understand how to improve presentations to investors. You will be able to make informed decisions in areas that may affect every aspect of your business. The list goes on.

Recommended reading: Universal Principles of Design.


Programmers (almost above all the other professions noted so far) need to know about design. Designing usable software is difficult. It is hard to anticipate how people will interact with your brainchild; you may think that users are going to understand what "message 123" means, when in reality they won't have a clue. Or you may think that users will simply know to click a certain area on your website or application, but it will never cross the user's mind. I do think, however, that most programmers understand the need for learning about design, so I won't go any further than to suggest some reading material.

Recommended reading: Don't Make Me Think or Design for Hackers.


I hope you are starting to see that design principles apply to more than just designers. If you've gotten this far and are interested in more information, you may want to check out classics such as The Design of Everyday Things or The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. I'd also love to hear your suggestions on how I can improve my own design skills, so please leave a comment below.

Written by ktr in misc on Tue 28 February 2012. Tags: Design, Miscellaneous,

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