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Design for Hackers: Reverse Engineering Beauty 1st Edition

102 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1119998952
ISBN-10: 1119998956
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Editorial Reviews


"David Kadavy is the Malcom Gladwell of web design"
-Noah Kagan, Founder,

"Kadavy's book does an excellent job of linking the theoretical to the practical in a very readable format."
-Brad Feld, Co-Founder, TechStars

"clear yet engaging and comprehensive"
-Vitaly Friedman, Smashing Magazine

"those coding [our world's] software and user interfaces and threading the web should all learn what this book has to teach"
-Gareth Branwyn, MAKE Magazine

From the Back Cover

"If you want to learn to create great design yourself...there simply is no way to do so with lists of rules. Instead, I want to provide you with a new set of eyes through which you can see the world anew." -David Kadavy

Why did Monet never use the color black on his paintings?
Why is the golden ratio not all it's cracked up to be?
Why is Comic Sans such a hated font?

It's amazing what you can learn about great web design by asking questions like these. Award-winning designer David Kadavy uses this "reverse-engineering" process in Design for Hackers to deconstruct classical design principles and techniques for web designers. Using an eclectic array of reverse-engineered examples, ranging from Twitter's latest redesign, to Target's red shopping carts, and ancient graffiti from the walls of Pompeii, he explains:
  • Color Theory: How can you enliven your designs by understanding how colors interact?
  • Proportion and Geometry: How can you establish a grid that is suitable for the device on which your design with be displayed?
  • Size and Scale: How can you create clean design just by choosing the right type sizes?
  • White Space: How can you use it elegantly to communicate clearly?
  • Composition and Design Principles: How can you use them to make your designs more compelling?
  • Typographic Etiquette: What tiny typographic details can make a huge difference in what you're communicating?
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (August 29, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1119998956
  • ISBN-13: 978-1119998952
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #72,460 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Aside from having been obsessed with design since I could hold a pencil (seriously, I once conducted experiments in "white space" using the words from the side of a deodorant bottle), I also understand the unique challenges of designing great products in the fast-paced world of startups. I founded the design departments of two startups, founded my own startup, worked with startups as a freelance designer, and continue to mentor startups around the world.

While I'm practically-minded enough to understand the need to get things done quickly, I don't take any shortcuts when it comes to dissecting design. With my writing I aim to entertain the reader, while explaining in such detail that even an expert will learn something new.

If you want to create great design in 10 minutes, I'm not your guy (and if you find someone, let me know who they are!). But, if you're willing to invest a few hours of patient study of my book in exchange for the benefits of a lifetime of truly understanding design, I think we'll get along well.

If you'd like to get a free design course, based upon "Design for Hackers," visit If you ever have any questions or comments, I'm very active on Twitter at @kadavy.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

62 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Devon Ostendorf on November 21, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As a developer who routinely agonizes over which colors and fonts to use for my projects, "Design for Hackers" provided me both with reassurance that I wasn't too far off in my choices and with confidence to try out some new approaches in future endeavors.

I wasn't expecting a step-by-step recipe book - this is not a "Teach Yourself Web Design in 24 Hours" book. Design is a creative process after all and super-subjective. However, it is tremendously helpful, IMHO, to have some guidance, and this book does a stellar job of presenting a solid explanation of why it is that some things just look right while others don't quite work.

Though I enjoyed parts of each chapter, I found the following sections particularly valuable:

* The discussion of proportion, the golden ratio, and the case study involving the MailChimp logo breakdown (Chapter 5).

* The demonstration of how effectively one can establish visual hierarchy, even while using only a single font, by varying
type size and weight, and using white space strategically (Chapter 7).

* The entire color science chapter (Chapter 8), but most notably the tips for how to mentally navigate the hexadecimal
cube to rapidly fine-tune colors.

* The suggestion to limit the number of fonts you use to only two and, further, restricting them to those shown in the
provided chart (which also shows which pairs well with what, both for print and the web) (Appendix A).

Bottom line, if every developer read this book, the web would be a lot more aesthetically pleasing (and usable, too, for that matter).

Well done!
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149 of 170 people found the following review helpful By J. McAnally on September 25, 2011
Format: Paperback
I was extremely excited for this book. I know a lot of programmers who feel like they can futz around with Photoshop or HTML or what not, but don't really know why they're doing what they're doing or how to approach design problems. They always bemoan the lack of background knowledge of design concepts. So, when I saw this book was being released, I rushed out to my local B&N and grabbed it (Amazon was backordered for weeks, which spoke to how good I thought this would be!).

I thought I'd get a really good introduction to design concepts, accompanied by really solid, cohesive examples of either how to use this in a design or examples of the concept in action and why it's a good use of it. What I got instead was a scattershot of sort of interesting concepts, a few examples, and a bunch of other random stuff. Maybe I'm more persnickety about books than the other reviewers, but if we're reading the same book, we must have totally different definitions of a good teaching book.

Most of the information in there just struck me as weird and disjointed. I won't cover all the my issues with the book (some of them are just simply pedantic...), but I'll share a few examples. There's a (by page count) huge amount of space spent on Roman/Greek typography (something the author spent a lot of time researching in school as we're told in his back cover bio, inside bio, introduction, first chapter, and a few other times), but a tiny bit of information on selecting fonts for designs, type proportion, and so on. There's also a long rant on why Comic Sans is a bad font (even going so far as presenting a number of really technical arguments as to why it sucks), but completely neglects the most important point about font choice which is context.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By J Bambauer on August 8, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm always looking to expand my knowledge within the UI/UX perspective of the web (and I guess even beyond the web really) and I like to know not just what works and what doesn't but why. Why does someone choose a particular layout, why does everyone seem to use that font, etc. Design for Hackers does a nice job of laying out foundational concepts and gives good insight into what makes one option better over another.

This isn't a guidebook to tell you how to design awesome stuff (not sure that could ever really exist), instead it guides you on how to make better decisions. Why should you use X font instead of Y font? Why is iconography important? It is an easy to read book that is worthwhile. It has some heft to it, but I found I was blasting through chapters very quickly -- so it seems well balanced. I feel like it was a smart purchase.

If you are a total beginner looking for a book to tell you how to get a super slick site that will be revered by all, well good luck finding that book. But if you want to learn, pick it up. It isn't that expensive and you'll have a better understanding of design.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Michael Salvato on February 12, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Kadavy does a fantastic job taking the complete design beginner through the important parts of design. From a hacker's point of view, this book is brilliant, and exactly what I needed.

Having designed several web sites and applications before without any form of design training or knowledge, I always felt like my designs were grossly lacking in a lot of ways. Designs seemed to always be based off of my gut feeling, and the opinions of other non-designers. While a gut check was good, my designs still sorely lacked.

After reading this book, I feel as though Kadavy makes it clear how I can approach my designs with a different perspective. His chapters on typography, proportion and color are fantastic examples of this. I no longer feel like I will be stabbing in the dark to find that perfect color, but now have some tools in my arsenal to get good jobs done quickly.

When I need the heady parts of design done and refined, I will still probably need to hire a designer, BUT with this book, as a hacker, It has set me off in the right direction to either leave my knowledge as is, and put out really good designs, or pursue a greater understanding of design but with a solid foundation.

As a hacker, my time is money, and every day fiddling around with something is another day lost in terms of making great applications. This book will reduce my time fiddling with design, and increase my time focusing on my apps' functionality.

That said, it isn't a perfect text (though still gets 5 stars in my opinion). There is a very fine line between a lot of information and too much information. Kadavy walks this line VERY well in this book, but at some points I felt as though it was a little too much info that was not giving me any more practical information.
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