The Personal Disquiet of

Mark Boulton

Design isn’t about tools

– June 5th, 2008 –

The other day, 37Signals wrote about Why they skip Photoshop. Fine. I think that suits them and their workflow, considering they don’t do client work and have an established UI style on which to draw. Jeff does a much better job of summarising my thoughts on the subject that I could. As does Jon

So, yesterday, we see this post on SVN, presumably as a follow up. Is it an inflammatory post? Or, do they have a point?

Horses for courses

As Jeff pointed out, and many of the commenters on the first post, choosing to use Photoshop is really a workflow thing. If you find it doesn’t suit your workflow, and you have an established UI then feel free to ditch it. When I worked at the BBC, I did that for a while as well. It works very well for a lot of the modular, micro-design tasks needed within a design that is already agreed. However, when a new design was required, I often needed Photoshop to give me the holistic design view. As Jon points out in his post, it’s much quicker to do that in an image editor, than using HTML/CSS.

Now matter how hard I tried, HTML and CSS could not give me that overview that Photoshop could. The subtle interplay of typography, colour, texture and whitespace is difficult to evaluate with HTML when you throw browser quirks in the mix.

Do print designers need to know how to build a press?

I think David’s post on SVN holds true to some degree. Yes, if you’re designing for the web you need to know the tools of your craft. But that’s the thing, Design is not about tools. Photoshop is a tool, as are HTML and CSS. Design is about solving problems, not about software. Some people choose to do that with Photoshop, and some with HTML and CSS. Neither route is the correct way of doing it and it’s a mistake to presume it is.

You can also argue that knowing how to build things in HTML/CSS limits your creativity. You work within your own boundries. If you’ve always had a sticking point with flexible layouts, then chances are, if you have to build the thing, you’re preference would be to avoid them. This is one of the disadvantages of knowing your way around HTML/CSS as a designer - it’s hard to break free of those constraints.

Tools, tools, tools

I’ve always liked to abstract my design process from the tools I use. Photoshop, Fireworks, HTML/CSS, Pen and paper, HTML Wireframes using Blueprint, Omnigraffle—It doesn’t really matter. You use what’s best for your workflow at the time. These are all tools in the same way that a pencil is a tool.

They are implements to realise a solution to a problem.

You say tomato and I say toe-may-toe.

Filed in: design.

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