The Non-Designer's Design Book by Robin Williams

April 28, 2005

I am not a natural-born designer. Growing up in my family, I was the writer--the one who was good with words. It was my younger sister who was the artist, and heaven help us should we try to cross over into the other's territory. So no one was more surprised than me when I went into web design (well, maybe my younger sister.)

Without any formal design training and harboring the secret knowledge that I am not the artistic sister, the graphic design aspect of web design is the one that makes me most uncertain and nervous. Clearly, I can't stay in this profession without addressing my lack of knowledge.

So I've started on my own self-directed education in graphic design. And to start off my lessons, I chose Robin Williams' The Non-Designer's Design Book, based solely on the title. It sounded too accurate to pass up.

I couldn't have made a better a choice. Williams spells out the four basic principles of design: contrast, repetition, alignment and proximity. Then she sets out to make sense of them. Using concrete examples, she explains how to apply the four principles, and she does a fair job of encouraging readers to open their eyes and really start noticing the principles in action all around them.

For me, the book was a revelation. I think a lot of my designs have been pretty good--but its been mostly by accident. I often knew when another site looked good or not, but I couldn't always articulate the reason why. Now I can...a little. I feel I have a firmer grasp on what makes a design good. And once you recognize why something is good, it's not such a large step to putting that knowledge to practice in your own work.

If you're like me and lack a formal education in design, William's book is a good place to learn the basics. I may not be a naturally good designer, but I can consciously strive to that end.

If you have a suggestion on a good book for learning graphic design--particularly as it relates to the web--let me know. I can use all the help I can get.