For those who are not familiar with you or your work, could you please tell us about your background and how you got into web design and illustration?
Illustration has always been there for me, ever since I was a child and figured out how to hold a pencil. I just kept up with it as a lifelong hobby. Web design on the other hand, came about from a lucky career path that landed me in the industry back in the very early days of the internet. Somewhere along the line, I found myself balanced in the delicate region between the two fields - they both fit me well.
Your favorite graphics application is Photoshop. How were you introduced to it?
I was first introduced to Photoshop (version 2 running on a Mac IIcx) back in a graphic design class in college. We mostly got to take pictures with an Apple Quicktake and edit them for projects. Back then, Photoshop only had one layer, but I didn't care, it was all good.
What can you say about other popular graphics applications, such as Illustrator, Fireworks and CorelDRAW? What one should use them for and when?
This is a delicate one to answer because there's a fine balance between applications such as those, and the designers who use them. With that said, I'll start by getting CorelDRAW out of the way first, because it's the one I know I'll never use on a professional basis.
I've dabbled plenty of times in the Corel suite (but not for a long time). It strikes me as a brand suited more for personal use and hobbyists, rather than a required program used in design firms and corporations (at least in my experience). I have seen some pretty killer portfolio pieces online though that indicate that it's certainly capable of great things in the right hands. I just don't expect those hands to be mine anytime soon.
Illustrator: my second favorite app next to Photoshop. Obviously, it's a great vector-drawing app. But more than that, it's a good choice for artists coming up with logo designs, brand ideas, and images that can compliment other programs (such as InDesign). Some of Illustrator's advantages include excellent non-destructive path-finding and mesh-grid blending.
Fireworks is is a great tool with a ton of features with more bang-for-the-buck than any app I know. It's primary function is to create web design comps, and it does it well. I know a few designers that have succeeded in mastering this program far better than I have. I currently just use it for its amazing compression and batching abilities, but I'm not against the idea of letting it ease a little deeper into my workflow.
Many of these applications were meant to compliment each-other. It's up to the designer to know when to use each one of these applications when the situation demands it.
What Photoshop version do you use? What is it you like about it?
I'm currently using CS3.
Have you tried the newly released Photoshop CS4? What do you think about it?
I have not had a chance to try that yet. Soon, hopefully – I've heard some pretty good things.
In the interview Photoshop vs. Fireworks conducted by Nathan Smith for Digital Web Magazine in July, 2008, you say that 'many of its [Photoshop] finest features are buried underneath an over-complicated UI.' Could you be specific?
As people are learning Photoshop, I notice that they generally use the same basic features over and over when they're able to produce a document that satisfies what they're looking for. I believe that Adobe has done a good job at getting people to jump right in and learn what they need to do very quickly. On the other hand, things can be so easy that the user ends up not bothering to explore the power-features that can really boost productivity. I feel that the UI has a threshold of a) things people use often (paint brush, marquee, basic vector shapes), b) things people use rarely (history brush, layer comps), and c) things people should probably use but don't (custom keyboard shortcuts and menus with color highlighting copy-merged, smart objects).
What are some of the Photoshop features that you've recently discovered?
I've recently been playing around more with the count tool (under the ruler) in conjunction with data analysis in the measurement log palette and the improved timeline for video graphics.
What hardware do you use?
15" MacBook Pro hooked up to a secondary monitor and a 6”x8” Intuos 3 drawing tablet.
Describe how your design process flows.
Here's my preferred workflow (granted, some schedules and/or clients require this to be very liquid in order to meet certain deadlines):
- Begin with rough ideas, lists, and doodles on paper.
- Create a flowchart in either Illustrator or OmniGraffle.
- Create wireframes in html (sans-graphics) as static pages with all the necessary components, so that I can trace potential user experience issues before they become graphic design issues.
- Begin creating html that ties in to a back-end system with an application programmer.
- Use Photoshop to create background images and various supporting graphics (perhaps this helps clarify why I don't use Fireworks in the same way other designers do). Simple layout examples.
- Style the html after functionality (and content) has been established.
How do you get yourself into the working mood?
It varies. Sometimes it's as simple as just sitting forward in my seat. Other times, it takes a certain type of music, or another drink of coffee. Occasionally I'll walk around a bit and get the blood flowing. Even grabbing a post-it note and jotting down the first thing I want to get done makes a huge difference.
Do you use a mouse or graphics tablet in your work?
Both. Mouse (most of the time), for general computer-usage and design. The graphics tablet is handy for textures, background images, and illustrations.
What are your big influences?
Right now... mostly graphic novels. They're a fantastic blend of art, interesting designs, layout ideas, storytelling and killer typography (I highly recommend looking up the Flight volumes on Amazon.com).
I'm also a fan of game interfaces. My favorites so far are Halo 3 and Mass Effect. It's really cool to see how game designers approach the concept of giving you a control system that doesn't get in the way of enjoying the gameplay.
What principles you follow in your work?
- Be open to criticism and critiques that could serve to improve an idea.
- Good ideas can come from anyone, because designers don't always think like users.
- Take short breaks and talk to people, because getting in a stressful grumpy mode can seriously impede one's ability to design and communicate clearly.
What are your predictions regarding web design trends for 2009?
I believe that we're going to see more experimental designs start hitting the net, especially as designers stop trying to make things work in IE6. Personally, I'd like to see a larger trend in illustration-based (or influenced) designs.
What web design-related books and online resources would you recommend to a newbie?
Three books I can think of that have been nearly indispensable:
- Pro CSS Techinques; Jeff Croft, Ian Lloyd, Dan Rubin (Apress)
- Bulletproof Web Design; Dan Cederholm (New Riders)
- The Principles of Beautiful Web Design; Jason Beaird (Sitepoint)
Here's the one online resource that I consider a must-have in your bookmarks: web-developers handbook.
The main thing you'd like a reader to remember about this interview.
A couple of things:
- If you want to learn how to do something that's right for *you*, don't place too high a priority on how others get it done. Find your own path to success because life is too short to find yourself mirroring another persons work.
- Applications come and go, but good theories will last forever. Don't forget that the most important tool you'll ever use is the squishy one sitting up in your head.
Look for me on:
Get in touch with Helen: firstname.lastname@example.org