Show DN: Better Tools ≠ Better Designer(deardesignstudent.com)

over 5 years ago from Chantal Jandard, Product Designer

  • Chantal JandardChantal Jandard, over 5 years ago (edited over 5 years ago )

    Hi Marc!

    Firstly, thanks so much for your comment. I really appreciate the detail and thought you put into it. Here's a bit more on where this post came from.

    I worried that with the flux of new tools, younger designers are mixing up their priorities. I'm seeing new designers present a grocery list of prototyping apps on their resumes, but their core design skills are visibly shaky.

    Looking back at my own growth as a designer, I am definitely guilty of that. I used Jasc Paintshop Pro back in the day, and I knew it inside and out, way before I knew basic typography, accessibility practices, or grids, and I made very bad designs.

    But Paintshop didn't care. Paintshop let me keep doing these bad practices, over and over. Then I switched to Photoshop. Photoshop didn't care either, and also let me produce bad designs. I also tried GIMP. Same thing. It wasn't until I sat down and read a book on typography that I realized where I was straying and what I needed to learn.

    With so many design tools now, going deep on all of them is hard, and costs time. No matter how easy the tool is, there's still ramp up. Trying out new tools can be so valuable, but it can also be really expensive when it's done unthoughtfully, especially when young designers have a lot of other areas they can grow in.

    I absolutely agree with all your points. A better tool can make life so much easier and help you tighten your workflow. And it's important to know your tools. And you can totally practice design and learn an new tool in parallel. And there's definite merit to having at least a passing knowledge of tool options and how they differ, even the pros/cons. Designers should know what's possible.

    But tools shouldn't be the #1 priority, and I'm starting to see that be the case as a trend for some designers, and it makes me uncomfortable. I wish young-me had spent more time studying basic concepts, instead of being a pro in design tools I no longer use. I wish more designers were learning one or two tools deeply, with light knowledge of others, and studying design theory more, instead of learning six, seven, eight tools very deeply and leaving the theory for later.

    My hope was that the post would help new designers think critically on their goals before diving into a new tool. There are lots of reasons to try something new, but trying new things does have a cost.

    (Also, as full disclosure, since I've seen some people question the Adobe sponsorship, Adobe sponsors the Dear Design Student publication, not this post in particular. I received no money for writing it and my personal flow right now is a mix of Sketch, Principal, Framer, Illustrator and Photoshop.)

    3 points
    • Marc EdwardsMarc Edwards, over 5 years ago (edited over 5 years ago )

      But tools shouldn't be the #1 priority, and I'm starting to see that be the case as a trend for some designers, and it makes me uncomfortable.

      I think lots of new tools are being released because we’re in a transition period. Mobile has changed many aspects of web and native design — RWD, widespread use of animation, pixel density, multitouch and different input methods have shown some flaws in existing tools and workflows. The entire industry has needed to adapt.

      If designers are spending time exploring tools, it’s likely because they need to? I agree that it shouldn’t be a number 1 priority, but I don’t think I’ve seen examples of it being that way.

      My hope was that the post would help new designers think critically on their goals before diving into a new tool. There are lots of reasons to try something new, but trying new things does have a cost.

      Absolutely.

      But Paintshop didn't care. Paintshop let me keep doing these bad practices, over and over. Then I switched to Photoshop. Photoshop didn't care either, and also let me produce bad designs. I also tried GIMP. Same thing. It wasn't until I sat down and read a book on typography that I realized where I was straying and what I needed to learn.

      Reading that paragraph, I interpret it as:

      1. Get set up with the tools of the trade.
      2. Get competent.
      3. Learn higher level concepts.

      I'm not sure how easy it would be to do 3 without 1 and 2.

      Ultimately, I guess we both likely have a similar opinion, but a slightly different view on where the current deficiencies lie.

      Also, as full disclosure, since I've seen some people question the Adobe sponsorship, Adobe sponsors the Dear Design Student publication, not this post in particular.

      Thanks for the info. The article definitely didn’t seem for or against Adobe’s tools.

      1 point
      • Mike Wilson, over 5 years ago (edited over 5 years ago )

        1 Get set up with the tools of the trade. 2 Get competent. 3 Learn higher level concepts.

        I'm not sure how easy it would be to do 3 without 1 and 2

        You can't learn design concepts without knowing Photoshop first? I think Herb Lubalin, Paul Rand, Dieter Rams (insert design hero here) would disagree with you.

        I think her intent was to explain she did it backwards. Learning GIMP, Photoshop, and Paintshop Pro didn't make her designs better. Learning design itself before learning the tools would have been far more efficient. That way you can spend your time learning Photoshop with purpose, and can ultimately judge if it's the right tool for the job (ie. not wasting time learning how to use unnecessary filters like ceramic tiling effect).

        Learning tools before design theory is like trying to figure out which hammer to buy without knowing what size nail you'll be hitting most with it.

        DN as a whole tends to over-fetishize tools and process, so I think that's why a lot of comments on this article have been negative. But in many instances, spending hours and hours learning all the latest tech is counter-productive.

        For example, I know a design student who bragged to me about how many weeks he spent learning Grunt/Gulp, all the various CSS preprocessors, and optimizing his front-end workflow. However, when I asked him how many times he actually does site builds....he told me once a year at most. So he spent 80+ hours trying to save 2 hours per year by having the most efficient Gulp/SASS setup. And at the rate of web technology advancement, this knowledge will be irrelevant in 1-3 years.

        Meanwhile, his design skills are nowhere near as cutting edge as his knowledge of tools. Since he wants to be a designer, wouldn't that time be better spent learning the fundamentals?

        1 point
        • Marc EdwardsMarc Edwards, over 5 years ago (edited over 5 years ago )

          You can't learn design concepts without knowing Photoshop first? I think Herb Lubalin, Paul Rand, Dieter Rams (insert design hero here) would disagree with you.

          They all used tools to design, just not necessarily Photoshop. When I studied, we were only allowed to spend one day a week using computers. The rest of the time we used paper and markers. But, paper and markers are still tools and they still need to be learned.

          Learning tools before design theory is like trying to figure out which hammer to buy without knowing what size nail you'll be hitting most with it.

          I never said before. My objection is to thinking that tools are unimportant — if you aim to be a professional, you need to master the tools you use, and a big part of mastery is time and experimentation.

          And, as stated previously, learning tools and practising your craft go hand in hand.

          DN as a whole tends to over-fetishize tools and process, so I think that's why a lot of comments on this article have been negative.

          A lot of comments have been negative, because a lot of people disagree.

          But in many instances, spending hours and hours learning all the latest tech is counter-productive.

          Balance is always needed, but I wouldn’t advise a student to spend less time learning their tools.

          I know a design student who bragged to me about how many weeks he spent learning Grunt/Gulp, all the various CSS preprocessors, and optimizing his front-end workflow. However, when I asked him how many times he actually does site builds....he told me once a year at most.

          There’s a vast spectrum of designers and skills needed. If the design student really enjoys exploring what can be done with Grunt, Gulp and CSS preprocessors, that’s brilliant. My advice to them would be to get really, really good at it. If it’s interesting to them, go all in. Be the most amazing front end web developer you can be, because that is valuable.

          Not everyone needs to spend their time thinking about grids and font pairs. Not everyone needs to have a favourite Mondrian painting.

          0 points