Design for Hackers by David Kadavy

Perhaps I was just expecting a lot, lot more from a book that purports to teach Hackers Design and subtitled Reverse Engineering Beauty but, at best, I’d only be able to give DfH an “ok” rating.

While I was hoping for something that would both illuminate and then directly show how to apply Design learnings from a hacking perspective or even the many, many rues of thumb and underpinnings that define Design, I found the book more a theoretical tour through the underpinnings which often meandered and went off course (I still don’t know why SEO was discussed at length) and was a bit disappointing. A number of any elementary books on visual and information Design could have taken its place and the “for Hackers” in its title seemed marketing hype rather than applicable reality. It did, however, have an excellent section on Typography which I found personally very useful.

I found his explanations of Similarity, Rhythm (especially) and Texture to be especially poor, and even after reading them twice, still none the wiser for how I’d actually apply them or, even more to the point, how I’d improve things with poor fit in any of those categories to fix them.

While falling well short of its promise, I did like its description of typography as it is one of the first books I found that clearly explained the Humanist, Geometric, Realist and Transitional typefaces in a way that made sense for me as well as reasonable explanations of slab-serif, san-serif and display fonts. The Appendix also does a really good job of speaking about why some fonts go together and some don’t and I really do like his cheat idea of a good cheat being picking fonts by paying attention to them being from the same designer as they tend have strong philosophies about what works well together (and the character-width discussions is something I had not cottoned onto before.).

I still think there is something desperately required in the market which fills the niche this book failed to fill, that of a how-to guide for engineers and hacker types to skill up in this area where a lot of Design people have trouble passing on their teachings or expertise on how to be design literate in the making sense (rather than the appreciation sense, since I feel most people do know good design when they see it.).