Why We Shouldn’t Judge Designers on the Tools They Use
The web design industry has what I’d like to call “tool envy”. It seems like there is always some hot new app that is supposed to revolutionize the way we do things. They range from little open source projects to major releases from the corporate giants out there.
Certainly, it’s great to have an ever-growing selection of useful software to choose from. But the perception is that there is something wrong with us if we don’t buy into the hype. It feels like we’ll be judged as “out of touch” if we don’t jump onto each and every bandwagon.
In fact, these new-fangled tools that all the kids are talking about make me feel out of touch. For instance, I don’t use Sketch. I have a copy of Adobe XD but it’s collecting dust on my drive. Slack annoys me (it’s pretty much a nicer-looking version of IRC). Does this make me a bad person?
Even worse is that I’m hesitant about being judged for what I do use. I still create mockups in Photoshop. I edit code in Dreamweaver. There, I said it (and “Hi” to my friends at Adobe). These tools, although frequently updated, are older than some of you reading this.
Could this mean that I’m a dinosaur, forever stuck in my ways?
Building a beautiful and functional website takes a lot of work. And dealing with the ups and downs of the process can be mentally taxing. The tools we use can either help us or hinder us along the way. Therefore, there is a certain comfort in utilizing something that is familiar.
You know what’s stressful? Learning a new app. Even an intuitive piece of software is going to have some mystery as you first start to use it. Not to mention the differences between it and what you had previously used. Your whole workflow can become a jumbled mess, albeit temporarily.
For a busy designer, this is a serious concern. Learning to work a new way could mean falling behind on paying projects while struggling to figure out this shiny new tool.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand that one of these new prototype building tools may have advantages over my old school methods. But the idea of completely switching gears seems a bit unnecessary. Besides, if I did this every single time someone told me to change, well, I may not accomplish much actual work.
In the real world, productivity is vital. Therefore, when I need to get things done, I’d prefer to stick with the tried-and-true.
Change Isn’t Bad – It’s Just Not Always Necessary
While all of this may sound a bit like an old person shooing kids off their lawn, it doesn’t mean that I’m against change. It’s more that I need a compelling reason to do so. And it seems like these reasons make themselves apparent over time.
Eventually, there’s a tipping point where clinging to a certain language, tool or technique puts us out of step with the mainstream. Or, it simply becomes an obstacle with regards to building a site the way we want to. It’s those types of moments where the need to change becomes clear.
Take page layouts, for example. In the early days of web design, we often used HTML tables to create all manner of layouts – even if it wasn’t necessarily the cleanest of code. But then CSS standards came along. They provided a simpler and more accessible way to build multicolumn layouts – something that’s still evolving to this day.
In this case, using tables eventually became a hinderance. CSS allowed designers to accomplish more and do so in a user-friendly way. While some designers held out for a while, eventually the industry shifted and didn’t look back.
But not everything is so cut-and-dry. You can still design an amazing website in Photoshop, or write complex code in a text editor. Whether or not you want to use those tools is more about personal preference.
Here’s the bottom line: If a tool or technique enables you to achieve your goals, and you’re comfortable with it, why change?
Design Is More Than Tools
Whether you’re working with clients or creating your own portfolio, the end result is what matters most. Clients, for one, generally don’t care to be bothered with details of your workflow. After all, they hired you because you know what you’re doing. They just want their website to look fabulous and work as intended.
As for the design community, well, it’s always easy to judge others. I’d bet that all of us have placed some sort of label (positive or otherwise) on a fellow designer at some point in time.
The reality is that there are a whole lot of web designers out there. And there just as many ways to build a great website. What is comfortable and familiar to one of us may have the opposite effect on someone else – and that’s okay.
So, if you’re using the hot new app that everyone’s buzzing about – enjoy it. For everyone else, don’t feel compelled to change for the sake of change. If you’re happy with the tools you’re using, you needn’t feel left behind. Because, when it’s time to take things in another direction, you’ll know it.