Around the time that I started working on Humans vs. Zombies, I made a decision to be transparent with my personal information on the internet (i.e. I post my email, Max@Temkin.com, all over the place). Ever since then, I’ve gotten a huge volume of email… at least a few hundred messages a day. People email me about all kinds of things, but mostly they ask for advice like, “how do you make a board game?” or “how to you make a good Kickstarter project?” I’ve started a few projects in response to those questions (like Tabletop Deathmatch and Kickstarter Office Hours), but there’s this one question which is much more difficult: "How do you get good at design?"
I don’t have an easy answer to that question. Design is this complicated set of skills ranging typography to like hardcore psychology, and plus I don’t feel like I know what I’m doing; I’ve never taken a design class in my life.
I think people usually expect me to say that they should learn special software or buy expensive fonts or something (in fact, people often phrase this question as, “how do you get good at Photoshop?” which I would compare to asking how mastering Microsoft Word can make you a great writer) but the real answer is so much more complex.
This is all by way of bringing up the thing I want to tell you about, which is this short book about design called Cadence & Slang. See, when people send me the design question, my answer has become just a link to this book.
From the author:
Cadence & Slang is a very small book about interaction design. It contains a set of evergreen principles that pertain to any kind of work in technology, from websites to iOS apps to native software. There are many great texts about user experience, but people have repeatedly returned to this one for its clarity and its succinct statement of purpose.
This is a bit of a soft sell - for me, Cadence & Slang is the textbook on design and design principles; more than anything else, this book taught me best practices for design, but also how to think about design and solve problems.
It’s full of technical information like what kinds of buttons to use in what situations, but it’s also a beautiful little meditation on empathy and language and the nature of information. It’s the answer that I wish I could give people when they ask me what design is about.
Cadence & Slang has been out of print for years, and the book’s author Nick Disabato has posted a Kickstarter campaign to print an updated second edition. The physical book is $50 (worth every penny, it is a beautiful design object that will last a lifetime) and trust me when I tell you that when these things are gone they will be gone; I’ve been begging Nick for a copy for years and I still don’t have one.
There’s only a short window to get this book and I couldn’t recommend it more strongly. Once you read it I think you’ll start doing what I do and sending it to everyone who asks how you became a competent designer.