From the desk of Alasdair Monk
Blame your tools
Back in 1987, a University of Michigan student named Thomas Knoll began work on a small piece of software he called ImagePro. The following January, he travelled to Silicon Valley and demoed his application to numerous potential investors including Apple & Adobe.
After finding various products that used his preferred name ImagePro, Knoll finally decided on a new moniker for his creation: Photoshop.
This was only four years since Apple had popularised the Windows Icons Mouse Pointer (WIMP) graphical user interface that has barely changed since it's inception in Xerox labs nearly 40 years ago.
Knoll had created an image editing program long before the creation of the web, and only very early on in the history of practical user interfaces. Adobe bought a license for Knoll's creation and released the first public version of Photoshop in 1990.
It was from these humble beginnings that one of the most iconic and prevalent software packages was born. Ask any layman on the street how they make the Foo Fighters look "pretty good for their age" on the cover of Q Magazine, and the answer will be that it has been 'Photoshopped' (a term that Adobe, incidentally, doesn't like at all).
Photoshop is the de facto format of choice in the design industry and for years it has served us well, but it is starting to crack under the pressures of meeting technological change versus it's strong, and inherent, image editing heritage.
The problem is that a huge number of users use Photoshop for ends for which it was never created: designing interfaces. It has met these needs, up until now. With the advent of retina screens and responsive/reactive patterns there is no longer 'one design' for one website. As I discussed in my previous article "The infinite canvas problem", even a simple one page piece of content could have several incarnations depending on the platforms you wish to target.
I think it's perfectly valid to blame our tools now. The tools are slowing us down and holding us back. Jason Santa Maria raised this point nearly two years ago, and yet nothing has come close to the tool he imagines.
I think we're a way off from a really good tool – as our tools get better, it seems our workflows get more intricate and complicated. However, I have found something a thousand times better than Photoshop for interface design: Sketch.
I've been using Sketch on client projects for two weeks now. After 15 minutes of use, I bought a license and, aside from a couple of stability complaints, its been incredible. Here's my favourite features which win over Photoshop any day;
- 1:1 Font Rendering
Sketch uses the same engine as webkit to render text, so text renders exactly as it will in your web browser. A huge improvement on Photoshop's very odd text rendering.
- Everything's a vector
Like Illustrator, Sketch works in vector mode. You can draw shapes, mess with paths, do complex blending etc just as you would in Illustrator. In fact, Sketch trumps Illustrator's merge operations by making them non-destructive.
- Pixel mode.
Again, this is in Illustrator, but pixels and Illustrator still don't play nice in a lot of ways.
- Export @2x
Sketch has a built in option to export @2x versions of images, for use on retina screens. Massive time saver for iPhone development.
- It's built for this job
This is my favourite feature of Sketch, simply that it was concieved and built for interface design. It's not an image editor or a vector drawing application wrangled into an interface design tool, it is pure and made for purpose.
If you are deeply invested in Adobe products then a $30 app from the app store probably seems like it will be a cheap imitation of the products you're used to using, maybe even in some ways 'less professional'. I couldn't disagree strongly enough.
At a time when a copy of Adobe's Creative Suite will set you back nearly two and a half grand, independant developers making better products should be rewarded and encouraged.
Now read The infinite canvas problem