Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Truth about Photoshop and Why it is NOT Design

Photoshop is an extremely popular tool among photographers, 

both amateur and professional, for its ability to enhance images to achieve a certain effect. It has also become very accessible to use. Once purchased, there are plenty of online tutorials to guide a new user through the various features of the program. Pretty much anything can be done on Photoshop; images can be edited beyond recognition.

With such a great and powerful tool at their hand, people that have mastered (or have experience using) the program have a tendency to falsely call themselves designers. Here I'll explain why knowing how to use a program such as Photoshop does not make you a designer, and that logic applies to other programs such as Final Cut or Illustrator.

Design is a collection of concepts that are used together to deliver a message, 

through various mediums, and includes functionality as well as "looks". Photoshop is just one of the tools that can be used to deliver that message.  A designer goes through years of training and is a long process before he/she will be given authority to work on projects. To proclaim yourself as one after a couple months of using Photoshop is insulting to the designers. Being competent at a program is not the same as understanding which program best to use.

Yes, many designers do work in Photoshop or other programs as such. But learning how to use the tool does not mean you understand its purpose. The designer knows things such as color, composition, and hierarchy, and uses Photoshop to execute these concepts to make his/her work more effective. Someone who knows how to use Photoshop but does not know why things affect how an image in the end looks and rather than going through a thoughtful process follows "what looks right" is a production artist. Being a production artist is a perfectly fine career, but it involves less creativity than design because production artists execute in the mediums, while the designers have more work to do in conceptualizing and then executing. This is why generally production artists earn less than designers.

The easy way to differentiate between experienced designers and novices competent at Photoshop is whether or not they use the many filters the program offers. Filters are very convenient and many are tempted to use them to make their work appear different and more artistic. However filters do not always look good, and tend to make the work look cheap and unsophisticated. Because these filters are universal, they are not specific enough to convey exactly what the designer wants as part of the message. Designers generally stay away from filters because of this reason, but a novice may not yet understand that. The general rule to use when assessing work is that if someone is able to tell how the image has been manipulated then the person has not done a good job. Spotting manipulation reveals the artist's experience and whether or not they understand design rather than whether they are using a certain Photoshop feature just for the sake of using it without a real purpose.

I am not discouraging anyone from learning how to use these programs, as these technical skills will be useful regardless of what career path someone goes down. The point of this post is to make sure that people know that they must also go through the lengthy process of studying to become a designer, and knowing how to use Photoshop is not a shortcut to becoming one.

Sources: "Photoshop Is Not Design." Design by Numbers. D X N, 31 Jan. 2017. Web. 01 Mar. 2017. <>.

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