Web Design in Photoshop or the Browser: A Polarizing Topic

I once worked for a guy who constantly moaned that using a computer would never be as good as paste-up for layout. As ridiculous as his attitude sounded to me, it worked for him. I learned how to assemble my first graphic compositions natively in Photoshop and inDesign while he was seasoned in the art of phototypesetting. His hand-crafted layouts were exquisite, flawless and just as professional as those created using a computer. Using a Mac saves designers time and energy, and makes the process much more streamlined, but for someone who was fluent in conceptualizing his visions through traditional methods the computer was the wrong tool for the job. The final product of his process yielded designs that won awards and exceeded client expectations even after the mac became an industry standard.


After 2 posts on the well respected site 24Ways a few designers in the community have been publicly  voicing their concern for the methods expressed in the following articles both on twitter and in the comments:
Andy Clarke‘s Ignorance is Bliss
Meagan Fisher‘s Make your Mockup in Markup

Both articles suggest that rather than creating comps in Photoshop and then pixel by pixel recreating them in CSS & HTML that designers should just design directly in their browser. I was pretty excited to see this method being explored and successfully executed (37 signals wrote a similar post but they were not able to back it up with an example as visually rich as Megan’s), because there have been numerous times in my career where it has felt more natural to tackle a specific problem directly in the browser. Additionally with the introduction of font-as-service providers such as Typekit, designing in the browser allows you to use fonts that you may not necessarily need to pay the full fee for but “rent” online for a monthly fee.

I am not sure if it was the method or the language used that struck such a chord, but some folks get a little riled up about it. I can see how the subhead “That process is whack, yo!” possibly reading as a bit of an attack to some Photoshop lovers, but the site is called “24 Ways to Impress your Friends” not “24 Holy Commandments of the Web Industry”. I definitely don’t think any one designer should give specific absolute advice to only use one method to compose a website, but if Megan had said “Try not using Pohotoshop, it works for me!” would it have gotten your attention the way “Die Photoshop, die” did?

Shifts in the design industry will continue to happen and every-time they do there will be plenty of designers who insist that the new way will obstruct creativity and be detrimental to their creativity, and every time designers overcome the challenges to be even more innovative. This debate is not a new one in the history of graphic design. History repeats itself. When computers were first introduced designers were paired with production artists to transfer their concepts from paper to pixel in a very similar fashion to how designers are paired with front-end developers to create websites in many agencies. There was fear that “the software learning curve would stifle the creative process” (site: Wikipedia) then¬† and that seems to be the argument now with designers who are reluctant to learn markup. You would be hard pressed to find a designer today coming out of school without knowing how to use a computer, will the designers of the future graduate without being fluent in HTML & CSS?

I personally see the benefits of designing directly in the browser, I understand how it can save time in the process for those who are fluent in markup. Does it work for me? Not currently, because I am far more fluent in Photoshop than I am in CSS and HTML for constructing my visions for the web. My first priority as an individual designer is to meet the goals of my clients. It is the responsibility of the collective design community to pioneer new processes and pave the way for it to be rock-solid method used for clients.. While I don’t think any one designer should give advice in the form of absolute language, I do think that the content within the 24 Ways articles provides a new option in process that hopefully will seed more experimentation using that method. Every designer needs to prioritize their goals and use the best tools for them to help advance them to meeting those goals. Looking back on the design industry and the evolution of its process I think it is a futile effort to advise students of web design against trying and evolving a new process.

14 Comments

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