Skip to main
Tools for design include a computer, sketchbook, pen and paper

Get Started with Design

Four useful tools & tutorials

So you’d like to start learning design, but the number of tools and tutorials available is overwhelming. Where do you start? I recommend Paper for sketching out UX ideas, Practical Color Theory for Coders to generate color palettes and learn color theory, Choosing the Right Font: A Practical Guide to Typography on the Web as an introduction to typography, and Adobe Experience Design for UX prototyping.

So you’re a developer or you’re brand new to the world of web design, and you’d like to grow your design chops. How do you even begin to sort through the overwhelming assortment of tools and tutorials available? In this guide, I’ll introduce the tools I use daily in my work as a user experience and brand designer for OddBird. I’ll recommend quick and useful tutorials that will get you started designing right away.

Paper sketching tool

When tackling a complex UX design challenge, I start with sketches. My go-to tool is aptly named Paper. Paper, by WeTransfer, is free for iPad and iPhone. Paper is much more basic than tools like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. In my experience, a collapsable toolkit with several brush styles, seven colors, and an eraser is all I need to sketch rough drafts of web features. Here are two sample sketches I drew using Paper during the development of the QuarqNet web app.

QuarqNet sketches on Paper

With Paper, I can auto-straighten uneven lines and zoom in for detail work. When drafting logos, I often trace images. Paper lets me upload an image, draw on top of it, and easily delete the image from the background when I’m finished.

Website by Jason Santa Maria

According to typography expert Jason Santa Maria, “If your type is bad, the design fails.” There’s so much to learn in the rich field of typography. To get started, I recommend Choosing the Right Font - A Practical Guide to Typography on the Web by Max Luzuriaga. Max provides an overview of important elements to consider: readability, pairing, and size.

If you have an hour, check out Jason Santa Maria On Web Typography, a talk he presented at Build Conf 2011. Or delve into his book On Web Typography, but be warned – you may get bitten by the typography bug and find yourself regaling your friends about that horrendous typeface pairing on the menu at your favorite restaurant.

If you already know the theory and you’re looking for free, high-quality typography for your web project, here’s a list of my favorite resources. You can also read about the process I use to select typography for a brand identity.

Natalya's color theory decision tree

It’s important for any designer to be able to create pleasing and accessible color palettes. If you write code, Natalya Shelburne’s Sass color functions outlined in Practical Color Theory for People Who Code are an excellent tool for generating a palette that works. If you’re not a developer, this is still a fantastic tutorial in how to think about color for the web. You’ll learn about accessible contrast, using neutral colors, and how to simulate cohesive lighting conditions.

Color can make or break a user’s experience on the web. If you’d like to learn more, here’s an outlined of my process for choosing brand colors including a list of several tools for generating color palettes and testing contrast.

Adobe Experience Design

My new favorite UX design tool, Adobe Experience Design, is still in beta. XD has a built-in tutorial that’s fun, beautiful, and takes less than an hour to complete. I use XD prototypes to flesh out my sketches, and to play with colors, typography, and layout. XD is also an excellent tool for working out how users will flow through the content.

What design tools and tutorials have you found most useful? I’d love to hear your recommendations. Join the conversation on Twitter.

Recent Articles

  1. Fragment from a 13th century alchemical manuscript with a red and green oroboros serpent biting it's own tail, and seeming to give us side-eye
    Article post type

    HTML Web Components are Just JavaScript?

    I’m still getting used to this

    There’s been a recent flurry of articles about web components, with advice on how to shape them as extensions of HTML. I decided to dig in, and see how these ‘HTML web components’ could become a part of my own workflow. Despite a few rough edges, I’m excited to see…

    see all Article posts
  2. Article post type

    How to Design More Intuitive Websites & Apps

    Do you want to make your website or web app more intuitive for the people who visit? If so, I’d like to introduce you to the world of Object-Oriented UX. As a UX designer at OddBird, using OOUX strategies to identify and avoid unintuitive objects has been key to…

    see all Article posts
  3. Pen and notebook with a sketch of a website interface
    Article post type

    When to Choose a Progressive Web App

    Part 3 – Responsive Web App vs Native Mobile App vs Progressive Web App

    If you’re weighing the performance optimization and device integration opportunities of a native mobile app against the broad reach and lower cost of a responsive web app – and can’t decide which is a higher priority for your digital product – don’t despair. A progressive web app may be just…

    see all Article posts