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Using Photoshop Only When Necessary

Photoshop can ride along with designing in the browser, but we need to determine to what degree. It would be counterproductive to revert to full-page comps, but we still need Photoshop to throw down some high-fidelity ideas on. Likewise, we still need the browser to keep our designs flexible, while curtailing the amount of time and effort we exhaust trying to come up with truly unique ideas.

If a responsive workflow is your goal, I recommend adopting the following philosophy: Photoshop can’t be the workhorse we’ve made it in years past. Instead, Photoshop takes a backseat to in-browser design, but we still use it to ideate when necessary. To what extent do we keep Photoshop involved?

In his article “Responsive Web Design in the Browser Part 1: Kill Photoshop,” Josh Long makes the following statement:

While some of this sentiment seems in line with what we’ve explored, I object to the notion that discarding any tool makes you a better designer. Becoming a better designer has more to do with knowing the limits of the tools you use and knowing when to use them for the greatest gain.

The browser can bear the majority of many layout and style decisions, which is great because it’s ultimately where our design will live. We’d be shooting ourselves in the foot if we tried to make every decision before writing a line of HTML or CSS. That puts the onus on adopting a workflow that allows the flexibility needed to refine design solutions after being in the browser (I’ll talk more about how to sell this kind of process internally and externally in Chapter 12).

The Megaman Principle

Raise your hand if you’re also a child of the 1980s and grew up playing Nintendo. No, not you, Wii whiz kids. Not you, Atari fans. I’m talking about the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System. Specifically, I’m talking about my favorite series of games: Megaman.

For those unfamiliar, Megaman was pretty much the best thing ever. You controlled a blue, android-like robot in a classic quest of good versus evil. Your mission was to take down an army of bad robots, each of which had a unique weapon, be it ice, fire, stones, bubbles, or the even more obscure piles of trash Junk Man used. When you defeated these bad guys, you’d inherit their weapon.

In most instances, you’d be hard-pressed to find a use for your default Mega Buster arm cannon, so the quintessential strategy for beating each boss was to use another’s weapon. Ice Man’s Ice Slasher was critically effective against Fire Man, for example. Choosing the right weapon at the right time was, essentially, a glorified game of Rock-Paper-Scissors. Mastering when to use each weapon made the game infinitely easier (see Figure 4.9).

Figure 4.9

Figure 4.9 Just as Megaman leveraged timing to beat his enemies, can we do the same with Photoshop? Specifically, I mean the enemies called “boxy,” “bland,” and “uninspiring.”

Collecting weapons and knowing when to use them is not so different from the problem we face in web design. By using the right tool, at the right time, for the right purpose, we extract more out of said tool than normal. Knowing when to use Photoshop is the only thing that can logically keep it in our workflows. Using it too often, too early, or for the wrong purpose produces frustration, wasted time, and potentially wasted money.

Practical Photoshopping: An Overview

In the next few chapters, you’ll look at when, why, and how to use Photoshop alongside the browser. Because every project is different, implementations will vary, but you’ll discover a few inventive ways of getting the most out of Photoshop.


If our plan is to present multiple design concepts to clients, where does RWD fit in? It seems like a daunting task to show contrasting design directions through Photoshop mock-ups at a few different sizes, so what’s a more effective way to move the project forward?

The secret may be getting everyone on track toward a shared ideal far before anything is done in Photoshop. You’ll explore a few ways to hedge what would otherwise be discarded work by using inspiration from around the Web to drive your directions. Equally important, you’ll discover techniques for extracting more useful feedback from your clients.

Art Direction

The conundrum of page comps in a responsive world hasn’t been ignored. While some of the industry has turned to producing tools to make comps more quickly, a strong contingent of designers have devised better design documents altogether. You’ll take a look at this landscape in Chapter 6, including one I find to be the best suited for a responsive process: element collages.

Building Blocks

You may have created style guides in the past or be familiar with their longstanding print implementation. I’ll define what style guides mean for the Web and, more importantly, as part of a responsive process.

Similarly, component (or pattern) libraries extend what’s introduced in a style guide into functional collections of elements.

While it behooves us to develop both of these elements in code, there’s plenty of opportunity to spice them up in Photoshop, long before we run into any funky page designs.


It’s incredibly optimistic—naïve, even—to expect all the disparate elements of a responsive site design to come together seamlessly. When it’s time to build pages from components, we usually find ourselves scrambling to make everything look like the coherent page it should be.

Let’s determine to expect the wonkiness of putting components together and combat the seamless spots with Photoshop. You’ll take a look at some common examples of where page design can fall short and feel disjointed in the absence of a system and pivot swiftly into an environment to try some stitch-work.

All of this preparation will lead to the union of Photoshop and the browser and to a better responsive workflow.

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