A design standards evangelist

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September 08, 2011

The web has never been more accessible to creators than it is today. Every day, more user-friendly tools, apps and technologies pop up seemingly out of nowhere. In such a rapidly changing landscape, what is at stake for web users might well be the quality of what is produced. Quality assurance often comes down to standards, and for better or worse, design lacks a regulating body. Some countries (Canada, Norway, United Kingdom, and others) do have rigorous qualifications to belong to professional design groups, but none are required to practice. So how do standards gain traction if they aren’t made mandatory? With over 300,000 visits since launching in January 2011, The Photoshop Etiquette Manifesto for Web Designers, more or less a standards document, has had no problem gaining popularity. The individual behind the manifesto, the smart and passionate Dan Rose, answered some questions for us about the Manifesto’s beginnings, its challenges, and its future. Photoshop Etiquette Manifesto for Web Designers

How did Photoshop Etiquette come about? What was your inspiration?

Dan Rose:

So I was sitting at my desk, just inherited a PSD from someone, at my wit’s end from hunting down what layer something was on. As I reached over to my Twitter app to complain to the world about my plight (as all of us do), I realized there had to be a better way. I got out my notebook and I frantically started writing down the things that agitated me most about inheriting PSDs. Hours later, I opened up my text editor, tossed my ranting into HTML, and thus, Photoshop Etiquette was born. Initially, my goal was to make this one-page site of grumblings a declaration to co-workers and colleagues alike. My target audience was originally those 10 – 20 people I had to share PSDs with. Needless to say, it was an internal document at best. As I shared the link with Twitter and Forrst folk, I noticed the site catching on and its purpose quickly changed. The site had to be educational and useful, and even though at times it maintained a witty and snarky tone, the goal had to be to promote workplace harmony. Otherwise, it was just a list of complaints that some people agreed with while others felt alienated.  (Image: AGoK)

What do you think is the most important tip in Photoshop Etiquette?


Anything dealing with external file organization (naming files, using folders, storing assets) comes to mind. The underlying theme of Photoshop Etiquette is that collaboration is crucial, so the manner in which we collaborate should be top-notch. The backbone of the site is about individually raising standards so it benefits the group collectively. We web people are getting better at creating beautiful, usable websites. However, it’s going to take collaborative efforts to make sites even better, sites built on solid concepts rather than fancy trends and techniques. That’s what adopting Photoshop Etiquette is all about: perfecting your craft down to insert rule here” so the next person who gets your PSD isn’t wasting time figuring out what you’re trying to do, and people will want to collaborate more. Take pride in what you do. Don’t take shortcuts. Your awesome design should have an awesome PSD behind it. Okay, I’m stepping off my soapbox.

While a manifesto, your site is also a teaching tool. What is it about teaching old dogs new tricks” that you find challenging?


It’s hard to get old dogs to pay attention. It’s the same with those who feel etiquette wastes time. I imagine seasoned pros visited the site, saw the first few rules, and said Eh, I already do that, this is for beginners.” Therein lies the problem. It’s that attitude that prevents us from collaborating effectively. Humility plays such an important role in our industry. What other profession so openly shares its knowledge base with tutorials, articles and feedback? It’s inspiring to see fellow web designers sharing their secrets to success and proficiency. Sharing the fundamentals of design and Photoshop seems the least I can do.  (Image: Viola Renate)

Some of your tips are appropriate for both designers and developers. Do you think we web folk increasingly moving toward one shared skill set?


Just one man’s opinion: I think there is space for varying degrees of web proficiency. Making something amazing depends on passion. Responsibility is also important. As a designer, I owe it to my developer to be familiar with as much code (HTML/​CSS) as it pertains to design and layout. I can get by without such knowledge, but then the probability of my developer finding grief with my designs is higher. So yeah, I guess I’m saying in a best-case-scenario a web designer is also a front-end developer. With all the amazing resources out there to learn front-end development, it’s worthwhile for those shy designers to dive in. http://​membership​.thinkvitamin​.com/ and dontfeattheinternet​.com echo that sentiment.

What is the future of Photoshop Etiquette? How can we help it stick around?


I’m committed to making Photoshop Etiquette a resource that spans changing software updates and beyond. Adding and modifying some of the rules is definitely in the scope of updating the website over time. I’d love for Photoshop Etiquette to become more of a community and not just a static resource. People are encouraged to suggest new rules, and a bunch of what’s up there now has come from the suggestions of many. I love the photos of people wearing their Layer Mayor tees, showing support for the cause. Continue contributing via email psetiquette@​layermayor.​com and following @psetiquette on Twitter. Most importantly, go get a Photoshop Etiquette poster, hang that thing in your studio, and convince your designers and developers to adopt it. Or come up with your own list of do’s and do not’s. It’ll do wonders for morale. Examination Board for Registered Graphic Designers

The future of design standards

It is clear the Photoshop Etiquette Manifesto is a successful case study for how design standards could be regulated, as few other initiatives have garnered as much interest. Such an endeavor does not come without its challenges, as Rose has shared with us here, but immediacy is not one of them; while the case for the licensed designer has been gathering momentum for awhile, design professionals can adopt the Manifesto this instant, even while certifying organizations are still getting their acts together. Given the challenges Rose faces in standards adoption, one larger question remains: Will placing the onus on individuals be enough to make a difference? Are individuals as standards evangelists enough to regulate our industry? Or do we still need regulatory bodies to govern design standards? 

Cassie McDaniel

Written by Cassie McDaniel, a freelance web designer, writer, artist and illustrator. Cassie has written for A List Apart, Smashing Magazine, Freelance Switch, Six Revisions in addition to Webdesigner Depot. Follow her work at www​.cassiemcdaniel​.com or say hi to @cassiemc on Twitter.

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