Why I’m Terrified Of Learning Photoshop

Photoshop Logo

In almost 20 years of web design, I’ve never needed Photoshop. Not once. In my roles at various companies and interactive agencies I was always responsible for either making sure the work got done or defining it, not actually doing it. Now things are different. In my quest to improve my UX/UI design skills, I’m diving headlong into learning Photoshop – and I’m absolutely terrified.

Learning to code was definitely easier. With Photoshop, every stinking thing is a layer. If you don’t keep your layers organized it’s hard to tell where you are in a document. Alternatively, when I’m in Omnigraffle I can bang out wireframes faster than lightning. I did my first Photoshop wireframe today and it took most of the morning. What gives?

Photoshop Wireframe

My first Photoshop wireframe. Help!

Photoshop Is Unfamiliar

While it’s old hat for many and currently out of favor for some, Photoshop is a completely new tool for me. I felt completely lost starting the new document above from scratch (I can hear my design pals chuckling out loud as I write this). I’m used to all my hot keys, templates and stencils in Omnigraffle. In Photoshop everything is much bigger. And much more precise.

It’s this precision that is driving me to learn Photoshop. With annotated wireframes, I create an approximation of an experience on paper or PDF. Since my end product is a printed document, by necessity it’s constrained by the conventions of the printed page. That means it can’t represent the exact specs of a site. I also don’t want it to be exact, since the whole concept of making wireframes is to quickly show a proof of concept to help drive the thought process.

While annotated wireframes certainly have their place in design communication, the experience of creating a full-width, full-length layout in Photoshop and seeing all its potential challenges from a responsive design perspective is very helpful. Plus, by learning Photoshop I have an opportunity to actually use the same tools as my teammates. This should give me a much better appreciation of what it really takes to deliver final PSDs to clients. Empathy is a very important skill to develop as a UX designer. What better way to practice than learning Photoshop to accurately design a page comp?

It’s Forcing Me To Grow As A Designer

Remember the days when everything just had to be above the fold? I have a hard drive full of old wireframes that show where the fold should be. Nobody cares about that anymore. In an industry that moves as fast as web design, your current skill set can become obsolete remarkably fast. That’s why it’s so important to constantly learn new things.

Learning Photoshop is forcing me to grow as a designer. My goal from this exercise is to eventually design and code a small website completely from scratch. In the past I’ve always relied on designers and developers or pre-made templates to help, so this will be an exciting personal achievement. And now that I’ve announced it on the interwebs I have to do it!

Learning Photoshop Demands Organization

Component-based web design is the future, and Photoshop provides an excellent sandbox to practice building pixel-perfect components. It’s definitely possible to do the same thing in other apps like Omnigraffle, Sketch or HTML/CSS, but the sheer rigor of Photoshop’s layers demand much more precision and organization in how I approach a given design task. While I probably won’t use it in my everyday UX consulting, I think practicing Photoshop skills on a regular basis will have a very positive influence on all my future design projects.

I’m Learning To Love It

So I guess I’m not so terrified after all. For example, in the last few days I’ve come to appreciate alignment and typography much more. I’m also looking forward to turning my first wireframe into a full-fledged design comp. I might even become a well-rounded designer at some point. That’s probably pushing it, and definitely fodder for another post 🙂

The End Game

At the end of the day, the tools don’t really matter. It’s what you do with them that counts. As a designer, as long as you stay focused and keep an open mind to learning new skills, you can always bring your A-game. What about you? What do you do to keep your skills current? How do you keep improving? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments.

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7 Responses to Why I’m Terrified Of Learning Photoshop

  1. Martin FrostNo Gravatar March 13, 2015 at 7:59 pm #

    I found you via Robs Udemy series and the numbers game lesson! 🙂

    I was scared of Photoshop too but if you are still learning (you never truly stop learning Photoshop I guess!) take a look at Howard Pinsky on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC48fSJKMFBka3Zl0u7DGf0A
    He has some great videos and I even sponsor him on Patreon.com because he’s helped me so much with it.

    As for moving forward and keeping up to date, I follow some great bloggers on Twitter who churn out some brilliant thought provoking and educational posts on a regular basis. Its amazing what people give away for free on the internet, thats why I love the internet so much – it can have a great community.

  2. MaryNo Gravatar March 13, 2015 at 8:27 pm #

    Hi Martin, thanks so much for the info! I’m getting so much out of Rob Percival’s coding course. It’s great fun, isn’t it? I’m also a fan of both Rob Cubbon and Chris Doru’s Photoshop courses on Udemy.

  3. Martin FrostNo Gravatar March 13, 2015 at 8:36 pm #

    It is good fun and I like his style.
    I’ve been following along and added some stuff (including the guessing game) onto Codepen:


    Ive added a few extra phrases for the weather one and also added a picture for the guessing game for a bit of fun! 😛

  4. AmyNo Gravatar October 10, 2015 at 7:22 am #

    Mary! Browsing your website and reading in prep for buckling down and getting to class work today, and read this post 🙂 Most definitely, I agree with the guy above, you never stop learning with Photoshop! I’ve been using it for over 10 years almost daily and I still have to google how to do some things! Good luck in your photoshop pursuits! I’ve found Lynda.com super helpful. Some great tutorials on there! … Now to get to what scares me: UX Project proposals… AAAAhh! 😉

  5. MaryNo Gravatar January 16, 2016 at 11:02 am #

    Thanks Amy! Keep up the good work. You’ll get the UX stuff figured out 🙂

  6. Michele CNo Gravatar February 4, 2016 at 9:30 pm #

    Ditto. I’m starting with Illustrator, though. Manipulating the outlining tools make me dizzy! The vectors are the name of the game in my design business, and I, too, adore typography. I love spotting a sign or publication and my brain instantly recognizing the font type. Letter nerd, I am.

  7. MaryNo Gravatar February 5, 2016 at 10:17 am #

    Thanks Mish! As you know, Illustrator is perfect for your embroidery designs so you can scale as needed. With Photoshop, things are going better now that I’ve taken a few courses, but I still have a ways to go 🙂

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