Designer Life
17 minute read

The Best Design Articles of 2016

Lauren Holliday
Lauren is a journalist with a marketing mindset. She writes and designs content creative, fast-paced full-stack marketing.

There’s nearly two million blog posts published per day. That’s the equivalent to 730 million blog posts per year.

Fortunately for you, the Toptal Design Blog team read a lot in 2016. Now, we’re sharing our personal favorites to help you cut through the noise and engage as efficiently as possible.

Whether you want to laugh, be inspired and/or learn something new, this post is for you. As I’m sure you won’t have time to read every article in one sitting, I highly recommend Pocketing this post for later consumption.

Future / Trends


The anticipates certain patterns for 2017.

17-minute read

TLDR: Forty-eight emails and 576 curated links later, the team predicts what’s ahead for designers in 2017. Will they be right?

Top highlight: “Why does one choose to use Gmail over Yahoo, Medium over Blogger — if the features are 99% the same? It’s definitely not about disrupting usability standards. It’s about that additional layer of sophistication that can only be achieved when you put enough time and brainpower into the tiniest details, the most subtle animations, the most elegant transitions – not just for the sake of creating whimsical dribbble shots.

Play nice! How the internet is trying to design out toxic behaviour

12-minute read

TLDR: Online abuse can be cruel – but for some tech companies it is an existential threat. Can giants such as Facebook use behavioural psychology and persuasive design to tame the trolls?

Top highlight: “Technology was supposed to make the world a better place, not a bitchier one. And for the big corporate players – Twitter, Instagram, online publishers and other businesses reliant on us spending more and more time online – it’s a genuine commercial threat. Few users and fewer advertisers enjoy hanging out in a room full of furious people spoiling for a fight.”

The Future of Browser History

6-minute read

TLDR: The solution to a broken browser history: Maps.

Top highlight: “In other words, we do not usually search for something that leads to a single result that answers our question, rather we search for terms and then explore the internet, connecting bits and pieces of the answer as we read through the web of tabs that our search starts for us.”

Designing features using Job Stories

7-minute read

TLDR: Personas and User Stories made sense when customers and product teams were far from each other. That’s no longer the case.

Top highlight: “These attributes, generally in the form of demographics, do not bring a team closer to understanding a customer’s consumption, or non-consumption, of a product. The characteristics of a Persona (someone’s age, sex, race, and weekend habits) does not explain why they ate that Snickers bar; having 30 seconds to buy and eat something which will stave off hunger for 30 minutes does explain why.”

Intuitive Design vs. Shareable Design

7-minute read

TLDR: The obscurity of Snapchat’s design is not a bug. It’s a feature. And it’s a prime example of shareable design.

Top highlight: “The shift to mobile has created two complementary new trends in interface design. One is the move toward more physical gestures. Because you’re touching the software with your fingers instead of manipulating it with a mouse or a keyboard, it feels immediately much more human. Even children get this: Just watch this video of a baby trying to tap and zoom with magazine pages because they want it to work just like an iPad. Swiping, pinching, zooming, tapping: All of these types of direct manipulation simulate natural human body gestures.”



100 Excuses for designers.

SXSW Keynote - You Know What? Fuck Dropdowns.

46.5-minute watch

TLDR: Inspired by Steve Jobs notorious “Thoughts on Flash,” two designers gave a laugh-out-loud presentation, called “Thoughts on Dropdowns.”

Top highlight: “Your favorite band dropdown? Can’t think of a better UI element than that. It forces you into options that you might not want, and I guess if your favorite band isn’t REM, it must be Radiohead.”

100 Excuses for Designers

7-minute read

TLDR: Every UX excuse you’ll ever need.

Top highlight: “37. The text is already dark enough. I like it #FAFAFA.”

How to pretend you’re a great designer

7-minute read

TLDR: Learn how to trick people into thinking you’re an industry thought leader.

Top highlight: This gif. “Never mind that part of your job is making things easy to understand. Use phrases like “A holistic approach” or “brand storytelling” or other jargon that will keep people scratching their heads, afraid to ask what that even means. The more buzzwords you use, the less you have to explain your actual design thinking.”

Product Design


Design Better Forms

Nobody Wants To Use Your Product

16-minute read

TLDR: Today, many products are still too complex and feature-driven. Designers should make products simpler by making them fit more seamlessly into their daily lives and routines.

Top highlight: “Three elements define a product: the business, the code and the pixels. Give each a voice in all product decisions.”

