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May 19, 2023

Valuable Design Lessons from "Refactoring UI": A Book Worth Exploring

Lisa Panke



UX/UI Designer & Webflow Developer
Buffalo, NY

In our quest for continuous growth as designers, it is essential to seek out valuable resources that can enhance our skills and broaden our perspectives. One such resource that has left a lasting impact on me is the book "Refactoring UI" by Adam Wathan and Steve Schoger. With its practical advice and insightful examples, this book offers a wealth of design lessons that can elevate your work to new heights.

At the beginning of our journey, Director of Design, Amy Dutton, my colleague Sunjay, and I organized a series of streaming sessions. These sessions served as a platform for in-depth discussions on the first three chapters of the book. From there, it was just a matter of time to finish the book, and share the most resonating design lessons with each other. Some of the most valuable lessons, that resonated with me, I decided to share in this post with you.

My Design Key Takeaways from "Refactoring UI"

Embrace Simplicity and don't over-invest

Wathan and Schoger emphasize the power of simplicity in design, urging designers to remove unnecessary elements and focus on what is essential for the user. The book reminds us to adopt a minimalistic design approach, echoing Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's quote that "perfection is achieved when there is nothing left to take away." 

Personally, I resonate with this philosophy and appreciate the reminder to start projects in low fidelity, avoiding over-investment in high-fidelity designs from the beginning. Adjustments are easier to make in the early stages, saving time and effort down the line.

Start in low-fidelity

Design by process of elimination and trust your gut

The book encourages designers to rely on the process of elimination when making design choices. By comparing different options, such as an icon or button sizes, and eliminating the obviously bad choices, we can trust our instincts and choose what looks right. 

As a designer, there is an innate sense of knowing when something doesn't feel right visually, and it's essential to trust that intuition.

Start with too much whitespace, remove, not add

"Refactoring UI" suggests starting with an abundance of whitespace and gradually removing it until achieving the desired result. The book advises against settling for the minimum amount of breathing room and encourages designers to be generous with whitespace. 

I have often felt compelled to fill every inch of space on a screen. Recognizing that "just because you have the space, doesn't mean you need to use it" has given me the confidence to embrace empty white space as a design element.

Compare sizes and trust your gut

Confidence in letter-spacing

The authors highlight the importance of trusting the typeface designer's choices when it comes to letter spacing. Rather than second-guessing the letter spacing, the book encourages designers to have confidence in the original design. This resonates with me as I've often questioned whether I should adjust letter spacing, but realizing that typeface designers have carefully considered the visual aesthetics puts my doubts to rest.

Leave letter spacing alone

Completing "Refactoring UI" has been an enlightening journey, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to fellow designers seeking to enhance their craft. This concise yet comprehensive book distills valuable design lessons that can immediately elevate your work. By incorporating these valuable design lessons into our practice, we can refine our design skills, create visually appealing and user-friendly interfaces, and ultimately deliver better experiences to our users.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Photo by Raquel Martínez on Unsplash

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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