Tuesday, March 20th, 2012 at 12:04

What follows are some thoughts about learning and tools.

Practicing photography as a hobby helped me become a better designer. When I get an incorrectly exposed photograph to work with I know how to fix it. I have developed a better eye for stock photography, and if necessary I’ll make a few shots myself.

I know how to speak the photographer’s language so whenever I hire a photographer I know what to ask for and how they work.

Digging into typography helped me become a better designer. Reading and studying some books about type (Bringhurst!), know which typefaces evoke which emotions, what separates a good typeface from a bad one, and which type is appropriate where.

Playing with video and Final Cut made me appreciate correct rhythm, timing and storytelling. I wish to explore this field a bit more. The same counts for 3D and animation.

Last year I made an icon set — which I never released — and learned to work with Illustrator in an efficient manner. This might sound odd coming from a designer with some years under his belt but I’ve never really used Illustrator the way I have recently. This paved the way for making interface wireframes and designs in Illustrator, which I’m a huge fan of these days. It allows me to be creative in a way I couldn’t be in Photoshop.

(This last one is material for a blog post or presentation on its own!)

I’ve explored programming languages and learned a great deal from that, from how things (actually) get implemented to how to talk to programmers. I can do an interactive mockup with Javascript if I need to, deliver HTML/CSS, I can describe what I want an algorithm to do and think how to implement a custom UI part.

They say the tools you use are merely tools and we should focus on the thinking and the results.

If I read a resume and it says someone is 90% proficient in Photoshop I can’t help but laugh. Mastering a tool doesn’t say anything about your skill or results. It’s often the people who put their skills in percentages that know the least.

However, a tool shapes the way you design. A thick marker is going to yield a low fidelity mockup. Having eight hours and Illustrator is going to yield a high fidelity one with lots of details. Sometimes the former is better, sometimes the latter.

Some people claim you can design in the browser and that this is more efficient. With the advent of responsive designs there’s certainly an argument to be made for designing in the browser.

But I’m also pretty certain you’re going to shy away from doing something complex because the path to seeing it involves writing code. Even something as simple as a tooltip requires research to find the best jQuery plugin, implement it, see if it works correctly.

If your medium is a piece of paper, you have a pencil in your hand, the tooltip is already there.

Bret Victor recently gave a fantastic talk: inventing on principle. His principle:
in order to be creative, an [artist] needs to be able to directly manipulate the medium they are working in. This talk rightfully resonated with a lot of people: we’ll always be looking for better tools.

For me, designing in the browser will never work because I can’t directly manipulate my medium. I have all kinds of tricks to work faster, but I’ll never be able to put my thoughts on the canvas in a way that beats pen and paper. That is, until we have better tools?

1 comment to “Sidetracks”

  • you nailed it! right on the head!
    I think people tend to confuse “fast prototyping” with “designing in the browser”. When you need to test an user interface that span across multiple pages and tries to do new trickery , then yes you want to design that experience on the broswer first before going on the graphical design layer of the user interface, because you want feedback from real users. But this doesn’t mean that every webpage has to be designed that way. Designers need to be sensible and use the right tool for the job. The freedom and speed of positioning things on photoshop to experiment is so damn different from the hours needed to implement event the most simple design in code.

    Good article Johan , keep up with the good work!

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