Photoshop like a Real Designer

There has been a lot of debate recently in the web design social networks about whether a web designer should be able to code. I didn’t contribute much to the question because the answer is obviously yes, but I did think long and hard about my own practices.

Today Smashing Magazine published a great article by Thomas Giannattasio, “In Defense of Photoshop”. He raises the point that:

Photoshop can be used to create impeccable designs, but after hours of hard work, you end up with a static mock-up that is incapable of emulating the experience one gets when the design is converted to mark-up and viewed in the browser.

And this would be my main point if I were to articulate an argument on why web designers should be able to code. Simply put, if you can’t code and don’t understand HTML and CSS - you are not designing a website.

In the article linked above Giannattasio makes an excellent feature suggestion for Photoshop allowing users to ‘shop semantically closer to the DOM and CSS properties available. I don’t know why Adobe haven’t been innovating features like this for years. It would definitely aid those ‘web designers’ who can’t code. It would simplfy things for pros too but in truth a professional web designer should be able to:

  • Keep a running mental visualisation of the DOM as the design evolves.
  • Understand the limitations of HTML/CSS and browser quirks.
  • Know exactly what mark-up and styling will be needed to create each element.
  • Know exactly how raster images will be implemented.
  • Know exactly how the page is going to flow and transform at different resolutions.

If you can’t do these things you are not designing a website. Don’t blame the tools. While the CSS idea in Photoshop could be helpful it isn’t necessary (or relevant to the software). You should already know what techniques to use to mimic CSS (hint: blending options, not filters).

There are many comments on Giannattasio’s article suggesting that ‘design’ should be an entirely different step to ‘development’. From the clients point of view this is true but from a production point of view it doesn’t really matter. If you know how to build a website you can design one freely in whatever software suits you.

Understand development and you can realise greater potential with design.

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