Designers Who Skip Photoshop

A recent article by 37Signals about this very topic entitled, “Why we skip Photoshop”, got me thinking. Is it really a viable option as a designer to skip the Photoshop composition process?

When designing a UI we usually go right from a quick paper sketch to HTML/CSS. We skip the static Photoshop mockup.— 37Signals

Obviously, most designers — web or otherwise — would argue that the best tools in a designer’s arsenal are pen & paper. Trusty old school standards. It’s much quicker to jot down an idea down on paper really quick. You can spew out several “quick” thumbnail sketches in the time it might take to open Photoshop. If that’s the case, you should probably do some computer maintenance, but that’s another article altogether.

Although 37Signals puts forth several good points I believe it’s a matter of having a different perspective on the process. 37Signals doesn’t design their applications for clients. Their clients are their customers, but the company being designed for is themselves. This means that, although they’re selling their products to others, they are the main “Client” that the application is being designed around. Unfortunately, real web design clients need to “see” what things are going to look like when getting a site done for them. You can give them a working mechanical, but it’s really not wise to do this until you’ve got all the details worked out about what the site is going to look like. They’re hiring a designer afterall, and they really want to see the design before moving on to the next stage. That’s not to say that the design stage is the first stage. Far from it, but it’s definitely a stage that will be early in the overall process.

Another point of contention with this idea of “skipping Photoshop” lies in the fact that, for a company like 37Signals, they’ve already got an established visual style to work around. They don’t need to reinvent the wheel each time. They are, afterall, not serving clients. 37Signals relies heavily on usability, because they’re making usable web applications for people, but that doesn’t really mean that it has to be overly embellished. They can skip the Photoshop stage, because the style of the application is intentionally very simple.


So, the question still remains: Can you skip Photoshop in the creation of websites? Yes and No. If you’re creating your own applications in-house and have a defined style (that is generally quite simple) to work from already. However, if you’re a web designer working for a client, then you really need to consider Photoshop as an essential tool in the process, because your clients are going to want to see something before they sign off on letting you spend hours coding up a design. Should you put off the Photoshop stage for as long as you can? Yes. Get a clear understanding of the overall communication message and functionality of the desired website before even considering opening Photoshop for the first time. Rock may beat Paper, but Paper beats Photoshop everytime.

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