by Jarrod Drysdale

Design is a skill anyone can learn

More about this blog

Chapter List.

Writing and editing are done. The Bootstrapping Design eBook will be available in a few short weeks. I’m releasing it as a “beta” edition at a temporarily discounted price. More details soon.

For now, here is a free excerpt and the full chapter list.

The Excerpt

To get you through the next few weeks, check out the second excerpt: Chapter 1, Introduction.

Download the PDF for Free Here

Full text:

We are bootstrappers: developers, scientists, hackers, founders, marketers, writers, designers, and thinkers who are building the new breed of online businesses.

We are starting businesses—not pandering for design awards. We’re building lean and profitable startups rather than the next Facebook.

If you aren’t a bootstrapper, this book isn’t for you. There are many design books that teach how to become a full-time-job designer and many that teach formal design theory and advanced techniques for readers with years of experience.

This book contains the minimum design fundamentals that bootstrappers must understand in order to launch a business. My intent is to emphasize design basics rather than to reduce the whole of design to a bag of tricks. You’ll notice peripheral topics such as kerning, color wheels, and art history are absent. This is not because such topics are unimportant but because they are neither suitable for beginners nor relevant to their bottom line.

I’m writing this book because design truly affects the success of businesses. I believe in bootstrappers and the businesses they are building, and I know design can help them succeed. I believe great design is for everyone—not just the few fortunate enough to have big budgets.

Attracting More Users

“Getting more users” is the wrong way to think about business. Before you do anything else, including read this book, you should know who your users are, where they are, and how you can reach them. Great business comes from understanding people—we have all seen that truth firsthand.

Design cannot fix a flawed business strategy. My first web app was beautiful by all accounts, but it failed. It failed because I did not understand business nor the customers I wanted to reach. Do yourself a favor: before you start up, learn. Read about business and research your customers. However, be careful who you listen to because there is much bad advice in the startup scene. The only reliable sources of business advice I have found are Amy Hoy’s 30×500 class and Ash Maurya’s book, Running Lean.

Design Affects Business

Once you understand potential customers, you can use design to engage them. How? Design strengthens communication. Design exists to support content and deliver ideas with greater effect, clarity, and insight.

If potential customers do not understand what you are offering, they will not buy your product. So not only do you need to be a good writer; you need to learn to present your message clearly.

However, your goals do not end with making a sale; designers aim to create a painless and, hopefully, even enjoyable experience. Forming an emotional connection with customers cements your brand in their minds.

Research reveals that visual beauty supports business goals. Aesthetics build trust in mere milliseconds, affect purchasing decisions, and even affect perceived value and usability.

(Read about the research at A List Apart here and here, and at UX Myths.)

Design It Yourself

You wouldn’t be reading this book if you didn’t already see the value of great design. The real question is: why should you be the designer for your business? There are many other ways to fulfill your design needs: themes, templates, frameworks, crowdsourcing, and (obviously) hiring professional designers.

Hiring a designer is expensive, and when bootstrapping you have to question whether a new, undeveloped idea warrants such a substantial investment. Many of us couldn’t afford to pay a designer $100 per hour even if we wanted to. However, validating the idea before you sink too much money into a project is wise, regardless of whether you can afford it.

Themes, templates, and crowdsourced design never fit the project. They are generic and inflexible. They are created without any understanding of the problem they propose to solve. These methods reveal the difference between design and decoration; you will accomplish more by tailoring a message than you will by slapping any pretty logo on a page.

Frameworks like Twitter Bootstrap and Foundation can provide a great starting point for a new project, but still require some design acumen to be fully realized. No framework can do all the work for you.

So instead of any of these, learn to design it yourself. You are absolutely capable of producing beautiful design that supports your business. Keep in mind that later, as your successful business brings in profits, you can even hire a professional designer if you’d like.

But for now, designing it yourself is the best course of action. Be honest—it’s the option you fear most. But rather than fearing the edge of the precipice, we’re just going to jump off the ledge.

