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 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.