7 Practical Tips for Cheating at Design

Improving your designs with tactics instead of talent.

Every web developer inevitably runs into situations where they need to make visual design decisions, whether they like it or not.

Maybe the company you work for doesn’t have a full-time designer and you need to implement the UI for a new feature on your own. Or maybe you’re hacking on a side-project and you want it to look better than yet-another-Bootstrap-site.

It’s easy to throw your hands up and say, “I’ll never be able to make this look good, I’m not an artist!” but it turns out there are a ton of tricks you can use to level up your work that don’t require a background in graphic design.

Here are seven simple ideas you can use to improve your designs today.

1. Use color and weight to create hierarchy instead of size

A common mistake when styling UI text is relying too much on font size to control your hierarchy.

“Is this text important? Let’s make it bigger.”

“Is this text secondary? Let’s make it smaller.”

Instead of leaving all of the heavy lifting to font size alone, try using color or font weight to do the same job.

“Is this text important? Let’s make it bolder.

“Is this text secondary? Let’s use a lighter color.

Try and stick to two or three colors:

  • A dark (but not black) color for primary content (like the headline of an article)
  • A grey for secondary content (like the date an article was published)
  • A lighter grey for ancillary content (maybe the copyright notice in a footer)

Similarly, two font weights is usually enough for UI work:

  • A normal font weight (400 or 500 depending on the font) for most text
  • A heavier font weight (600 or 700) for text you want to emphasize

Stay away from font weights under 400 for UI work; they can work for large headings but are too hard to read at smaller sizes. If you’re considering using a lighter weight to de-emphasize some text, use a lighter color or smaller font size instead.

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