Good UX designers must be fighters, because compromised designs are not good designs.

11-minute read

TLDR: To be a successful designer, you must fight for your users.

Top highlight: “I’m a successful designer because I’ve built a career and a reputation, fighting like a dog with a bone to do what is right by customers. I don’t drop the bone to make life easier for myself or my team. I don’t lie to myself or to others, and I never tell decision makers what they want to hear just to get a promotion or so that I might be liked. I’ll resign first, and I have done.”

Design Better Forms

3-minute read

TLDR: Completing forms sucks. Try to make the experience as fun (and short) as possible.

Top highlight: “Omit optional fields, and think of other ways to collect data. Always ask yourself if the question can be inferred, postponed, or completely excluded.”

7 Rules Driving the Psychology Behind Great Product Design

19-minute read

TLDR: What does ‘getting in the zone’ mean for your products? What about your users?

Top highlight: “While doing something at such a low fidelity often sounds counter intuitive, sketching and whiteboarding often leads to the most creative solutions because it makes us focus on solving the problem instead of focusing on beautiful aesthetic.”

Inspiration / Creativity


Say goodbye to 2016.’s Funniest animated GIFs #18

0-minute read

TLDR: I learned that you can build a popular blog with a huge audience without ever writing a single word.

Top GIF: See above.

Creative Confidence

7-minute read

TLDR: Here’s what it takes to make a new good thing out of nothing.

Top highlight: “When the desire for certainty trumps everything else, you get derivative and mediocre results, like too many movies with the same predictable ending. Overvaluing certainty means you end up choosing the same paths that have already been trodden, so while you may have a good idea of exactly how the budget, schedule, process and product will turn out, you’ll also rarely find yourself winning awards for innovation.”

The Art of Stealing: How to Become a Master Designer

7-minute read

TLDR: Interactive design has a lot in common with the open source software community: You can master it by stealing and copying from the best of the best.

Top highlight: “Rebound the shit out of everything.”

The Big Problem with Design Inspiration

9-minute read

TLDR: Stop looking for inspiration on Dribbble. You have no idea what the context behind the design is. It’s likely you don’t have the same exact problems as them.

Top highlight: “To do our most impactful work then, we should seek to not be inspired by existing ideas, but to more clearly understand what it is we and the work are trying to do.”


“I’m not sure if I like what I did here or not”

3-minute read

TLDR: You may be super talented, but that doesn’t matter if you’re a know-it-all.

Top highlight: “I’ve interviewed many designers. This level of self-awareness — especially in someone relatively junior — is rare. Most people are concerned with making themselves look the best they possibly can. They’ll defend a position with BS even when you can tell they don’t believe it.”

Content and Design Are Inseparable Work Partners

6-minute read

TLDR: Content and design teams need to be more connected in organizations.

Top highlight: “Content is the entire reason people come to the design in the first place.”


The Next Phase Of UX: Designing Chatbot Personalities

7-minute read

TLDR: In the future, being a good designer will mean being a good writer. And spoiler alert: The future is here.

Top highlight: “In conversational UIs, personality is the new UX.”

All Talk and No Buttons: The Conversational UI

11-minute read

TLDR: Meekan co-founder and product designer offers guidelines for translating specific patterns into conversational form when designing conversational UIs.

Top highlight: “Think about it. You now have almost no control over the appearance of your application. You can’t pick a layout or style, can’t change the typography. You’re usually hitching a ride on someone else’s platform, so you have to respect their rules.”

Chatbots: Your Ultimate Prototyping Tool

14-minute read

TLDR: Read how chatbots can teach designers to learn what people need.

Top highlight: “Innovation begins simply by talking to real people, in real contexts.”

Pantsuit: The Hillary Clinton UI pattern library

5-minute read

TLDR: Learn how to build a presidential design system.

Top highlight: “A design system is only as good as its documentation.”

Opinion / Essays / Rants


Designers shouldn’t code. They should study business.

3-minute read

TLDR: Before trying to use design to solve someone’s problem, try to learn about the business problems facing the CEO or VP.

Top highlight: “I would argue that those companies are as successful as they are because they have designers that are focusing more on what those businesses need than on how perfect every pixel is going to look.”

The Myths of UX Design/ Product Design/Whatever They Call It This Week

7-minute read

TLDR: An essay sends a designer over the edge and the result is this rant.

Top highlight: “In great companies, everyone is the user’s advocate.”

