Design Differently

November 20, 2014

MengTo’s article on how designers approach code made me wonder about how my coding affects the way I design.

When I first started using Adobe Illustrator I found it extremely liberating. Unlike Photoshop it felt very intuitive. Selection was point and click, paths weren’t hidden within layers and alignment and distribution just worked. I cut, split and manipulated with the Pathfinder as if I were using scissors and glue. It became, for me, a digital sketchbook that was limitless in potential. Only when it came to make alterations did the permanence seem problematic. Over time I combatted this with clipping masks and copious layer duplications, but it always felt flimsy.

The other day I picked up Photoshop again, intending to recreate a few of the new OS X icons for fun. In my head I was already duplicating, resizing, pathfinding — and yet in reality most of the heavy lifting can be accomplished programmatically through layer styles. Shadows and glows can cleverly overlay, colours can adapt through blending modes and gradients can split shapes in two. I tried my hand at the new 1Password icon and found it could be (and I’m sure was) constructed almost entirely with layer styles. The result: a flexible and easily alterable icon, defined by processes that could be flicked on and off like a switch. You just need to look at Photoshop’s ‘Blend If’ to see the potential here.

The point isn’t that Photoshop can be a valid alternative for non-bitmap work. It’s about how we can learn from the modularity and flexibility that code teaches us, and maybe save ourselves a little time along the way.