First some context: I'm an IT person by trade, and I dabble in electronics as a hobby. I have rather limited experience - apart from some toy circuits I've only made a single "production" quality installation, a lighting system for a display case. On the toy front, I've done some simple Arduino and ARM-driven circuits. In general, I'm not that eager to resort to coding, as this is something I'm already familiar with, and I'd like to learn something new :)
Now for the question itself: I'd like to do more practical circuits, similar to the light setup I've mentioned above. Solving practical problems is a great source of motivation for me. Problem is, while I can sort of work out how to implement what I'd like to achieve, I have tremendous problems with picking sensible physical components to put in the final assembly.
For example, I have an RF-controlled (433MHz) socket. I got a simple circuit working, with a pushbutton triggering an Arduino to send the right command via RF transmitter to toggle the socket on and off. I'd like to make a permanent "production" version of this circuit now, one that doesn't include a whole big Arduino shield. Heck, probably the AVR itself is an overkill for "press button, pipe 24 bits over RF" solution.
Another example: a magnet-triggered LEDs like these. Getting a prototype that uses a reed switch to go from "wave a magnet" to "toggle LED" is simple. Trying to achieve the same effect in a tiny surface of plastic model part sounds next to impossible for me.
In short: drawing circuits is all fun and games, but how do I get from "that's a working prototype that has way too many cables and PCBs" to "that's a sensible implementation that's not an overkill and fits within the space allotted"? And without practical experience in this matter, it's hard to get that practical experience - I literally have no idea what kind of simple building blocks I have at my disposal, and what constitutes an overkill. On the other hand, perhaps going with a micro-based solution is cheaper/simple than trying to work out something without a microcontroller just for the sake of it?
I guess this question can be condensed to: What do I read on to avoid slapping a microcontroller everywhere? :D