Don’t Defend Your Work

11-minute read

TLDR: Designers are much better off when they focus on collaborating with their stakeholders, listening to their feedback, and asking questions to get the deepest insights.

Top highlight: “Big egos often have little ears. Don’t let your own motivations and fears get in the way of your greatest opportunities to improve and succeed. Be open to criticism, embrace change, and learn from failure. Open your ears.”

Not designers. Not coders. Just builders.

3-minute read

TLDR: This author proposes removing the line between coder and designer altogether.

Top highlight: “Designers are tired of being the gatekeepers for visual detail and user experience. They’re tired of having to explain to the team that their concerns are not petty but are instead a major factor in a project’s success. Coders are tired of dealing with designers who don’t understand how things get built. They’re tired of turning down silly features that have dire coding implications or are otherwise untenable.”

5 Things I Learnt as a Designer at LEGO

6-minute read

TLDR: This designer shares his lessons learned at Lego, working on a secret, real-life Lego House.

Top highlight: “Embed little surprising moments of play into everything.”



The guide to a successful design handoff

Peek Inside a Facebook Design Critique

12-minute read

TLDR: Facebook did a collaborative design critique. Here’s the result.

Top highlight: “Getting the right questions out is vastly more effective than trying to find the right answer.”

How To Be More Organized While Designing UI

7-minute read

TLDR: Learn this designer’s systematic approach to designing user interfaces.

Top highlight: “Everything has its own properties. Every headline has its own color, size or line height. Every button has a certain size, background color or font. That’s how it works in code. Why not use this way of thinking while designing?”

How to apply a design thinking, HCD, UX or any creative process from scratch

8-minute read

TLDR: A series of creative strategies to improve your research, ideation and implementation.

Top highlight: “creativity is the habit of continually doing things in new ways to make a positive difference to our life (Hyper Island, 2016).”

Efficient Responsive Design Process

65-minute read

TLDR: A collection of useful techniques and practices from real-life responsive projects first published in Smashing Book 5.

Top highlight: “Collaboration is a two-way street. Shifting your view of your customers toward them becoming true contributors in your work will result in all kinds of new ways to include them and help you create a better product.”

A Guide to Successful Design Handoffs

8-minute read

TLDR: Create a document for developers that includes: mockups, interactions, copy, specs and assets, and a checklist before you hand off your designs to them.

Top highlight: “Designers, more often than not, want to see themselves as Thinkers but not so much as Executionists.”

Introducing BuzzFeed’s Design Process

6-minute read

TLDR: BuzzFeed shares how it makes its design process run smoothly.

Top highlight: “A strong design process establishes a shared vocabulary and sets clear expectations to course correct early and often.”

App Design

The Scientists Who Make Apps Addictive

27-minute read

TLDR: Tech companies use insights from behavior design to retain users. But some of the psychologists, who developed the science of persuasion, are worried about how it’s being used.

Top highlight: “For somebody to do something – whether it’s buying a car, checking an email, or doing 20 press-ups – three things must happen at once. The person must want to do it, they must be able to, and they must be prompted to do it.”

Case Studies


Take a look at the new Pinterest

Redesigning Pinterest, block by block

8-minute read

TLDR: Learn how Pinterest created a new set of design standards.

Top highlight: “As it turns out, it’s damn hard to design consistent and beautiful things at scale.”

Evolving the Google Identity

8-minute read

TLDR: A glimpse at some of the design considerations that went into taking the best of what people know and love about Google, and evolving the brand to continue to be as dynamic and unconventional as we strive to be.

Top highlight: “ The Google dots are a dynamic and perpetually moving state of the logo. They represent Google’s intelligence at work and indicate when Google is working for you. We consider these unique, magic moments.’”

Designing The Most Desirable Product: Exploration of Banknotes Design

18-minute read

TLDR: An attempt to formulate the lessons embedded in the history of money and, therefore, discuss what it takes to design a symbol of a society.

Top highlight: “When dealing with a tightly directed project, look at the constraints as guidelines rather than barriers. Constraints force you to become creative and explore interesting solutions within given limitations. Splitting a complicated specification into a list of specific challenges, and embracing those challenges can keep your mind open to innovation.”

Building a New Illustration Style for Shopify

10-minute read

TLDR: A behind-the-scenes look at how Shopify found a new visual voice.

Top highlight: “Illustration is a communication tool with three super powers. It can add clarity to a complex idea. It can link concepts to the words we’ve assigned them within our respective products (aka onboarding). And, it can capture the values and traits of a brand in a single voice, shift the tone depending on the situation, and speak directly to the user.”



The obligatory interview with Van Schneider.

Spotify’s Design Lead on Why Side Projects Should Be Stupid

19-minute read

TLDR: Get over your obsession with growth, and just build your damn side-project.

Top highlight: “When someone tells me I can’t do something, I say, ‘Thank you, now I’m definitely going to do it.’”

Defining Product Design: A Dispatch from Airbnb’s Design Chief

18-minute read


Top highlight: “Three elements define a product: the business, the code and the pixels. Give each a voice in all product decisions.”

Rob Janoff on his logo for Apple

5-minute read

TLDR: An interview with the man who created the Apple logo.

Top highlight: “I was going for the silhouette of an apple, but to make it look more like an apple and not some other round fruit, I did what one does with an apple, I took a bite out of it.”

On Writing and Words

How to design words

6-minute read

TLDR: Writing interface text is actually a lot like design—designing words for people who hate to read.

Top highlight: “To put it another way: You shouldn’t design with lorem ipsum. You should design with words.”

Making a case for letter case

6-minute read

TLDR: A little thing like capitalization can be a big deal. Whether you opt for title case or letter case in your microcopy, just make sure you opt for it consistently.

Top highlight: “To put it another way: You shouldn’t design with lorem ipsum. You should design with words.”

Design words with data

6-minute read

TLDR: Writing is both a science and an art.

Top highlight: “Write with your heart, edit with your head.”

Usability / Accessibility

It’s Ugly, But It Works: On Designing for Usability

5-minute read

TLDR: Don’t fall into the trap of sacrificing context for visual finesse.

Top highlight: “Your job is to help the user achieve their goal. Navigating an interface is never the user’s goal. If you’d done your job right, the app would only do one thing, and would do it very well, and would do it all on one screen.” ~ Antoine Valot

The Veil Of Ignorance

7-minute read

TLDR: Put yourself in the majority of users’ shoes. Then maybe you’d design things differently.

Top highlight: “Imagine the frustration of people who use things designed by people who don’t take their basic needs into consideration. I think it is dehumanizing.”



3-minute read

TLDR: Too often a new logo is seen as the antidote to real company issues, like churn or stagnation.

Top highlight: “The point is, your brand is never what you say it is – it’s what everyone else says it is. And what they say varies widely because it wholly depends on their unique combination of experiences, or touchpoints, with your company. Rarely, does this brand definition include a logo.”

How To Get A Logo Accepted: Eight Steps To A Better Design Workflow

14-minute read

TLDR: How to go from selling yourself to a client, to establishing a creative brief, presenting your designs, and creating a brand with impact.

Top highlight: “A logo is not a brand.”

Logo Design For Responsive Websites

9-minute read

TLDR: Thoughts behind logo design have been around for some time, but the rules change when it comes to designing for the responsive web.

Top highlight: “One might argue that looking at the branding direction of the tech industry isn’t relevant to, say, a law firm or a restaurant. However, all industries are going to eventually end up within responsive web design one way or another and become affected by the rise of mobile devices.”



Everything You Need to Know about UX Sketching

23-minute read

TLDR: Learn everything you need to know about UX sketching.

Top highlight: “If you as the designer can’t understand something you have in your sketch, then the solution won’t be successful. Either the sketch doesn’t allow you to visualize your ideas well, or the ideas are too complex.”

Design for Humanity

6-minute read

TLDR: Top highlight: When designers follow hard and fast rules to create products that only appeal to metrics and performance, something is lost on the human user. The reality is that people have emotional bonds with products - learn how to tap into those bonds.

“The first time you meet someone, your first thought isn’t ‘How do they function?’” it’s ‘How do they make me feel?’ And when you’re asked about that person later, you describe their personality: ‘She’s relaxed, smart, witty. She makes me laugh.’”

The UX Secret That Will Ruin Apps For You

7-minute read

TLDR: Facebook servers crunch your data in milliseconds, but the user interface takes longer to load. That’s by design.

Top highlight: “Let’s say you sit down at a restaurant, you order your food, and it comes out one minute later. Is that a good thing?” asks Braden Kowitz, design partner at Google Ventures (which has more than 250 portfolio companies including Uber, Slack, and Nest). “You start to wonder, ‘What’s going on here? Is something wrong in the kitchen?’”

