I just finished the book Refactoring UI, by Adam Wathan and Steve Schoger. Refactoring UI is a book of design ideas and strategies written for developers, with a focus on improving the overall look and feel of an entire application.
As a developer looking to improve my design skills I fit squarely into the target audience, and found it an incredibly worthwhile read. The quality of my design work improved noticeably after reading the book and watching some of the associated videos.
The book is broken up into eight sections, each based on a central idea, such as layout, text, or color. Each section contains several shorter articles related to the theme, like “Ditch hex for HSL” in the “Working with Color” section. Articles are fairly short and very image heavy, which makes for quick reading.
Even though much attention is given to styling and layout, the book is more than a series of tutorials on making things look pretty. Several sections dive into the processes needed at an application level to ensure consistent design, like choosing color palettes or establishing a type scale.
As somebody in the process of building and designing a large application, the chapters on the process of design were very valuable. Unlike many other dime-a-dozen web tutorials on choosing colors or fonts, the authors explore practical ways of implementing these systems that I was able to directly translate to my work (the article on choosing a color palette is free if you sign up).
- The authors really take accessibility seriously, especially in regards to color. Designing interesting layouts that are also accessible is a common problem that I have, and there were a lot of good ideas for this in the book.
- The sections about the process of design, such as choosing a color palette, or a type scale, were very valuable. They went well beyond what you find in a normal cookie cutter blog post about choosing color. I was able to directly apply these to my work.
- All of the example images were clear, easy to understand, and even attractive. In such an image heavy book, this is an accomplishment.
- The videos that came with the book are great, I only wish there were more (there are a few more on the authors youtube channel).
- The content definitely felt a little light at times. Many of the articles felt like tips or pointers (IE “Use fewer borders”), rather than building blocks of a more concrete narrative. Luckily there is enough in-depth content to balance the shorter segments.
- I would have really liked more content. The book comes in at just over 200 pages (pdf), but is considerably shorter when you consider all the images and white space. This is always a double edged sword though, because you don’t want to saturate it with empty content just to increase the page length.
- An option for a physical copy would have been great. This is a book I would love to have on my desk or dining room table, as it is very easy to read through a few articles at a time.
Pricing and Packaging
I’m really torn about the price. No matter how you slice it, $80 seems steep for a short book and three videos. The content was valuable to me and certainly worth it, but it seems like a high price for folks who might not be sure (although the free chapters help in this regard).
Another drawback of the high price tag is that it is almost out of reach for folks who aren’t able to expense it. I’m sure the math worked out so that this was the better business option, but it would still be nice if there was a lower “no frills” tier that just had the book. In all fairness, I did observe students asking for and receiving discounts on Twitter, so definitely worth asking if you’re interested and not able to foot the bill.
I was also surprised by the packaging options. The premium package cost considerably more, and didn’t come with any extra videos or chapters, only font examples, icons, and an inspiration gallery. I would certainly be interested in trying those out, but to me the real value is in the book and videos. I would pay more if it meant more video tutorials or extra chapters.
Overall it was a great book and perfectly filled the need I bought it for. I was able to apply many of the principles, both simple style guidance as well as overall design processes, directly to my work. If you’re a developer doing any amount of UI or design work you will almost certainly get a lot out of it.
Yes, I wish there was more content, but that’s just because what’s there is so good. If you’re on the fence, try out the free sample chapters, or watch the free videos on the authors youtube.