Advice for developers getting into design

I joined the Aligned Pixels Slack channel a while back. “I’m a developer but want to get into interface (or web) design, how should I go about doing so?” turned out to be a fairly popular question on there. If that’s something you’ve been wondering about too, then Liam Campbell has some good bits of advice for you in his recent article, Work Is Better Than Talent:

Watch the designers you respect, and take notes. If you’re lucky, and you already work with an experienced designer, ask them questions. Explaining the thought behind a decision is another core design skill — one that any good designer will be happy to demonstrate. If you can find a mentor, that’s even better. An experienced designer can see things that you’re not yet equipped to see. Getting them to share their insight will help you grow.

That paragraph is a nice summary of the advice I usually give when asked. There’s one point in particular that I’ll stress from it: “An experienced designer can see things that you’re not yet equipped to see.”

The right perspective is crucial for creating designs that work well, and it’s definitely not something you’re born with. It’s something that’s developed over time by constant analysis and questioning, not just of digital interfaces but of the mundane everyday things too. That’s why I always recommend the aptly named The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman as a good starting point. It’ll change the way you look at things and make you question why such-and-such design decisions were made. Once you start questioning, you’ll start finding the cracks in a design. Once you find the cracks, you can start thinking about the best way to fix them.

Collapse folders and styles after running Bjango Actions

Running any of the scale actions in Marc Edwards‘ wonderful Bjango Actions leaves all of the folders and layer style summaries open in the layers panel. Instead of always collapsing them manually, I just made a short addition to the end of each of the scale actions. They now collapse everything but the group layer style summaries 1 for themselves once everything has finished scaling. You can then quickly collapse the layer style summaries for all groups by atl-clicking on one of the toggle arrows (unactionable). You’ll have to be running Photoshop CC for this update to work.

A before and after of the Photoshop layers panel.

  1. Unfortunately the “Collapse All Groups” command doesn’t currently collapse them. Feedback submitted here

On hearing and accessibility

There are a lot of things that I take for granted that I shouldn’t and I’m sorry to say that the ability to hear is pretty high up on that list. David Peter‘s piece on Model View Culture brought me to this realisation and it’s something I’d encourage anyone to read.

Accessibility matters. A lot. And it’s something that I’ve actively been trying to get better at for a while now. I check colour schemes for compatibility with different types of colour blindness, make sure colour contrast ratio’s are up to par and that text is big enough to be legible et cetera. The problem (for want of a better word) with all of those tests though is that they only cater to varying degrees of blindness. None of them improve whatever it is I’m working on for deaf or hard of hearing people. Sure, as a UI designer I don’t come into contact with much video or audio work but I’ll admit that, until recently, improving accessibility for deaf and hard of hearing people in my work is something I’d barely even considered which is just wrong.

From David’s article:

Fixing culture starts with small steps. Make accessibility a priority—part of your product cycle. Assume people with disabilities will be present at your events and accommodate us with captionists. Tear out ableism from our language, eliminating idioms like “falling on deaf ears” that equate deafness with ignorance. Recognize communication friction exists, and that connecting with us—people with expertise and opinions and emotions—means working through that friction, always.

David is a software engineer at Kickstarter and has been deaf his whole life. I could quote many more parts of his piece, but that would be doing it an injustice. Instead, I’ll just leave you with this excerpt:

A high school classmate once expressed to my mother how I had inspired him to pursue programming seriously. If David can do it, so can I, he had said. He assumed I couldn’t program because he thought of me as broken, and my mere presence shattered his expectations. I can do better than the deaf kid, he had thought.

You should go and read about David’s experiences, perspective and thoughts right now.

Remove the default gradient background in ZBrush 4R7

I find the default background used in ZBrush distracting more than anything and much prefer a solid mid-grey one. If you’re planning on doing screen recordings, you’ll definitely want to change the default too to avoid major banding. Here’s how to go about doing so:

1) Start by going to the Color menu and changing the main swatch to the colour you want your background to be. In my case, something about rgb(42, 42, 42).

The main colour menu

2) Now go to the Document menu and click on Back to set the colour, then move the Range slider all the way down to 0 to remove the gradient.

Set the background and remove the gradient

3) Once you’re happy with your background, click on Store Config under the Config tab in Preferences to make ZBrush remember your changes once you’ve quit the app.

Store your configuration

There you have it, happy modelling.