HTML5 design knowledge for application developers
Aug 23, 2012

I am a developer with questionable credentials in aesthetics with one saving grace – I recognize when I see a good one in design. In developing web sites, I have explored a few options for web design and benefited from some of them. A few of my readers have asked me questions about these options and I decided to write a note as a response. I am also structuring the note as a lesson plan so that any newbie can benefit from it. (If I had time, I could have created a course at Udemy).


I am assuming that these are the objectives that you have.



Let us say that you are a developer out of college. You went through your courses and graduated with a good bit of CS knowledge. You are working for a large company. You are developing a web application that is heavy on the backend with lot of potential to save the company some money through process optimization. This application is for internal employees.

After the first prototype, you are asked to show the prototype to the big boss. You sweat it out and create an end-to-end scenario and show it him. Unfortunately, the first thing that catches his attention is the color scheme or the misplaced logos. Then, the complex flows and intricate forms. From your point of view, you keep thinking “why is he focused on these? Doesn’t he know that we will get a UI designer and fix it before the release?"

At the same time, a college intern working for the summer creates a wordpress site. Naturally, it didn’t have the end-to-end scenario that you have in mind, but it has lot of other niceties that the big boss cares about: colors, nice flow, ability to create a social group, interactions and so on. The big boss asks you why you can’t put together a professional demo as good as the one by the intern? Can’t a team beat a single intern?

You look around and you realize that the web has amazing number of websites that are well-designed (at any rate, better than yours). Seemingly, they are done on shoe-string budgets, without using costly skills. Your manager looks at this market and sees that typically this process uses the following kind of people:

From there onwards, the developers can use the HTML templates and code to their specs. Turns out that both these two skills are commodity skills (You can get a a 10 page – consider each page to be a template – site done under $2000).

But then, the manager recognizes these issues:

So, realizing that he needs some of these skills in-house, the manager asked you to look into it. Your next task is to understand enough to create a good looking site and involve the designers when you need them, and get the most out of them. You also decided to use couple of junior developers in this process as well.

Where do you start?

Skills you need to learn

To develop good websites you need to know the basics of:

Of course, knowing these will not help you to make good looking websites. You want to understand the reusable patterns, standard usages, and the conventions. Thankfully, several frameworks help you to learn those:

At the end of all this, you will easily put together pages like:


without having to worry about a lot of details.

Learning the pre-requisites

Currently, the best source to learn (by practice) is code academy. If you don’t skip your lessons and practice all the projects, you will not only learn, but also retain the knowledge about JS, CSS, and HTML. Once you go past, here are some specific resources for each of the topics:


Pointers about learning HTML5 : Don’t spend too much time on it. You will learn as you practice, once you get the hang of basics.


For practice, do the following:


If you practiced using code academy, that is teaches you enough about the language basics: primitives, loops, functions, prototypes, objects and so on. Here are some additional resources:


For practice, do the following:

Learning the frameworks


The power of JS is that it can be used to manipulate DOM (a structured representation of HTML) in the browser. JQuery makes this manipulation simple and succinct. Here are the resources to learn JQuery:

Still, the best way to learn JQuery is to develop a site with it, which is what you will do next.


Twitter Bootstrap

You can learn twitter bootstrap by playing with it. Still, the following are good resources:

If you went through the earlier lessons, you do not need to know much about bootstrap. In fact, you don’t even need to learn JQuery to start with bootstrap. So, if you want to start with bootstrap, you can do it along with JS learning.


Note: Any webpage you developed using this framework renders well on mobile devices. It follows the principles of “responsive UI”.

Final test

If you made it so far, you know:

To test yourself, consider developing one full website using the following technologies:

For problems, you can pick any of these: