Design for developers – how it went

It has been a while since I went through the course, and I wanted to report back on how it went. Some things went well, some no so well…

The good:

  • The course is a great introduction to design.
  • I learned a lot of design jargon (for example: visual hierarchy).
  • I gained a solid understanding of what it takes to do design.
  • I now know what makes good design and what makes bad design.
  • I learned about some of the existing design tools and utilities out there (color scheme selection helpers, style tiles).
  • Having a mentor and getting feedback both on the site and via video (Skype in this case) was incredibly useful and pushed my learning much faster.

The not-so-good:

  • Though advertised as only requiring 10 hours a week, it took significantly longer than that:
    • Large amounts of reading (at least 10 hours worth per week).
    • Being unfamiliar with design tools meant I had to learn and experiment with them as well (GIMP, Inkscape and Balsamiq Mockups to name a few).
  • My mentor disappeared on me during the last week of the course (he had a product launch).
  • I did not realize that iteration were expected from the get go – the interface wasn’t clear about this (there were a few hints, but not enough for me), not did my mentor explicitly mention it.
  • Some of the downloaded resources require Photoshop and other commercial tools, where a developer or someone learning about design wouldn’t necessarily have them (or want to purchase them just for the course).

In general, the course was great, though I didn’t get as much from it as I probably could have.

Coming into it, I didn’t have a specific project that I wanted to apply my learning to. Had I had one, I would have had more motivation and some end goal to work towards during the course (the course did seem geared towards the notion of working on an existing project, in particular the last two weeks of it).

I struggled with the actual time requirements, partially due to the need to learn new tools and partially due to the large amount of required reading.

I was able to gain an understanding of the design workflow, language and tooling. Not enough to become a designer myself, by enough to converse and understand design jargon, and possibly come up with a decent enough design myself.


I had a feedback session with one of the founders – he was very receptive to everything I had to say, the good and the bad, and I have seen that since, they have made some changes. To be fair to them, the course was still very new (I was in the second “class” – only the second time they have run through it) – they have now had plenty of time to refine things.

The course has been renamed from “Design for Developers” to “Design 101“, which I think is a much better name. The reading requirements have been adjusted and there have been many changes to the UI to address some of the issues I’ve raised. I’ve been told that introductions to the different tools and downloadable resources have been added to the site.

Design Labs are also offering a – UX Research & Strategy course these days.


If you are thinking of taking this course I can make a few recommendations:

  • Have a project that needs some design work. This can be something you work towards polishing throughout the course.
  • Expect to spend a good amount of time learning the tools.
  • Make sure you iterate from day one – this is where the value is. Given feedback from your mentor – follow up on it, make changes and iterate.
  • Enjoy!
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Design for developers – the journey begins

So I decided to take a design course.

Graphic design, that is. Not design patterns, not architecture. Graphic design.

Why would I, a programmer for well over a decade, decide to do that?

Because design by developers:

Design by developers

(image taken from You Sank my Battleship on infovark)


I have always been one of those developers that said – I can build it, but I can’t make it pretty.

Not that a design course would magically make my software pretty – but at least I will have the basis to identify whether the design is bad and to talk to designers in their language, without making a fool of myself. I mean – think about how non-programmers talk to you about programming, right?

The course I have taken is design for developers, offered by DesignLab. This is a four week course, where one is expected to put in 5-10 hours a week.

I know this sounds like a lot, in particular considering this is done outside of “office hours” (I work remotely and make my own hours – but my study for this course is strictly off the clock). However, having taken Open University courses in the past, while in full time employment, I cam confident this is easily achievable in particular given that weekends are off the clock.


I intend to document my progress here as I go through the course.

Stay tuned.

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What Developers Need to Know about SQL – SQL is not for everything

Here is another intersting tweet from What Developers Need to Know About SQL Server:

What Aaron is talking about here is that SQL is a Query Language – that is what SQL and relational databases are optimized for – getting result sets.

SQL is not a data manipulation language – yes, you can do quite a lot of manipulation of string, dates and such, but the language does not lend itself to such operations.

It is far more efficient to move such operations to the client/UI code – whatever language you use to interact with the database will almost certainly have better facilities for manipulating strings and dates.

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What Developers Need to Know about SQL – Set Based Programming

Here is one stand alone tweet from What Developers Need to Know About SQL Server, which is rather information dense and worth expanding on:

Stuart Miller compares the mental shift required for someone who is used to OOP do develop in SQL to the mental shift those used to imperative programming (c, COBOL, Basic and more) need to go through in order to truly understand and use OOP correctly.

This different programming paradigm is set based programming, taking its name from set theory, a mathematical framework from which the relational model of databases was derived by Edgar F. Codd, which in turn gave relational databases their name.

One of the major differences between set based programming and object oriented programming has to do with how they deal with groups of related items. Where in object oriented programming, one would iterate over a collection of objects, dealing with each item at a time, set based programming deals with the group as a whole – there are no iteration constructs. That’s right – there are no loops in set based programming.

As result, the way to think about and apply operators is in groups of related items (sets, or relations, in Codds’ relational model), not individual items. Operators allow filtering, aggregating, projection, joining and more – always resulting in groups of related items (where a group can be empty or consist of a single item).

Relational theory is the basis from which relational databases have been built and the relational engines that power them are optimized for this kind of thinking – set based thinking. Most relational database do offer looping constructs – but these are most often than not best avoided as they go against the grain and can be the cause of performance issues. This is not because relational databases are slow – it is because using loops instead of operating on sets goes against how they were built and what they are optimized to do.

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What Developers Need to Know about SQL – Introduction

I will be starting a series of blogs, inspired by a twitter conversion Brent Ozar had with other database folks and the highlights of which he collated as a blog post, titled What Developers Need to Know About SQL Server.

Since these started life on twitter, they are quite short and though Brent briefly expands on some of the tweets, I believe there is value is expanding on them even further, explaining the rationale and thinking behind them.

Though Brent and the conversation are ostensibly SQL Server oriented, many of the points raised are applicable to any relational database – Oracle, MySql, PostgreSQL etc. I plan to mostly deal with these shared points.

Let me know in a comment if there is anything specific you are interested in.

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