Nine Nasty UX Truths

7-minute read

TLDR: In this post, a designer shares his lessons learned from years of screwing up.

Top highlight: “Design is making the tough choices so your user doesn’t have to.”

Stop the overuse of overflow menus

8-minute read

TLDR: Don’t confuse obfuscation with simplification.

Top highlight: “Overflow menus seem like the perfect solution. Designers can ‘take away’ complexity and leave just the really important bits. You can quickly and easily create a clean looking user interface. The trouble with overflow menus is that you didn’t actually take anything away, you just obnoxiously obfuscated it.”

WTF is Experience Design?

8-minute read

TLDR: Your job as an experience designer is to make technology easy to use.

Top highlight: “Just like a car is built around a human — with a comfortable seat, and controls that were designed around the human body, our software should be equally ergonomic.”

Stop designing interfaces, Start designing experiences

6-minute read

TLDR: A process for arriving at new Interface Guidelines.

Top highlight: “We don’t want our designers to spend any more time on interfaces, we want them to focus on the experience only.”


Is this the perfect save icon?

6-minute read

TLDR: The floppy disk is irrelevant to young users, so why keep it?

Top highlight: “The key thing is, if you really need an icon just make sure that it is simple, identifiable and consistent.”

Easy Steps To Better Icon Design

16-minute read

TLDR: Iconfinder’s Head of Content details its icon design guidelines in six easy-to-digest steps.

Top highlight: “Icons that are well designed exhibit a methodical and deliberate approach to the three major attributes that make up any icon design: form, aesthetic unity and recognition. When designing a new icon set, consider each of these attributes in an iterative approach, starting with the general (form) and proceeding to the specific (recognizability). Even if you’re creating a single icon, these three attributes are still implied and can be extrapolated from a single design.”

The Super Simple Guide to Iconography

7-minute read

TLDR: Build 10 icons in 100 seconds.

Top icon: image



Should you use Figma?

Figma vs. Sketch

8-minute read

TLDR: Yes, you should use Figma.

Top highlight: “Figma is like Sketch in the browser with real-time collaboration.”

Interaction Design is dead. What now?

5-minute read


Top highlight: “At the core of a life friendly design stands our relation towards our living environment and our own biological existence.”

How Tools Have Shaped the Role of the Designer

12-minute read

TLDR: Tools had a massive impact on one designer so he set out to survey a subset of the industry to learn if the same was true for others.

Top highlight: “Tools have made me think more thoughtfully of the construction of pages, screens, objects & interactions. It’s also allowed me to communicate my ideas in a way I couldn’t before.”


The Power Law of Learning: Consistency vs. Innovation in User Interfaces

14-minute read

TLDR: One of the main principles of UX is consistency. While it may not be fun to do things like everyone else, consistency is vital as it’s rooted in basic human behavior. This article explains the basics of this concept.

Top highlight: “The power law of learning says that (1) the time it takes to perform a task decreases with the number of repetitions of that task; and (2) the decrease follows the shape of a power law.”

Let’s Stop Doing Research

6-minute read

TLDR: This designer makes the case for evidence-based design.

Top highlight: “It’s easy to blame the designers involved for a lack of craft. However, most designers work within the context of an organization with a collective set of not completely rational and harmonious priorities. Even sole practitioners are working for someone. Too often competent designers are subject to a broken process for making decisions.”

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The Designer’s Guide to AI — a $70 Billion industry by 2020

7-minute read

TLDR: As AI gains popularity, designers will need to adapt. Here’s how to get started.

Top highlight: “Design will be less about delivering on a user’s request, and more about responding to the needs they haven’t expressed yet.”

Your Product is already obsolete

31-minute read

TLDR: Every product eventually dies. The question then becomes: How do we stay alive?

Top highlight: “No technology is the center of a system, but rather a constellation of bodies under the influence of each other.” – Steve Sinofsky

The killer feature of messaging no one’s talking about

9-minute read

TLDR: Chat’s threaded UI, where all communication and actions are placed in a clear context of who, what and why, is the killer feature that’s been around forever and yet everyone is overlooking.

Top highlight: “By adding richer context to every interaction the web gets faster and more effective for everyone.”

Stay competitive in 2017.

In a time when only three percent of adults spend time learning each day, reading quality content gives you a competitive advantage.

We hope this roundup jumpstarts that learning process for you. And if you think we missed a particularly awesome article, don’t be shy, click reply, and share your knowledge with the rest of us.