Has responsive design killed Photoshop for web designers?

Paul Boag

Is it really appropriate for web designers to use tools like Photoshop or Fireworks when designing websites that have to adapt to a variety of screen sizes?

If you follow me on Twitter, you will know that I have been in Germany speaking at the Smashing Conference.

It was a superb conference; I learnt so much and got to hang out with some amazingly talented people.

Unsurprisingly, the one theme that ran through the entire event was responsive design and the fact that we have no idea how people are viewing our sites.

Of course this has always been the case, but as Jeremy Keith pointed out, as web designers we have participated in a consensual hallucination that somehow we could define the users viewing experience. We did this by agreeing we would design for a fixed screen size or a certain set of browsers.

But with the explosion of devices capable of accessing the web, it is becoming harder than ever to maintain that hallucination. Mobile phones, TVs, games consoles, tablets and even fridges can view web pages.

This obviously has a huge number of consequences. The one that really jumped out at me is just how inappropriate it is now to design websites using tools like Photoshop or Fireworks.

After all the first thing you do in these tools is set a canvas size. However, we don’t know the canvas size the user will be viewing. The web has no ‘edges’.

Also, tools like this make it so much harder to demonstrate interaction or things like progressive enhancement.

For a long time I resisted this change. However, I adopted the approach while working on the Headscape site and found it incredibly liberating.

Admittedly I had no client to please on that project. However, I am not sure that doing design comps in a tool like Photoshop, makes implementing client changes any easier.

Also, if you have led the client through the design process by showing them moodboards, wireframes etc, then the chances are any iteration will be minor.

I find myself struggling to identify a good reason to do anything but design in the browser. Perhaps you could help me. If you can think of a good reason to keep going with Photoshop style design comps, let me know in the comments. I am honestly interested.