The Software that Drives Design…



Connect with author:

Share this story:

On our recent recruitment drive we became acutely aware of a gulf in ability of candidates with a key piece of industry software, Adobe Illustrator. So many candidates that we interviewed, considered for interview or simply viewed portfolios, had undoubted creative flair and an eye for something different but were let down by fundamental software knowledge and skills. This was both revealing and a little concerning for a number of reasons.




The key software packages that are absolutely vital for any graphic designer to do their job are Adobe Indesign®, Adobe Photoshop® and Adobe Illustrator®. These vast software packages give the modern day designer the power to harness some truly wonderful visual treats within their work. Most people have heard of Photoshop – it is a massive software program and allows users to manipulate digital photographic imagery in hundreds and thousands of different ways; the imagination of the user is the only real barrier. For most, Photoshop is only really used to 30 or 40% of it’s actual capacity – mastering this beast of a program would take many many years and therefore creative pros will only use it for what they need it for and uncover the functions that are most useful to them in their everyday work lives. Others will delve deeper and deeper but in the main, Photoshop is so vast that most users only scratch the surface.

We found that because of the mass appeal and range of Photoshop, that Adobe Illustrator has suffered. Fundamentally, Illustrator exists to create illustrations and Photoshop exists to manipulate digital photographs. Then your finished illustrations and photographs are brought together in Indesign – which is a page layout package. It is all pretty simple when you look at it like that but what we found is that there is a dearth of Illustrator-savvy designers out there. Most are very comfortable using Photoshop, very comfortable to the point where they are using it to do everything. Illustrations, photo editing and page layouts – but why is this such a bad thing?




The main issue with using Photoshop for everything is to do with compatibility and output. Photoshop only allows you to save files in pixel format, JPG, PNG or GIF for example. Pixel format is not compatible for output when it comes to producing graphics for signs, car decals or large format graphics. If you are looking to produce a 10 foot by 6 foot sign for the front of a factory unit, then the logo elements must be supplied in vector format rather than pixel. And Photoshop does not allow you to save files in vector format, so straight away you have a compatibility and output problem when creating artwork for this type of media.

File size is also an issue. Layers are a mainstay of Photoshop files, each layer containing different pieces of visual detail that when stacked up in order produces the image you have worked to design. The more layers contained within a Photoshop file, the greater the file size. Imagine if you had a complex image with several layers of image, then several more layers containing text to form page 1 of a 24 page brochure. The file size would be extremely large for just one page, so you can already see that a 24 page brochure would equate to a huge chunk of digital data that a lot of traditional lithographic or digital printers would struggle to handle when ripping for print; and that is assuming that the author of the Photoshop file had a computer that could handle that amount of data to output for print.

The solution is simply to use the software packages correctly for what they were intended for. Photoshop for photos, Illustrator for illustrations and Indesign to layout pages and output for production. In our eyes, it is simple really but for many younger designers, illustrators or artworkers that are coming out of higher education, this knowledge of the software is simply not imparted or retained.




Our designer Dan Hollyoake explains this in a bit more detail, “The difference between pixel and vector is like chalk and cheese but so many graduates are coming out of college with no knowledge of what vector is let alone how it is different to a pixel image. This also has a knock on effect to them understanding CMYK and RGB imagery for web and print. This knowledge is so key for a designer.”

Dan is currently studying at Derby University and was once described as “the most prolific undergraduate student” senior lecturer Leo Broadley had ever encountered. His knowledge of processes in design extend a lot deeper than the creation of design solutions to project briefs and his attention to detail when setting artwork up for production is second to none. Dan goes onto explain, “I started college in 2002 and I was fortunate enough to be taught the different software packages along with several others that I still dabble with today in my spare time. Having this knowledge has stood me in good stead in my career as I fully understand the importance of how my work impacts on that of our printing partners or web development associates at Design Pit. Bad artwork can destroy a great design and graduates don’t seem to understand this nowadays – and it is all down to funding cuts at colleges. Software like Illustrator isn’t carried now and students are taught to ‘get by’ using Photoshop for everything. The top bods see Photoshop as the biggest and most flexible software package out there, they buy it and do away with the rest in an effort to save money. In the long run, they are doing a disservice to their students who become less employable because of a lack of software knowledge”.

We would encourage all 2nd or 3rd year design students to actively seek work placements to experience first hand the importance of how the software that drives the industry actually works in a commercial environment. Visiting printers or web developers to see how a design is made into reality would also be hugely beneficial in the long term development of the next generation of designers. The gap between academia and industry seems to be widening and unfortunately for college leaver, undergraduate and new graduate designer, it is down to them to bridge it in order to find work.