A 101 guide to basics in UI and visual design for beginners

A simple Google search for educational design resources online yields 6,250,000,000 results — there’s no wonder for those starting out as a designer, it may feel overwhelming to know where to begin. As with mastering any subject, grasping key foundational knowledge is critical before becoming an expert in the field.

Below are some crucial facets of design I believe every creative should know. As a designer, I can attest that I use my knowledge in these pillars in some way, shape, or form in my day-to-day role.

Müller-Brockman’s legacy in swiss design

Grid Systems

Every page starts off as a blank slate. Similar to the process of…


The lives, work, and legacy of these creatives who dabbled in transcendental expression

Geometric art piece by Hilma af Klint
Geometric art piece by Hilma af Klint
Group IX/SUW №12 by Hilma af Klint

Hilma af Klint

Deemed the first modern artist of the Western World, Hilma af Klint was a Swedish creative who credited her creative abilities to a divine, spiritual authority. Her abstract paintings in the 20th century reflected bold, imaginative aesthetics—carrying an essence the world had yet seen before.

Because of this nature, she kept her work incredibly private and only permitted their release twenty years following her passing: a collection totaling 1,200 paintings, 100 texts, and 26,000 pages of notes. Only over the subsequent three decades post-1986 have her paintings and works begun to receive serious attention for their distinctive qualities.


Tips on how to showcase projects for a successful interview

Designer at desk with nearby art artifacts
Designer at desk with nearby art artifacts
Illustration by Peter Tarka

Every company I’ve ever applied to as a product designer has required a portfolio presentation interview. It’s a great way for employers to learn more about who you are and what projects you’ve worked on. It’s also a chance for you to discuss how you collaborate with others to solve problems, showcase what you’re capable of producing, and exhibit your skillset to your new potential team.

I’d recommend preparing a slide-deck for the presentation as they’re the best storytelling tool in my opinion. Below are my tips for success for a successful portfolio review:

1. Start by introducing yourself.

A great way to set the…


Introducing transparency into MongoDB’s team and culture

MongoDB’s career page featuring our “Meet the Team” blog post
MongoDB’s career page featuring our “Meet the Team” blog post
Our product design piece featured on our company blog!

Diving into a company’s blog is one of the best ways I learn about an organization. It offers a glimpse into who I could be potentially working with, the projects I could take ownership of, and what the culture is like. In a sense, my first impression can be formed prior to meeting anyone from the teams.

With these thoughts in mind, I conceived the idea of creating a blog post series to highlight our designers at MongoDB. I was certain it’d be a great avenue to educate candidates on who we are, what we do, and what we find…


A closer look at the artist’s thought-provoking projects within the environmental context

Artist standing in a gradient mist
Artist standing in a gradient mist
Image credit: CNN News

As creatives, it’s undeniable that we propagate ourselves into our work. Our backgrounds, experiences, and beliefs help shape our decisions regarding the projects we take on and the messages we amplify. There’s no doubt that with the presence of an audience comes great responsibility — especially in leveraging mediums to stir conversations we find important.

In the case of Olafur Eliasson, a Danish-Icelandic artist known for his installation pieces, art is seen as a platform to share ideas and inspire change. …


Applied user strategies in becoming a unicorn company

Collage of Glossier products and models
Collage of Glossier products and models
Image source: Get the Gloss

If you aren’t living under a rock, chances are you may have heard of, seen, or purchased a product from Glossier in recent years.

That’s because this beauty brand has taken millennial consumer markets by storm, climbing into unicorn territory ($1.2 billion valuation) in a matter of six years. Today, the company sports over two million Instagram followers, $100+ million in annual revenue from its line of thirty-six products, and an impressive cult following since its mere inception in 2014.


Key components and lasting influence of a memorable brand

Apple branding
Apple branding
Iconic Apple branding from their current homepage

In its simplest form, branding is the practice of influencing and controlling a set of associations with a company to help the business’s performance. Done successfully, an organization’s identity will be tied to select attributes—promoting its image or popularity.

While absolute control over a brand is not possible, it can be influenced through deliberate design, advertising, and marketing. By these means, companies can clearly communicate the principles they stand for to target audiences. Considering the power of this practice, it’s crucial that an organization masters the pillars of creating a strong brand to get ahead.

What is strong branding?

A strong brand adds value to your product.

It differentiates you from competitors…


Examples of brands that have mastered the art of storytelling in color palettes

Models in pastel silk gowns in front of a courtyard
Models in pastel silk gowns in front of a courtyard
Taken by Greg Swales

The application of fashion as a form of aesthetic expression is a notion familiar to many. Every day, we curate ourselves with inspiration from rising trends, a perception of our personal preferences, and regards to practicality in the context of our environments.

This relationship we form between body and material in response to time and place juxtaposes many different factors — undoubtedly, color as one of the most prominent elements. …


How to conduct usability studies to create well-designed products

3D illustration of a user interface and its components
3D illustration of a user interface and its components
Illustration by Peter Tarka

As product designers, harnessing skills in user research is crucial to our roles (if not already a requirement sought from most companies nowadays). Being able to effectively detect users’ pain points to then devise core insights lends itself to well-designed applications. In all, learning how to conduct user testing ultimately helps in creating the best user experiences.

First, what does it mean for a design to be usable?

“It means that a person of average (or even below average) ability and experience can figure out how to accomplish something without it being more trouble than its worth.” —Steve Krug from Don’t Make Me Think

The answer to a design problem often…


The minds behind this contemporary minimalist artistry and where we see its influence

Staircase illuminated by a glowing blue light
Staircase illuminated by a glowing blue light
Apani, 2011, by James Turrell, from the series Ganzfeld. © James Turrell. Photography: Florian Holzherr from wallpaper.com

Ever since minimalism momentously gained popularity in the 1960’s, the “Light and Space” movement has naturally acquired prominence for its stunning juxtaposition in geometric abstraction, luminescence, and space. Artwork from this distinctive style is notable for its use of glass, neon, and cutting-edge fabrication to showcase transparency, reflection, and eye-trickery in mind-bending expanses. In looking to its artists who embrace the personal, theatrical experience of the viewer and their related work, we can best understand “Light and Space” in its stand-alone artistry.

Larry Bell

The world’s first introduction toLight and Space” was at the 1971 UCLA Art Gallery exhibition titled “Transparency…

Michelle Chiu

Product designer at MongoDB (145K+ views). Prev. Microsoft, Apple, DoorDash, BuzzFeed, Wish, & Frog Design. Tweets found at www.twitter.com/michelle__chiu

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