The Chapter List

Here’s the final list of chapters in the beta edition of the book.

Part 1: Mentality

Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: You, The Designer
Chapter 3: UX, UI, and Other Buzzwords

Part 2: Principles

Chapter 4: Typography
Chapter 5: Layout
Chapter 6: Proximity & Space
Chapter 7: Contrast
Chapter 8: Visual Hierarchy
Chapter 9: Color

Part 3: Practice

Chapter 10: Your New Process
Chapter 11: How To Steal
Chapter 12: Visual Design Tips
Chapter 13: Evaluating Design

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I also make products for people learning design, especially coders:

Become the designer your startup needs

Bootstrapping Design is an ebook about design fundamentals
self-published & over 1800 copies sold

Stop wrestling themes and get a real design

Cascade.io is a design framework for startups & coders


  1. Jim Gay says:

    So great! Can’t wait to see it.

  2. Looking forward to it. This is going to be so much help to all the developers and other peeps who want to bootstrap their own saas product or make a nice site.

    By the way: went to a design workshop where we had to show our app to get comments about the design. I applied your comments about contrast, color, etc… on the app. The teacher said: “This app has a great design, I cannot find anything to improve, and if I would be a photographer, I would like to use it!”.

    Guess this is, what your ebook will mean for all of us.

    Thanks Jarrod!

    Dimitri Van de Putte – bootstrapper of photocouch.org

    • Jarrod says:

      Thanks Dimitri. That story is just awesome. Glad the feedback I sent you helped.

      Also, looking forward to seeing PhotoCouch progress!

  3. [...] I started development on Chirk, Jarrod’s preview chapter convinced me that I should try to build my own design. Having already build a few product sites [...]

  4. Michael says:

    Hi Jerrod,

    I downloaded Sacha Greif’s ebook when he posted it to HackerNews last month, but only recently was able to read it. I’m a student, so couldn’t find the free time for awhile, but am glad I finally did as I really enjoyed it.

    Reading through his blog, I came across his pricing war saga with your book, Bootstrapping Design, and read through your posts on Knack (which Sacha recommended) I’ve enjoyed reading what you have written, and since Sacha’s book on design opened up a door of enjoyment I didn’t expect, yours interested me as well.

    I mentioned that I was a student, and usually that acts as a precursor to a request for a lowered price point. I’m not asking for that, but if I am going to spend $39 dollars on an ebook at this point, when I am only kicking around entrepreneurial ideas in my head and gaining a base of knowledge, instead of actively building one, I was wondering if there would be a way to get a glimpse at the actual core principles I would receive from purchasing your book.

    You mentioned through your post on A Smart Bear that you priced your ebook based on the value received. But since you’re sample is only a general introduction, I don’t really know what I will truly be getting from my purchase.

    I really think a portion of one of those chapters (not an entire one!) would be far more effective at conveying how the applicable information in your book is worth $39, and thus would get many more sales.

    Though really, with how well laid out this blog is, and your wealth of positive twitter reviews, the proof is most likely already in front of me.

    Even if you don’t chose to take this route, I’ll probably come back when I have some more free money to spend from working this summer. Though I really shouldn’t admit it. :)


    • Michael says:

      Oh and just in case you weren’t aware, I am unable to click the links on your righthand sidebar using Chrome, while IE works fine for some reason. Might just be me though.

      • Jarrod says:

        I just fixed this today. I’ve seen several reports of it. (I only saw the issue with developer tools open, myself.) Thanks for letting me know about the issue!

    • Jarrod says:

      Hey Michael, sorry I am just now seeing your comment. There is a lengthy sample PDF available on the ebook’s website at http://bootstrappingdesign.com/pdf/sample.pdf. It includes two full chapters, one of the cheatsheets, and the table of contents.

      Hopefully that will give you a better idea of what to expect. (I’m going to email this note to you as well.)

  5. Cyncwrown says:


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