Marc Edwards is the director and lead designer at Bjango, an independent Mac and iOS developer company based in Australia. Though he's equally skilled with a range of design software, Adobe® Photoshop® is his weapon of choice for his characteristically clean and detailed icon and interface designs. As Edwards puts it, "When designing for a pixel grid, why not use a tool that's based on a pixel grid?"
We caught up with Edwards just after the release of the Photoshop CS6 public beta to gauge his reaction to the many design-centric features and tools that are part of this release.
Edwards co-hosts the Iterate podcast and speaks at conferences about interface design for mobile devices. These efforts, plus his extensive commercial work, place him in a unique position to critique Photoshop CS6 as a design tool. "Even before I became aware of the new features in Photoshop CS6, I had been blogging extensively about the features I believed should be in the release. I compiled a CS6 wish list, suggested features and tweaks on the Photoshop feedback site, and basically bugged anyone who'd listen."
Edwards is too modest to suggest that his ideas contributed directly to the extensive range of new and revamped design features in Photoshop CS6, but it's amazing how many ideas he detailed are there. "For me, it is an indication that Adobe listens to its customers," says Edwards. "I'm sure I'm not the only one suggesting these ideas, and it is terrific to see how such feedback builds a better and more usable tool."
He adds, "The killer feature for me is the way that Photoshop CS6 now handles pixel snapping." Before Photoshop CS6, designers had to employ a series of workarounds to ensure their designs stayed sharp when overlaid on the rigid constraints of the pixel grid structure that underpins design for mobile devices and the web. Edwards adds, “Being sure that your artwork stays put, locked to the grid, is critical for sharp and crisp icons. Especially when you need to create different versions of different dimensions.” When you add in the new vector shape abilities, stroke options, layer management, interface improvements, and type controls, he concludes, "If you design for screen, value your time, and can afford it, I definitely recommend upgrading."
Edwards uses the new layer search and filtering options to quickly isolate individual layers based on layer type, name, color, effect, mode, and attribute. To speed up the process of reworking base artwork for different pixel dimensions, he colors the layers that need attention during resizing and then filters the Layers panel to display only the entries he needs to edit. "When you are dealing with complex designs consisting of many layers,” says Edwards, "being able to search for specific layers quickly and easily really helps my workflow."
A major improvement for any designer who has to create illustrations within the constraints of a fixed pixel grid is the pixel snapping feature in Photoshop CS6. There's no longer a need for the complex workarounds that were necessary in previous versions of Photoshop. Says Edwards, "These changes alone are worth the upgrade price for me."
The key features are Align Edges, which is found in the Options bar of all vector tools and can be applied on a per-layer basis, and Snap Vector Tools and Transforms to Pixel Grid, which is a general Photoshop setting you select in the Preferences panel. The features work in different ways: Align Edges snaps the edge of an object to the pixel grid, while the Preferences option snaps all newly created and edited vector content to the grid.
Layer styles can now be applied to layer groups as well as individual layers. This lets you quickly apply the same style across multiple layers, or create more complex designs by mixing in some individually applied styles. According to Edwards, "You can now have two or more drop shadows by nesting layers inside groups and applying layer styles to the groups."
Clipping masks can be applied to groups just as easily as to individual layers. “This allows for some pretty wild masking possibilities,” says Edwards. And when used in conjunction with group-applied layer styles, the new masking abilities can really speed up workflows.
Right-click any vector layer and choose Copy Shape Attributes from the menu to store the fill and stroke settings in a separate clipboard to your regular image clipboard. Then select one or more layers and choose Paste Shape Attributes to apply the settings to the layers.
With Photoshop CS6, you now have the same kind of text control that page layout programs like Adobe InDesign® have. Photoshop CS6 includes a new Type menu for extra text options, plus dedicated panels for creating Character and Paragraph Styles and adjusting their settings. "You can even edit the master styles and have all instances in your design update," says Edwards.
Designers will find the new stroke options extremely useful. "These are very handy; you can use the vector strokes in combination with the stroke layer style for stroke-on-stroke action," says Edwards. You can even create custom dashed-stroke styles and save them as a new stroke preset.
As part of the interface changes in Photoshop CS6, small information pop-ups are displayed near the cursor when using a variety of tools. The content changes depending on the current tool and action. “Far easier than watching the info panel out of the corner of your eye while you work,” says Edwards.
The Crop tool has been completely revamped in Photoshop CS6. The document moves and rotates beneath the crop overlay rather than the other way around. Says Edwards, "It's a little hard to explain the difference, but it's better, once you get used to it."
You can make quick changes across several layers at a time by multiselecting the layer entries and then choosing a new Blend Mode setting.